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#################### Geoff Seidner
Friday, 1 November 2013
1/11 the oz p1 Inside Jerusalem's university of freedom
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Maisa Qaraeen, left, who studies nursing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with two friends. 'We all have Jewish friends here'. Picture: Sasson Tiram Source: TheAustralian
ON a hilltop overlooking Jerusalem, three men gather in a mosque for prayers. Once they have taken off their shoes and gathered behind each other, they turn to Mecca and one gives the cry "Allahu Akbar!" - God is great.
Such scenes take place every evening around Jerusalem but there's something different about this mosque - it's in the middle of Hebrew University. The mosque has been set up in one of the university's bomb shelters.
About 30m away is the Hecht synagogue.
Those wanting to question Hebrew University's tolerance credentials as part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, such as Sydney University academics Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees, have picked the wrong target.
Walking around the campus one sees a multicultural atmosphere as diverse as any university in Australia, if not more so.
The Hebrew University was thrust into the centre of a political storm this week after proponents of the BDS campaign against Israel said the institution was closely linked to the Israeli military and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank.
Maisa Qaraeen, 18, is studying Hebrew and hopes to gain entry to a nursing degree at the university. "This is the top university," she said.
She is Muslim but chooses not to wear a headscarf. "But I have friends here who wear scarves, who are religious, and there are no problems," she says. "We all have Jewish friends here."
The university itself has taken steps to oppose division and promote peace with other institutions. In 2005, Hebrew and the Palestinian al-Quds universities signed a joint communique against foreign boycotts.
Professor Rees, from Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, attacked the university this week as he explained his centre's decision to refuse to sponsor Hebrew University academic Dan Avnon, who developed a civics curriculum for Arab and Jewish students.
Late last year, Professor Avnon was seeking Professor Lynch's nomination for a Sir Zelman Cowan fellowship to study curriculums in Australia. Professor Lynch turned him down, citing his centre's pro-BDS policy and claims Hebrew University had links to the occupation of the West Bank.
Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law centre, on Wednesday filed papers with the federal court against Professor Lynch, the director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, over his support for BDS, claiming it violated the Racial Discrimination Act. Professor Rees defended his colleague's actions on Wednesday.
"Avnon's employer, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, had expanded its Mount Scopus campus on to illegally occupied and confiscated land," Professor Rees said. "The same university supports students who served in the 2008-09 Gaza invasion.
"Through the Israeli Command and Staff College, which trains officers, it promotes military occupation of Palestinian land and has extensive connections with Israeli weapons-manufacturing companies."
Later, he told the ABC's 7.30: "Part of one of its campuses sits on occupied land, it has contracts with armaments industry, it has
a military college in which it trains officers who are part of the occupation and oppression of a people."
The Hebrew university's spokesman Dov Smith denied two allegations by Professor Rees that it had "extensive connections with Israeli weapons-manufacturing companies" and had expanded illegally across the "Green Line" into the occupied West Bank.
On the issue of supporting students who served in the 2009 Gaza war, Mr Smith said the university's policy was to help students who missed any of their course because they were called up for reserve military duty.
Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence has backed Professor Lynch's right to support the BDS campaign and told The Australian that while the university "does not consider BDS policy appropriate", he would not take action against him.
"We encourage academics to contribute to public debate and deliberations. Academic freedom is a core principle of the university," he said, while adding that he had no comment on the Shurat HaDin lawsuit.
The Hebrew University has about 23,000 students across four campuses in Israel. It has about 2000 foreign students from 70 countries, with about 1500 Arab students.
The university has a partnership in dental studies with Al Quds University, one of the most prestigious Palestinian universities. The 2005 communique signed by the universities said: "Cognisant of the moral leadership universities should provide, especially in already turbulent political contexts, we, the president of al-Quds University and the president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have agreed to insist on continuing to work together in the pursuit of knowledge, for the benefit of our peoples and the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East.
"Our position is based upon the belief that it is through co-operation based on mutual respect, rather than through boycotts or discrimination, that our common goals can be achieved. Bridging political gulfs . . . thus becomes an educational duty."
Additional reporting: Ean Higgins
- See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/inside-jerusalems-university-of-freedom/story-fn59nm2j-1226750894490#sthash.inyhMkvU.dpuf