A Letter from Academia for Equality: We, Too, Will Not Take Part In This Crime: Turkey, Israel And Academic Freedom

The following letter has been written by Academia for Equality (A4E). A4E is a members’ organization of 400 academics dedicated to advancing equality and democratization of Israeli academia and society. They state that they stand against all forms of occupation, dispossession, military or economic control, and object to the complicity of Israeli academic institutions with the repression of Palestinian academia, and the military occupation of Palestinian Territories.

A delegation on behalf of Academia for Equality will be present in Istanbul for the hearings scheduled for January 30 and 31 in order to express their solidarity with the persecuted signatories of the 2016 Peace Petition entitled “We will not be a party to this crime.” They declare that they stand by your demand to end the relentless killing, deportation and oppression of minorities in Turkey, and the right to demand a just end to the conflict. They urge the Turkish government to drop all charges against the signatories and reintegrate them in their previous positions.

In Istanbul, hundreds of academics are currently being prosecuted for “spreading terrorist propaganda.” In line with the Turkish counter-terrorism law, if found guilty they are expected to be sentenced to up to seven and a half years in prison. In
point of fact, though, these are academics whose only “crime” is signing a peace petition condemning the killing of civilians.

In the summer of 2015, following the collapse of the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey launched a brutal attack against the Kurds, which included the bombing of entire cities
identified with the PKK, as well as the raping and massacring of civilians. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their hometowns. As a result, about 1200 academics known as “Academics for Peace” signed a petition entitled “We Will Not Be a Party to This Crime.” In 325 words, the petition called on the Turkish government to end the starvation,  eportation and massacre of Kurdish citizens, and to renew the peace process negotiations for a just solution to the conflict.

The AKP (Justice and Development Party) government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saw the petition as an incitement against the institutions of the Turkish Republic and labeled the signatories as “traitors” and “terrorists.” Since then, members of “Academics for Peace” have been subjected to arrests, dismissals, confiscations of passports, and they are now facing trial. Those who asked to put an end to the violence are presented in the Turkish press as “collaborators” who are
subverting the state, the army and the Turkish nation.

“Academics for Peace” are not alone. A series of emergency decree laws implemented following the coup attempt of July 15, 2016 enabled the Turkish government to escalate its fight, not only against those allegedly related to the Gülen movement, but against its various political opponents. Hence, since the attempted coup, more than 10 opposition members have been arrested, more than 100 media channels shut down, and neighborhoods with Kurdish and Alevi majority populations are under arbitrary curfew policies. Furthermore, over 40,000 civil servants, journalists, teachers and researchers have been dismissed, many of them socialists, Alevis and pro-Kurdish activists. Dismissed via emergency-rule decree, they are not entitled to unemployment benefits, they cannot work in the public sector and are not allowed to leave the country to find employment elsewhere. Out of a job and in despair, many of them also suffer from regular attacks and threats from nationalist organizations. So far, two academics have committed suicide after losing their positions and being accused of terrorist activity following the publication of the peace petition.

Silencing academia, preserving the elite It is vital to note that what is happening in Turkey is, among other things, an
extreme example of a global crackdown on academia by governments that perceive a flourishing diversity of opinions and scholarly skepticism to be a direct threat to the preservation of their regime. These are governments that promote nationalism, racism and xenophobia at the expense of openness, cooperation and the free movement of people and ideas—values that shape the core of academic work. These are governments that prefer economic profit over the development of
knowledge and culture; that encourage dogmatism rather than free thought and open debate. Indeed, in Israel, too, we have been experiencing more and more violations of the freedom of speech and open academic inquiry in recent years:  onferences and lectures have been cancelled due to party pressures; faculty members have faced threats after making statements that challenge the status quo; and, of course, the formulation of the “code of ethics” has aimed to ban academics from voicing political opinions on, or showing support for, the academic boycott of Israel. In addition, the Israeli authorities systematically violate academic freedom in Palestine by arresting and restricting the movement of students, faculty and international researchers, by preventing Palestinian researchers to travel abroad, by launching IDF armed incursions into campuses, by confiscating equipment and more.

Regardless of Netanyahu and Erdoğan’s rhetoric of disagreement and conflict, Turkey and Israel have a lot in common, as two nation states that chose to secure the superiority of the “founders” by violently trampling other groups that were
seen as primitive or a fifth column. The fight against teachers and academics, therefore, is not coincidental. In Turkey, as in Israel, the political elites are particularly worried by those who might raise “problematic issues,” such as the discrimination, deportation and killing of cultural, ethnic and religious minorities who are part of the founding and sustenance of the state. In Israel, such issues include the Nakba, the ongoing displacement of Palestinians, the kidnapping and disappearance of thousands of children from Yemenite, Balkan and Mizrachi families, and the race-based tracking of immigrants from Muslim countries. In Turkey, on the other hand, these issues pertain to the Armenian Genocide, the Dersim Massacre, the Alevi massacres, the crimes against humanity committed in the aftermath of the 1980 coup d’etat and the ongoing war against the Kurds in the east and southeast of the country. In a time when minorities, women and people of color are raising their voices, creating new alliances and challenging the existing hegemonic order and its bloody history, the elites are certainly right to be worried. And in response, they are holding academia—understood to be a central agent in the unraveling of systems of oppression and structural discrimination—at gunpoint.

But it is not enough to demand “academic freedom” if such freedom is good for nothing else than reaffirming the repressive whims of those in power. This is precisely what Israeli academics are doing when they turn a blind eye to both the violations of academic freedom in Palestine and to Israeli universities’ direct involvement in numerous mechanisms of exploitation and oppression. Thus, as a first step, this involvement must be disclosed and criticized. As for the political and military aspects, there are numerous examples of the ways in which Israeli academia cooperates with the arms industry, enabling the direct armament of oppressive regimes, while also participating in the attack on Palestinian society, which can be publicly accessed through a digital library operated and updated by “Academy for Equality.”

As for the economic aspects, it should be emphasized again and again that the implementation of neoliberal policies in higher education results in the abuse of workers, discrimination against low-income students and the subjection of
academic research to economic incentives and PR considerations. The latter serves to further widen the gap between academia and the public: whereas a critical article in a prestigious journal can improve universities’ ranking, its diffusion
to the public sphere might distance potential students and donors. It should not come as a surprise, then, that the University of Haifa made an effort to get rid of someone like Dr. Dotan Leshem, author of The Origins of Neoliberalism: Modeling the Economy from Jesus to Foucault, who is well known for making his research findings accessible to the public. Secondly, when academic freedom is violated—in Haifa, in Tulkarm or in Ankara—supporting academics or condemning the silencing practices is not enough. Focusing on the persecution and censorship of those who criticize the government without publicly elevating their silenced opinions (even if we don’t agree with them, because that’s how academia works) plays right into the hands of the censors.

Thus, we have come, full circle, back to “Academics for Peace.” Since the petition was published, we have seen more and more—but still not enough—actions expressing solidarity with the signatories: petitions, fundraising campaigns, programs and scholarships for academics at risk, and more. But in addition to supporting the signatories we must not cease to voice their silenced call: the just criticism of the relentless killing, deportation and oppression of minorities in Turkey, and the right to demand a just end to the conflict. Moreover, it is not sufficient to discuss the situation in Turkey and remain silent in the face of similar trends taking place in Israel.

Against the efforts to convert the higher education system into an apparatus in the service of the military industry, or into a training institute for government officials, we must continue to voice our resolute condemnation of the continuation of
state violence and human rights violations. We must continue the fight to liberate academia from its enslavement to market interests and ensure the existence of independent research, a diversity of opinions and critical thinking—all of which are
essential to a functioning democratic society. Without critique, resistance and the constant drive to question of the status quo, which also applies to our own academic institutions and practices, the demand of academic freedom will remain
meaningless.

 

Originally published in Hebrew @haokets.org
Yaara Benger Alaluf is member of Academia for Equality – organization for the
democratization of academia and society in Israel.


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