Severe Inaccuracies in the University’s Response to the AUT Decision

From the archive (legacy material)

Yuval Yonai, lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Haifa University | May 2005

To: Professor Ben-Arzi, University Rector
Haifa University Staff
Re: Severe Inaccuracies in the University’s Response to the AUT Decision
Dear Ms. Whintman,
I wish to protest on the many inaccuracies that have been inserted into the university’s position in regard to the AUT boycott decision. Regardless of my sympathy with the criticism of the decision, and perhaps for this very reason, I find it disturbing that the university has been carried away to demonize one of its lecturers and has twisted significant facts regarding Mr. Katz’s thesis in the process. The following is a longish list of unfounded claims and misplaced personal attacks in the Hebrew and English declarations emanating from your office.
You say that “in recent years Dr. Ilan Pappe is conducting a libelous war and a smear campaign against Haifa university and its staff”. It is no secret that Dr. Pappe is critical of the university and certainly one may find fault with him for supporting the boycott. However, it is not for you to call this “a libelous war and a smear campaign”. Dr. Pappe may express his criticism, one may respond to it factually and reject it.
In the English version you go into greater extremes declaring that “Dr. Pappe has transgressed all common ethical standard of academic life”. Dr. Pappe, may I remind you, has not forged historical data, has not plagiarized researches of others, has not sexually harassed students or colleagues and never pillaged university property. He is embroiled in a long and bitter argument with the university powers that be, but is conducting it openly and honestly. He also supports the boycott of Israeli universities for political reasons. We do not like it, and many find this as blameworthy in itself. There is no call to slide into ridiculous allegations of abuse of “all common ethical standard of academic life”, which only presents the university as ludicrous.
I also differ from the position expressed in your response to the effect that the University of Haifa “demonstrated extraordinary tolerance” towards Dr. Pappe. You must choose – either Dr. Pappe has violated the regulations, in which case his guilt should be proved in the suitable forums, or he has acted within the proscribed limits in which case no tolerance is necessary. Your declaration proclaims Dr. Pappe’s guilt without due judicial process that would allow him the right to reply and with no decision by an authorized independent judicial body.
The claim that the AUT decided as it has “in order to appease one lecturer who is constantly slandering the university” is also not serious and even childish. The organization and its motives may be condemned severely and in no uncertain terms but it is a little ridiculous to think that thousands of British lecturers are at the beck and call of Pappe’s caprices. It also smacks of demonization and aggrandization of Dr. Pappe that reflects upon the sayer.
If the university condemns the AUT because its decision “is based upon blatant distortion of facts” it should itself keep to the facts and not be carried away to persecution of one of its lecturers. All this, needless to say, coupled with an un-compromising demand to lift the boycott. So also in the case of Katz’s thesis, in which regard your presentation of the facts is twisted, biased and extremely partial.
To call the strife surrounding this thesis “an urban legend” is not serious. This is a paper that has evoked many debates, due to a most irregular process (even in the eyes of those who believed some process was necessary) that ended in disqualification (and suffice it to remind ourselves of the anonymity of the referees and the fact that it has received a mark far higher than the minimal requirement).
You report the conclusions of the committee saying that: “After a thorough examination, the committee members concluded that, in fact, the quotes in the written text did not match the taped comments of the interviews and that the text was grossly distorted. Therefore, they disqualified this MA thesis.” It grieves me to say that I do not think you have read the committee’s report. The committee expressly noted that it has not examined all the evidence but focused on the instances that those who found fault with the thesis pointed out as discrepant. In some – not all – of these instances the committee found discrepancies between the recorded evidence and the citations, but obviously in many other instances the recordings and the citations matched completely, both in the cases the committee examined and in all those that it did not check. The committee was also very wary not to present any conclusion whatsoever in regard to the actual events and nowhere did it state that the text was “grossly distorted”.
Moreover, the committee explicitly refrained from claiming any willful distorting of the evidence (as is insinuated in your response) but only said that presentation of the findings was sloppy. On the basis of this conclusion it was decided to allow Mr. Katz to submit a corrected version, which he did (if he were found to have intentionally distorted the facts he would not have received a second chance but rather brought to trial). This has no mention in your statement.
You go on to distort extremely important facts and maintain that a court decision confirmed that the thesis was “grossly distorted”. Complete fabrication!
In a moment of utter fatigue (compounded by unfair counsel of the university legal representative) and wary lest loss of the case would entail expenditure that would plunge his family into deep debt, Mr. Katz resolved to sign a compromise with the Alexandroni regiment representatives who had filed the civil complaint against him. The agreement he signed indeed includes apologies regarding his findings about the Tantura massacre, however, in less than twenty-four hours he rescinded his decision and appealed to the regional and later to the high court to annul the agreement. His application was turned down from legal considerations and the agreement received the force of a court decision. Concretely speaking what is important is Katz’s standing by his conclusions. Be that as it may, the court assumed no stand in regard to the historical events. The thesis has in the meantime been cited in important journals in Israel and abroad and no one has appealed to the court claiming fabrication of data.
True, Dr. Pappe was unhappy with the committee’s report and attacked the committee, its members and the university authorities with exceptional severity. Fault may be found in the content of his attack and even more, perhaps, in its form. His call for a boycott may certainly be criticized. Nevertheless your assertion that his call, made openly, is an abuse of academic ethics seems to me unfounded.
To reiterate, I do not criticize the critique of the AUT decision, which is based on erroneous facts and lack of knowledge of the University of Haifa. But this is the very reason why the university must state the facts precisely, especially in an official response. I call upon you to review the facts with care and to issue a new statement, more precise and less frenzied. This will only benefit the university and prove that it is a serious academic institution not motivated by political views and disagreements that are irrelevant to academic teaching and research.
Dr. Yuval Yonai, lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.