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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Letter to the Editor: End the complicity

On March 19, 2024, Notre Dame International emailed all ND faculty announcing the Tel Aviv University (TAU)-Notre Dame Collaboration Grants. The email stated, “The University of Notre Dame and Tel Aviv University are pleased to continue and deepen their relationship” by expanding these grant programs. For members of the ND community working toward Palestinian liberation and the dignity and human rights of all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, this institutional collaboration is unacceptable. Just weeks after Father Jenkins called for a ceasefire and peaceful dialogue toward ending the current genocide in Gaza, expanding this program normalizes and entrenches relations with an Israeli institution that is complicit in the murder of more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza. 

Instead of heeding the call of Palestinian civil society to boycott and divest from institutions participating in the Israeli occupation, Notre Dame is expanding its partnership with Israeli institutions in a moment of assault on Palestinian knowledge and memories. There are no universities left in Gaza. In addition to the systematic destruction of countless heritage sites (including mosques, churches and libraries), Israel has destroyed or severely damaged more than 80% of Gaza’s schools. Thousands of professors and students have been murdered or injured. This prompted the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner to speak of “scholasticide” in an April 18 press release. Scholasticide denotes “the systematic obliteration of education … and the destruction of educational infrastructure.” The targeted destruction of Palestinian knowledge, heritage and institutions of learning reveals an Israeli strategy of elimination that goes beyond the physical human death toll. It is an assault on Palestinian memory, history and knowledge production. 

Notre Dame must ascertain how to act morally in the face of “plausible genocide” and scholasticide in Gaza. Israel’s relentless assault has turned Palestinian institutions of learning into tombs and rubble. Beyond Gaza, Israel suppresses universities in the West Bank through bureaucratic restrictions, military closures and raids, and the abduction, detention and torture of faculty and students. Nevertheless, these Palestinian universities persist as spaces of learning and resistance. On Oct. 15, 2023, Birzeit University issued an open letter calling upon colleges and universities around the world to take concrete action to end the genocide in Gaza, including refusal to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions.

According to a new book by Maya Wind, a Jewish-Israeli scholar, Israeli universities have long been implicated in direct and epistemic forms of violence against Palestinians, including forced displacement and military occupation. Tel Aviv University (TAU), for example, was partially built on the destroyed Palestinian village of Al-Shaykh Muwannis. Today, Israeli academic institutions continue to be complicit in the genocide in Gaza. No Israeli university administration has spoken out against scholasticide. But their involvement is also more direct: Israeli universities are producing “hasbara” (the Hebrew concept for public diplomacy) to deflect international criticism, developing weapons for the Israeli military and formulating legal defenses to protect Israel from accountability under international law. 

Palestinian civil society — including the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees, supported by international solidarity organizations such as the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel — has long called for an academic boycott of Israeli universities. This academic boycott is part of the broader Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement working to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. It calls on colleges and universities to boycott or work towards the cancellation or annulment of “events, activities, agreements or projects involving Israeli academic institutions or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.” 

Heeding this call would end Notre Dame’s multiple partnerships with Israeli academia, including with Tel Aviv University. TAU is home to the Institute for National Security Studies, a think tank that has direct ties to the Israeli military establishment and has helped define the state’s military philosophy — including the notorious Dahiya Doctrine, a strategy of disproportionate force that calls for “the destruction of the national [civilian] infrastructure, and intense suffering among the [civilian] population.” Despite TAU’s complicity, Notre Dame is expanding its relationship with the university — directly contradicting Father Jenkins’ call for a ceasefire and peaceful dialogue. 

Notre Dame’s Schlindwein Family Tel Aviv University–Notre Dame Collaboration Grants operate through university benefactors who give TAU money to fund faculty collaboration with ND partners. Additionally, in 2021, the Notre Dame Law School established an annual exchange of students and faculty between ND and TAU. These projects normalize TAU’s entanglement with state and military activities that support the violence and infrastructure of occupation, including the violation of international laws regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Boycotts have proven an effective tactic to challenge systems of injustice, including apartheid in South Africa and racial segregation in the United States. The famed photograph of Father Hesburgh linked arm in arm with Martin Luther King Jr. was taken at a rally held within the context of civil rights boycotts in the summer of 1964. Today, we call on the University of Notre Dame to speak out against the ongoing scholasticide in Gaza and to implement an academic boycott, demanding an end to academic complicity in apartheid. 

On behalf of Notre Dame Faculty for Justice in Palestine and Occupation Free ND,

Elsa Barron

PhD Student in Peace Studies and Political Science

Pam Butler

Associate Teaching Professor of Gender Studies

Francesca Freeman

PhD Student in Peace Studies and History 

Anna K. Johnson

PhD Candidate in Peace Studies and Sociology

Atalia Omer

Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peace Studies

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.