[News] No room for Arab students at Israeli universities
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 19 11:07:00 EDT 2010
No room for Arab students at Israeli universities -
New rules favour former soldiers
By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/jonathancook>Jonathan Cook
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Nazareth -- Measures designed to benefit Jewish school-leavers
applying for places in Israeli higher education at the cost of their
Arab counterparts have been criticized by lawyers and human rights groups.
The new initiatives are viewed as part of an ongoing drive by
right-wing politicians in Israel to demand "loyalty" from the
country's large minority population of Arab citizens.
Critics have termed the measures, including a program to provide
financial aid exclusively to students who have served in the Israeli
army, a form of "covert discrimination".
While most Jews are conscripted into the military, Israel's Arab
citizens are generally barred from serving.
The issue came to a head last week over reports that Tel Aviv
University had reserved a large number of dormitory places for
discharged soldiers, leaving Arab students facing a severe shortage
of university accommodation in the coming academic year.
In addition, only former soldiers will be eligible in future for
large subsidies on tuition fees under an amended law passed last month.
Arab students already face many obstacles to pursuing higher
education, according to the Dirasat policy research centre in
Nazareth. These include psychometric exams -- a combined aptitude and
personality test that has been criticized as culturally biased -- and
minimum age restrictions for courses, typically at age 21, when
soldiers finish their three-year service.
But Tel Aviv university's decision has come under fire because it
will put further pressure on Arab students to forgo higher education.
Most Arab families live far from Tel Aviv, with limited public
transport connections. High poverty rates also mean few are able to
afford private rooms for their children, and Arab students already
complain that private landlords refuse to rent to them.
Although comprising only five per cent of the student body at Tel
Aviv university, Arabs won about 40 per cent of dorm places last
year, when rooms were awarded using social and economic criteria,
said Mohammed Awadi, a Tel Aviv student leader.
"Now the university management has told us that most Arab students
will be rejected because preference will be given to military
service," he said. "The message is that they would rather have a
university without any Arabs at all."
Yousef Jabareen, Dirasat's director, said the university's decision
represented an increasingly hardline attitude from its officials.
"What is so worrying is that a supposedly liberal academic
institution -- not the right-wing government -- is promoting
discrimination," he said.
Yesterday, Joseph Klafter, the university's president, was reported
to be inspecting course reading lists for signs of what officials
called "post-Zionist bias", or criticism of Israel's founding ideology.
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, a legal centre in Haifa, said the
new rules on subsidised tuition and student housing were part of the
government's "loyalty drive", a programme of reforms that has been
decried for creating an overtly hostile political climate towards the
The campaign has been spearheaded by the Yisrael Beitenu party of the
foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose election slogan was "No
loyalty, no citizenship".
The use of military service as a criterion for awarding student
housing was ruled discriminatory two years ago by Haifa district
court. The government, however, quickly amended the law, allowing
universities to change their rules, as Tel Aviv University has now done.
Haifa University, which has the largest Arab student population, also
reserves dorm rooms for former soldiers.
Far-right leaders have suggested in the past that the Arab minority
can be encouraged to emigrate by restricting access to higher
education. Benny Elon, a former cabinet minister, notoriously summed
up the policy as: "I will close the universities to you, I will make
your lives difficult, until you want to leave."
Last month the parliament approved a package of additional financial
benefits to encourage former soldiers to study in "peripheral areas",
including three colleges in West Bank settlements.
Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, warned that the law would push
Israel's academic system "deeper into complicity with the occupation"
and bolster the movement for an academic boycott of Israel.
Ms Zaher said the government appeared determined to push farther
along the same path. Last month a ministerial committee approved a
draft bill that would allow private businesses to award extra
benefits to former soldiers.
Although Arabs are a quarter of the college-age population, they
comprise only eight per cent of the students attending Israeli universities.
A Dirasat survey last year showed that half of Arab students -- about
5,400 -- chose to study abroad, mainly in neighboring Jordan, because
of the difficulties they faced in Israel.
Ms Zaher said that introducing discriminatory measures at
universities would exacerbate already stark socio-economic
disparities in Israel. Poverty rates among Arab families are three
times those of the Jewish population.
"Rather than trying to remedy the discrimination by investing extra
budgets to help the Arab community, public and private institutions
are being encouraged to widen the gaps," she said.
Ms Zaher was due this week to send a letter to the Yehuda Weinstein,
the attorney-general, calling for the government to stop tying basic
rights to military service.
At Tel Aviv University, Arab students expressed concern about the new rules.
Rula Abu Hussein, a film studies student from Umm al-Fahm in northern
Israel, said she had been told to vacate her dorm by October, when
her second year begins.
"It's really hard to find affordable private rooms in Tel Aviv for
anyone but if you're an Arab it's especially difficult," she said. "A
lot of the landlords are racist and don't want an Arab in their properties."
Tel Aviv university was unavailable for comment.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel.
His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq,
Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and
"Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed
Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net/>www.jkcook.net.
A version of this article originally appeared in The National
(<http://www.thenational.ae/>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.
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