Lecturer calls for abolition of Sussex University’s Israel Studies course

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By Richard Millett

Tom Hickey, a Brighton University lecturer, speaking at the start of Sussex University’s Palestine Awareness Week on Monday night called for the abolition of Sussex University’s newly established Yossi Harel Chair in Modern Israel Studies until questions relating to its “external sources of funding” and the process that established it are “satisfactorily answered.”

He also attacked already established Israel Studies courses at SOAS, Leeds University, Manchester University and Oxford University.

Hickey is a senior member of University and College Union’s National Executive Committee and a member of BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine).

At the event, Academic Integrity or Political Propaganda: The Chair of Modern Israeli Studies, Hickey referred to Israel Studies courses as an:

“Israeli state propaganda initiative that operates under the name of Hasbara which means ‘explanation’ or, to put it more forcefully, ‘public relations’. In other words the Hasbara initiative to try to divert the world’s attention and to alter its perception of Israel as a state indelibly associated with such things as guns and warfare, dead children, demolished houses, drone led assassinations, phosphorus bombs and other similar war crimes and to shift the attention from that to the idea of the Israeli state as a centre of democracy, freedom and plurality etc.”

He complained that the newly established Sussex University Chair was named after Yossi Harel who, he said, “was open to the charge, if not guilty of the charge, of something that would today be called nefarious activities if not, literally, war crimes.”

Harel, who passed away in 2008, signed up for the RAF during World War Two and in 1947 captained illegal immigrant ship Exodus which took 4,500 Holocaust survivors to British Mandate Palestine. Its passengers defiantly resisted British attempts to turn the ship back.

But Hickey said the use of Harel’s name made the Chair “look less like a dispassionate inquiry into what is going on and more like something divorced from academic scholarship”.

Hickey then questioned why there were no Chairs in Palestine Studies or the Palestinian/Israeli conflict before outlining the “external sources of funding” with which he was concerned.

The Israel Studies courses at SOAS (and here), Manchester University and Leeds University are funded by the Pears Foundation. The Chair at Oxford University is funded by the Stanley and Zea Lewis Family Foundation and the new Chair at Sussex University was established by Lord Weidenfeld.

Meanwhile, a BRICUP briefing document outlines “key hasbara names…driving new finance in academia”. It paints a picture of immorality amongst British, or Britain based, Jewish businessmen.

For example, Trevor Pears is described as a “British billionaire…who has been in much controversy…for his seemingly ruthless treatment of small shopkeepers and individual tenants”, Gerald Ronson as a “convicted felon”, while Leonard Blavatnik “has an outstanding debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland (and thus to the UK government) of £2.5bn, which he was granted in a loan and then never repaid….he is effectively subsidised by the UK government.”

Hickey even raised concerns about who would be allowed to teach an Israel Studies course. He said:

“If I were well known for a certain hostility to Israel and Zionism and were I to apply for the Chair would I, by dint of my political position on Israel, be debarred from it? If I was a Muslim would I be debarred from it? More sharply, if I was a Palestinian would I be debarred from it?”

He said that the lack of guarantees prohibiting such possible discrimination leads to the “legitimate suspicion” that this is a “propaganda exercise on behalf of Israel rather than a genuine academic exercise”.

Hickey suggested that students and staff should question Sussex University about the composition of the panel that appointed the Chair. He continued:

“all of the circumstantial evidence indicates the possibility of impropriety and the failure of the University of Sussex and the Vice-Chancellor to answer questions by staff and students reinforces the concern that suggests that this may be a major problem of academic impropriety…this university if it is to have any scholarly integrity should abolish this Chair until those questions can be satisfactorily answered.”

Hickey has previously claimed that Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians is “more insidious” than the Nazis treatment of European Jewry. And on the way out of Monday night’s event a 26-year-old Sussex student, who claimed she had lived in the West Bank, screamed “there’s nothing wrong in blowing up Israeli buses”.

I really wish Professor David Tal, who will be teaching the new Chair at Sussex University, and his students a safe academic year ahead.

With great respect to Sussex Friends of Israel for their amazing work against bigotry.