Will the British Academic Bigots Report on Segregation in Gaza?

The anti-Israeli bigots never stop.  In June 2014, the University and College Union (UCU), which claims to represent 107,000 teaching and related staff in universities and colleges in the U.K., announced that it was planning to send a delegation to investigate “the effects of the Israeli blockade of Gaza on education.”  It would act in liaison with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and report back to the Executive Committee.

The starting question is why the UCU is wasting its money and the time of the members of the delegation on a report on Israeli activity when the contents of the report are in reality already known to them.  For some years the UCU has been at the forefront of the campaign to condemn Israeli actions and to boycott Israeli academics.  In May 2009, it passed a number of resolutions condemning Israeli military attacks on Gaza, calling for Israel to be tried for human rights violations and endorsing the Palestinian BDS against Israel.  The UCU has never passed any resolution condemning other states.

Activists on the far left, members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), do not dominate but still have considerable influence and support within the UCU.  Some have aligned themselves with unions and academics in Gaza, rather than with those in the West Bank who are recognized by Israel and the international trade union movement.  The resolution this year is the 21st about Israel and the Palestinians the UCU has adopted since 2007.  Two members of the union’s executive went on a Palestine Solidarity Campaign mission in 2009.

In 2012, a legal action by Ronnie Fraser was brought against the UCU, claiming that Fraser had been harassed by UCU conduct relating to his Jewish identity.  This claim was rejected – not by a court, but by an employment tribunal that explained that the claim represented “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”

All this was very curious.  The Fraser case had related to the fact that UCU had rejected the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the European Union.  This defined anti-Semitism as including the singling out of the State of Israel for criticism not leveled against any other countries.  The denial of Jewish self-determination may be anti-Semitic.

A local UCU official has made a patently anti-Semitic statement of Jewish conspiracy by saying that the lawyers for those opposing boycott were “financed by bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.”  Yet it was the plaintiff, Ronnie Fraser, who was held to have made “rude or offensive communications.”  The UCU in fact knew something of such communications.  It invited a South African, Bongani Masuku. to speak in London.  He told the UCU, “We struggle to liberate Palestine from the racists, fascists, and Zionists who belong to the era of their friend Hitler.”

Though the UCU report can be written before its inquiry starts, it is still helpful to suggest some questions its members may ask and some realities they may find, or overlook, in Gaza.  Has the blockade really obstructed the import of books, science laboratory items, and other educational equipment?  Since enrollment in Gaza’s public and private educational institutions remains high, how has the conflict against Israel by Hamas undermined education?  Economic authorities have related the sad state of the Palestinian economy.  Is it this fact, or is it any actions of Israel that account for the inability of students to cover fees in higher education?  Is Israel responsible for the fact that in examinations a few years ago, nearly 80 percent of students failed mathematics?

Education in the territories controlled by Palestinians, the West Bank and Gaza, were once administered by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Ramallah.  It was centralized in respect to curricula and textbooks until the Gaza Strip came under the control of Hamas in June 2007, when education in Gaza began to function independently and to concentrate on Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.  

Two excuses are given for educational deficiencies.  First, Israel is blamed for damage to schools sustained during its action (Operation Cast Lead) from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, an operation resulting from the rocket attacks on Israel.  UNESCO reported that six buildings were fully and 16 were partially destroyed, and that rebuilding had not taken place. Secondly, all problems are attributed to the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel as a result of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit by Hamas, which had won an electoral victory in 2006.  This became an economic embargo on the Gaza Strip after terrorists attacked Israel.

It is fallacious to blame Israel for its actions in self-defense.  It is equally fallacious to hold that the blockade has destroyed the Gaza economy.  There has never been a blockade on food or medicine; items such as flour, sugar and milk have always been available.  Restrictions have been imposed only on heavy equipment and materials such as steel, cement, some building materials, and fabrics for bags – all items that could be used by Hamas for developing weapons or fortifications, or bulletproof jackets for the terrorists.  In reality, all of the restricted items have reached the Gaza Strip through the tunnels built from the Sinai Peninsula to Gaza.  Will the UCU delegation inspect those tunnels and the quantity of goods coming through them?

The first thing on which the UCU should be informed is that the education in Gaza is based on militant Islamic ideology as a result of textbooks introduced by Hamas.  Militancy rather than objective presentation is key.  Those textbooks do not recognize the existence of the State of Israel, though there appears to be an enemy named “Israel.”  The Torah and Talmud are slighted, and Zionism is described as a racist movement, aimed at controlling the Middle East.  Similarly, “Palestine” is a state that should extend from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

The most pertinent factor is that its educational program is a significant part of the Hamas strategy to implement Islamic law in society.  Hamas, in its attempts to “Islamize” Gaza, has opposed education on the basis of universal values.  It blocked the introduction of textbooks promoting human rights on the argument that they ignore Palestinian cultural mores and focus on peaceful means of solving conflicts.  They do not, according to Motesem al-Minawi, spokesperson for Hamas, stress the extent of Palestinian suffering or the right to fight Israel.  Hamas has forbidden boys and girls to engage together in folk dancing.  It has prevented information on the Holocaust from being taught.  Since September 2013, girls and boys above the age of nine are segregated in schools.  This is now law as well as tradition.

Since September 2012, the curriculum in high schools for boys aged 15 to 17 has included an activity called “Al-Fatwa,” an activity involving military training and learning about weapons and first aid.  More than 38,000 students have received such instruction.  Indeed, from kindergarten on, children are being indoctrinated with Hamas ideology.  A subject called “patriotic education” is a pseudonym for Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.

In Gaza, there are 690 schools with 466,000 students.  In addition to those in public schools, there are 225,000 students in 245 schools run by UNRWA, but by a law drafted in 2013, those schools cannot receive donations “aimed at normalization of ties with the Zionist occupation.”

A connected problem with this Islamic ideology is the inefficiency of the Palestinian economy, which has nothing to with Israel.  Its economic growth fell 1.5 percent in 2013.  More than a quarter of the Palestinian work force is unemployed.  A third of the force is unemployed in Gaza, an area that has more than a quarter of the population living in poverty.  The unemployment rate among those aged 15-19 is more than 70 percent.  In 2014, the Palestinian Authority anticipates a higher than expected budget deficit and a reduction in financial aid from donors.  The World Bank has established the multi-donor Trust Fund for Gaza and the West Bank as the mechanism to provide assistance; it has channeled more than $1.18 billion since its inception to the PA.

Will the zealots of the UCU ever forego their bias and bigotry against Israel?  Ann Blair, a senior lecturer at the University of Leeds, who has supported the mission of the delegation, included “women’s education" among her "aims and objectives.”  Will she be gratified by the segregated schools she may, or may not, be shown in Gaza?

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.