BERLIN — The German university HAWK announced on Friday that it will stop teaching a seminar on Palestinian youths, in which Israel was accused of harvesting the organs of Palestinians and termed an apartheid state.
”After days of protests, the HAWK today canceled from its curriculum its anti-Semitic seminar ,” said Volker Beck, a German Green Party MP, who voiced sharp criticism over the last week of the HAWK course.
HAWK—an acronym for the University of Applied Sciences and Arts—said in a statement on the seminar cancellation: “This decision by the faculty comes as a response to issues raised in the current debate and as a result of fact that a safe and trustful learning environment cannot be guaranteed under such circumstances.”
“There is no place for antisemitism at our university”, said HAWK president Christiane Dienel, adding “Everybody who knows the HAWK also knows that we work against discrimination on all hands.”
The Dean of Studies at HAWK Anna Friedrich referred to “threats from multiple sources” and said “I distance myself from thinking of the conflict in black and white.”
HAWK claimed a moral pressure campaign from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, The Jerusalem Post and a German Jewish weekly sought to silence debate on different views about Israel.
Rebecca Seidler, the academic who blew the whistle on the anti-Israel seminar, said on Friday, “ I welcome this long overdue decision. After the first reactions from president Dienel, it did not look as if she knew about what she judged. Now, I assume that she has made this important and correct decision after a well-informed review of the seminar material.”
Seidler, who revealed the content of the anti-Israel curriculum in the media last month, said one can only come to a decision to pull the plug on the course based on the seminar content.
She added “I expect, in going forward, more transparency for the new seminar. This starts with the naming of the expert, who is also supposed to assist in the new course concept. And the university has responsibility to examine internally how it could be that an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic seminar could be taught for over ten years.”
German commentators expressed concerns that HAWK will try to repackage an anti-Semitic seminar in a new anti-Israel format to circumvent criticism. The controversial seminar is titled: “On the Social Situation of Young People in Palestine”.
Seidler urged professor Christa Paulini, who oversees the department in which the anti-Israel seminar was taught, to critically question and examine her decision to allow Ibtissam Köhler to teach the seminar.
Köhler, a German-Palestinian woman, was the instructor of the course and apparently selected the material designed to demonize the Jewish state, critics say.
The Post obtained a June letter to HAWK from the German branch of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). The SPME, which has a worldwide membership of 55,000 academics, said in its letter the seminar material propagates “unacceptable world conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and anti-American” views. HAWK declined to respond to the SPME letter.
The course material, which was examined by the Post, includes claims that “Israel committed a genocide in Gaza” and that Jewish state is an apartheid state. One article titled “Our sons are plundered of their organs” argues Israel trafficked in the harvesting Palestinian body parts. An article on the US disputed that 9/11 took place:“ it is quite certain that the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was an unbelievable and obscene building of lies.”
Dr. Ralf R. Schumann, who signed the SPME letter on behalf of the German chapter, said SPME believes Köhler should not teach courses at HAWK because she “is not objective and lacks the academic standards” for a university.
When asked by the Post if Dienel, Paulini and Köhler plan to resign, HAWK’s spokeswoman Sabine zu Klampen said “a resignation is not up for debate. There is no cause for it.”
Volker Beck asked Dienel to disclose the seminar material for the public. She declined. Twitter was abuzz with requests for Dienel to release the seminar material in the name of transparency.
HAWK receives public funds from the Lower Saxony state government.
The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, told the weekly German
Jewish paper Jüdische Allgemeine on Friday that he welcomed the cancellation of the seminar.
“It is regrettable that one-sided and tendentious course material—and not only a false view of the state of Israel—but that prejudices were nurtured” and conveyed to the students.
Beck, the German MP, asked how it was possible that a one-sided and non-scientific anti-Israel course could be taught for roughly ten years?
Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the Post last Thursday that the seminar “ is an ugly and outrageous demonstration of Jew-hatred. This is not a university, it is a hatred factory. One would think that in Germany of all places people would understand the pernicious nature of hatred and racism under a pseudo academic guise.”