Amira Hass, the long-serving correspondent on Palestinian affairs for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, has written about her exclusion from a conference last week at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank on the grounds that she is an Israeli citizen. At the same time, Hass was quick to offer an explanation that largely justified the Palestinian decision.
Hass, known for her trenchant criticism of Israeli policies, wrote of her surprise at being told by one of the organizers of the conference, entitled “Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Critical Perspectives,” that there is a rule “at Birzeit stipulating that Israelis (Jewish Israelis, that is) are not allowed on the university grounds.” Hass continued: “When friends and acquaintances (including lecturers) telephoned afterward to find out what had happened, I then understood that the rumor going around was that students had attacked me. And so, for the sake of truth, this is not what happened. What did happen was that two lecturers demanded that I leave. So I left.”
Revealingly, Hass commented: “I was at that moment reminded of the image that Israelis commonly have of Palestinians: irrational hotheads.”
However, Hass was quick to rationalize her exclusion. She reported, without comment, that another Israeli leftist, the anti-Zionist academic Ilan Pappe, had been invited to deliver a lecture at Bir Zeit which was then held off-campus, in order to not to violate the ban on Israeli Jews.
In her concluding remarks on the episode, Hass expressed sympathy with the emotional impulse behind the ban. “I understand the emotional need of Palestinians to create a safe space that is off limits to citizens of the state that denies them their rights and has been robbing them of their land,” she wrote. “As a leftist, however, I question the anti-colonialist logic of boycotting left-wing Israeli Jewish activists. In any case, such leftists do not seek kosher certificates while opposing the occupation and striving to put an end to the Jewish regime of privileges.”
In a statement, Bir Zeit University denied that a rule banning the presence of Israelis was in existence. “The administration has nothing against the presence of the journalist Hass,” the statement said. “The university as a national institution differentiates between friends and enemies of the Palestinian people… and works with every person or institution that is against the occupation.”
Hass’s experience will bolster the view that the Palestinian boycott campaign doesn’t distinguish between Israelis of different political stripes. Commenting on the mild unease expressed by Hass that the exclusion applies only to Jewish, and not Arab, citizens of Israel, the influential political blog Harry’s Place asked rhetorically, “If Hass is correct in still asserting she has been subjected to double standards – will anyone be calling for a boycott of Birzeit?”