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Open Letter to Beit Berl College
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Open letter in protest against the anti-democratic exclusion of MK Haneen Zoabi from the annual conference in memory of Dr. Vicki Shiran at Beit Berl College.
Open Letter to Beit Berl College
Prof Tamar Ariav
President of the College
Dr. Aharon Zeidenberg
Chairman of the Administration Committee
Public protest against the anti-democratic exclusion of MK Haneen Zoabi
We, women who hold a variety of positions and views along the political spectrum, protest against the exclusion of MK Haneen Zoabi from the annual conference in memory of Dr. Vicki Shiran. (“Where am I?” gender perspectives on the politics of the region, 19 March 2012) The exclusion of MK Haneen Zoabi stands in complete contradiction to the principles of freedom of expression, academic freedom, multiculturalism and openness to diverse opinions.
The legacy of Dr. Vicki Shiran requires equal representation for women from various groups in the population: the “quarters policy” that unifies feminism in Israel. According to that policy, we must make sure that Mizrahi, Palestinian and lesbian women each receive a quarter of the time and the space in every public arena. The objective of this is to correct the exclusion of and discrimination against women from national, ethnic and sexual minority groups.
In order to ensure that the conference in memory of Dr. Vicky Shiran does justice to her feminist-egalitarian activism and outlook, prominent activists from women’s organizations in Israel arranged a meeting with the head of the programme for gender studies at Beit Berl College, Dr. Roni Halperin. At that meeting it was decided that Mizrahi and Palestinian Israeli citizens would be invited to speak at the conference.
Following that change, we were gratified that despite the short advance notice, MK Haneen Zoabi happily agreed to participate in the open panel on female politicians. Until MK Zoabi’s acceptance, Palestinian and Mizrahi women had been excluded from that panel.
We were astonished to discover that Beit Berl College decided to cancel MK Haneen Zoabi’s participation in the conference under the puzzling pretext that MK Zoabi represented positions that are identified as extreme Left, and that the College’s commitment to pluralism therefore required that the invitation of MK Zoabi be “balanced” by inviting a politician from the extreme Right.
After the College cancelled the participation of MK Haneen Zoabi in the conference, the Mizrahi participants who had joined as representatives felt obligated to cancel their participation. Any participation in the conference in its current format constitutes agreement with and support of the exclusion and silencing of MK Haneen Zoabi.
The position of MK Zoabi and her Balad party are known to all: full civic equality for all citizens of the State of Israel, both Palestinians and Jews. It is a legitimate and legal position, which contains no call for discrimination in favour of one national group over another. The demand to “balance” that position with an extreme right-wing position is like demanding to balance a homosexual speaker with one who promotes homophobia.
Beit Berl College has emblazoned the principles of openness, academic freedom and multiculturalism on its banner. Moreover, as an institution that trains educational workers, the College bears a unique responsibility for the forming of outlooks and identities for the next generation. We see the disqualification of MK Haneen Zoabi as a legitimate speaker – as if giving her a stage required the inviting of a speaker from the extreme Right – as a distressing and dangerous move on the part of Beit Berl College towards the anti-democratic trends of racism against and silencing of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
We, workers and representatives of women’s organizations in Israel, insist on the right of elected representatives of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to have their voices heard in every public forum, especially academic ones. The dismaying tendency towards extremism in Israeli society demands of all of us that we stand on guard for freedom of expression and the rights of minorities more than ever before. We call on Beit Berl College to publish an open apology to MK Haneen Zoabi and to the Israeli public.
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