Last week, Amira Hass showed up at Ramallah’s Birzeit University to attend a conference entitled “Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories—Critical Perspectives.” Hass is a columnist for Haaretz; alone among all Israeli journalists, she has lived both in Ramallah and in Gaza, and her work, often sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, has earned her the World Press Freedom Hero Award from the International Press Institute, alongside other coveted laurels. Yet when Hass sat down at the conference, she was surprised to learn her hosts had other plans.
“During the first presentation on Tuesday,” she wrote in a candid account, “two lecturers from the CDS approached me within ten minutes of each other, asking me to step outside, saying that they needed to talk to me. I asked them to wait until the break, but after they asked me a third time, I stepped out of the conference hall. ‘Am I not allowed to be here?’ I asked, half-kidding, but one of the lecturers answered that there was a problem.”
The problem, of course, was obvious: “One of the lecturers,” Hass continued, “explained that it is important for students to have a safe space where (Jewish) Israelis are not entitled to enter;” Israeli citizens who aren’t Jewish are welcome at Birzeit whenever they wish, but Jewish Israelis are forbidden from entering. Hass left the conference shortly thereafter.
It would be easy to read the story of Hass’s rejection as merely tragic, or vaguely ironic, or simply maddening if it didn’t take place against the larger backdrop of unprecedented anti-Israeli measures in universities in America and elsewhere. The story of Hass’s plight is an almost comical reminder that while Israel—a nation that invests considerable resources to encourage more of its Arab citizens to pursue higher degrees—is being so viciously singled out for criticism, its opponents engage in acts of exclusion that are downright hateful. Barring any Israeli from entering Birzeit would have been idiotic but somehow tolerable; making the distinction for Jews alone is an act of sheer, unmitigated, and inexcusable racism.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.