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Open Letter to Beit Berl College
Please sign and circulate. Signatures should be sent to Heba Yazbak
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
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
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
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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