In Boycott Call, Professor Saree Makdisi Flunks On Israeli Education

One day before an academic boycott resolution was soundly defeated at the Business Meeting taking place at the American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting (111 to 51) , and days after the Spanish government completely rejected the notion of excluding Israeli universities and awarded Israeli Ariel University 100,000 euros (over $100,000) in compensation for having been “illegally excluded” from a competition, The Los Angeles Times places itself on the wrong side of history. With the publication Friday of an Op-Ed by Saree Makdisi calling for academic boycott of Israel, the paper demonstrates, once again, a total loss of moral clarity (“Why Israel’s schools merit a U.S. boycott,” Jan. 8).
Moreover, The Los Angeles Times, unfortunately, also places itself on the wrong side of the facts. The professor, whose Op-Eds excoriating Israel regularly appear in the newspaper despite their abundance of misinformation, once again peddles falsehoods which would earn a failing mark on a high school paper. Professor Makdisi is unfettered by journalistic or academic standards. Thus he freely, and falsely, claims “there is not a single high school in the Palestinian communities in the Negev desert in southern Israel.”
In fact, there are more than 40 high schools for Bedouin students in the Negev. According to Suzie Ben Harush, a southern district spokeswoman for the Education Ministry, “Under the supervision of the ministry of education there are 39 high schools in the villages of the Bedouin population.” In addition, she wrote CAMERA, there are three “more high schools under different supervision (two high schools of ‘sachnin’ net in Hura and Segev Shalom and one on the city of Rahat under supervision of the ministry of economy and industry.”
Makdisi also absurdly writes: “According to sociologist Majid al-Haj of the University of Haifa, Israeli universities systematically fail their Palestinian students.” Makdisi fails to explain why  Israel’s Council for Higher Education announced a scholarship program in 2014 for 650 Arab students seeking an undergraduate education, worth 6.5 million shekels, if universities then systemically fail them out. Why would Israel allocate millions of shekels just for Arab students simply to systematically flunk them out?

As The Jerusalem Post reported:

The “Irtika” (rise) scholarship fund will accompany the students until the completion of their undergraduate degrees, financing 80 percent of their tuition fees – NIS 10,000 in their first and second years and NIS 5,000 for their third and fourth years, based on the length of their studies. Within three years, the scope of the scholarships will reach some NIS 18m. per year.

Furthermore, Makdisi accurately cites data culled by Israel’s Council for Higher Education demonstrating educational gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis, but he neglects to mention the key point that the data was collected specifically in order to develop a program to close that gap. Thus, he writes:

As of 2012, according to data published by the Israeli Council for Higher Education, Palestinians constituted only 11% of bachelor’s degree students, 7% of master’s students, and barely 3% of PhD students. A mere 2.7% of the faculty in Israeli universities are Palestinian, and the percentage of Palestinians in administration is even lower.

But Makdisi ignores the steps that the CHE laid out to close the gap. As Haaretz reported in 2012 (“Israel to launch campaign to attract more Arab students to universities

As Israel’s 2012-13 university academic year begins on Sunday, substantial and persistent gaps remain between Jews and Arabs when it comes to pursuing higher education. An internal Council for Higher Education report obtained by Haaretz shows that only around 11 percent of undergraduate students are Arabs.

The education council document is the result of its own comprehensive study, surveying all those involved in the process of accessing higher education – from high school through the senior faculty at institutions of higher learning.

The document was formulated in preparation for a wide-ranging NIS 300 million plan that the council is launching to make higher education more accessible to minorities. The details are being presented here for the first time. . . .

In an effort to improve the inclusion of minority students, the CHE’s NIS 300 million campaign – available from now until 2016 – will allow each institution to offer a basket of support services to Arab students, such as counseling and personal support.

In return, the CHE is also making demands of the institutions. For example, during the coming year they will also have to translate their websites into Arabic; this will be a condition for continued funding. And starting next summer, all institutions will have to offer minority students a workshop to help them improve their Hebrew and their study skills, and offer them general academic orientation. These workshops will be subsidized by the CHE and must begin two months before the start of the academic year.

All institutions will be asked to prepare a long-term plan with clear goals for accepting minorities, varying their fields of study, encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees, reducing dropouts and reducing the dragging out of degrees. CHE funding for minority students will be contingent on this plan.

During this academic year, information centers will start to open in Arab towns and cities, with 25 such cent
ers to open by 2016. In each community, a coordinator will supply information about academic institutions and fields of study to high school students, offer them pre-academic workshops and provide scholarship information. These coordinators will be supervised by a steering committee made up of public figures and academics, most from minority communities.

Given the fact that Makdisi completely ignores Israel’s detailed program to close gaps in the educational system, worth many hundreds of millions of shekels, it’s no surprise, then, that he also ignores the fact that the investment is apparently paying off. According to the CHE’s latest figures, 14.6 percent of students enrolled in Israeli universities in 2014-15 were Arab, up from just 11 percent as of 2012.
Also studiously ignored by the professor is another fact that destroys Makdisi’s deprivation narrative: Christian Arab students perform better than any other group in Israel, including Israeli Jews. Thus, Times of Israel reported in December 2013 (“Christian Arabs top country’s matriculation charts” ):

Christian Arabs in Israel appear to represent the most successfully studious sector in the Jewish state, new research shows, as the tiny sector’s students are more likely than any other Israeli community to succeed on their matriculation exams.

According to a study published by the Central Bureau of Statistics ahead of Christmas, over the past school year, 70% of the sector’s high school students were eligible for matriculation, compared to 50% of Muslim-Arab students, 64% of Druze students, and 61% of students enrolled in the mostly Jewish Hebrew education system.

Likewise, the UCLA faculty member stubbornly argues on that Arab children “find themselves funneled into work as carpenters or mechanics rather than doctors, lawyers or professors,” ignoring promising recent trends to the contrary, like increased Arab employment in the high-tech sector.

Makdisi’s claims are standard BDS fare. Echoing the charges included in the defeated American Historical Association resolution, he writes:

Israel has bombed schools and besieged university campuses; it detains and harasses students and teachers at army checkpoints; it has restricted the flow of school materials to Gaza; it has prevented Palestinian students from studying overseas.

As reported by The Times of Israel, a memo prepared by the Israeli Embassy in Washington and circulated to AHA members “denied that Israel restricts the freedom of movement for faculty, students and visitors in the West Bank as routine policy, denied that Israel restricts foreign academics from visiting Palestinian universities, and asserted that Israeli military forces enter Palestinian universities only when they deem it necessary for the sake of security. It also stated that, in 2014, the IDF bombed the Islamic University in Gaza because it was being used by Hamas to stockpile, test and fire rockets at Israeli population centers.

Makdisi closes with de rigueur BDS comparisons to the Jim Crow South and South Africa apartheid.
Seth M. Siegel, co-founder of the marketing agency Beanstalk and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The Los Angeles Times Jan. 12, 2014 (“Apartheid in Israel? Hardly”):

Two American academic groups — the American Studies Assn. and the Assn. for Asian American Studies — have called for a boycott of Israeli universities. Those resolutions have met with many objections. Much has been made, for example, of the inherent hypocrisy of attempting to ostracize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and their Israeli Arab cousins when there are so many far worse situations in the Middle East and around the world. But there is another objectionable element in the boycott movement: the abuse of language.

In the discussion that surrounds the call for a boycott, South African apartheid is almost invariably invoked. Say what you will about the Israeli occupation, but the South Africa analogy is false. The word “apartheid” isn’t accurate, but it is emotional and inflammatory.

Of all people, professors should be more precise in their use of language. That they are not, and that they use such freighted language, suggests a goal other than helping the parties get to two states for two peoples.

Let’s use an academic tool — a surprise quiz — to examine the intellectual integrity of the apartheid allegation.

By any measure, Makdisi flunked Sam Siegel’s proposed quiz “to examine the intellectual integrity of the apartheid allegation.”
As for The Los Angeles Times, Op-Eds such as Siegel’s arguing against the boycott of Israel do not justify the publication of screeds like Makdisi’s calling for boycott. First, lies are never justified, even in the Op-Ed pages. Second, the dismantlement of the Jewish state (because that is ultimately the goal of anyone deeming a state so repugnant, so evil that is ostensibly nothing less than apartheid which had to be dismantled) is not a legitimate topic of debate, an abundance of Op-Eds pro and con notwithstanding.

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