The new Stasi state: Israel’s Shin Bet at Tel Aviv Univ.
How Israel is turning Tel Aviv University into another arm of the occupation ■ There is a difference between academia in the former East Germany Stasi state and the collaboration of the most “leftist” academia in Israel with the security forces.
By Hanin Majadli • Dec 30, 2021
A few days ago, Idan Landau commented on his blog about the Shin Bet looking for start-up ideas and entrepreneurs with Tel Aviv University. Landau compared it to the “Academy of Law in Potsdam”, which trained the bureaucratic elite in East Germany during the Cold War and was controlled and managed by The Stasi.
This made me recall my studies a few years ago in the department of History of the Middle East and the department of Arabic and Islamic studies. One Arab among just a few dozen Arabs in the Faculty of Humanities. There was a sort of general understanding between us that many of the Jews who study with us are former intelligence corps graduates, and that some of them work in the Shin Bet, or will work there after graduation, so we should be careful and keep our views to ourselves.
The History of the Middle East classes were held in the “Gilman” building, which had a reputation for being the stronghold of the radical left in Israel. Some have jokingly called it an “arm of Fatah.” Not only “Gilman” and the humanities were colored bright leftist, but also Tel Aviv University in general.
But does reality support such an image and such slogans? After all, our concern at that time was founded on students who studied with us in the department, but did so as part of the “Havatzalot program” — “the flagship program of the Intelligence Corps, which combines professional service and a bachelor’s degree in political science and the history of the Middle East and in one of the analytical departments” (from the program’s website). Yes, Tel Aviv University grants a great deal of leeway within its grounds to the security forces, either in the aforementioned program, or in the framework of cooperation with the Shin Bet, which is done with mentoring by advisors from various fields on behalf of the university and funded by the university’s investment fund, or in “career meetings”, which are conducted with Shin Bet representatives or in shortened academic programs in the humanities, intended for members of the security forces.
Here is a summary of the fruitful collaboration between the “leftist academia” and the security forces: Helping the Shin Bet develop more sophisticated spying and surveillance technologies, allowances and grants for soldiers in intelligence units, shortened and easy academic programs for employees of the security system, secret studies conducted for the Shin Bet. These examples raise difficult questions regarding the university’s role: Is it an academic institution, which is supposed to broaden one’s horizons and train citizens to work in civilian life, or is it an institution which is supposed to serve as a central engine of the security forces?
But nevertheless there is a difference between academia in the Stasi state and the collaboration of the most “leftist” academia in Israel with the security forces: Israel is not East Germany of 40 or 50 years ago. In the latter, universities were subordinate to the Stasi and feared the violent organization in case they did not cooperate. In Israel, cooperation is done voluntarily (and perhaps a few bucks are made out of it in the end). And also: From the Stasi’s point of view, all citizens were suspects, while in the eyes of the security forces in the Jewish state — only the Palestinians are suspects.
All this begs the question: Doesn’t this cooperation turn Tel Aviv University into another arm of the occupation? But even if one assumes that no Jew really cares about the occupation and the destruction of Palestinian lives by the secret services of the state, this harmony and cooperation carries an additional price, which Israel’s Jewish citizens too will pay. One can bear this in mind the next time the government talks about using Shin Bet for contact tracing under the guise of a pandemic, and you people will shout “Stasi state!”.