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Reviewed by:
  • Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel
  • Yossi Ben-Artzi1 (bio)
Out of (Academic) Focus: on Ilan Pappe, Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (Pluto Press, London—New York, 2010), pp. 246

The reader interested in academic freedom in Israel will be better off looking for sources in the media and in internet forums because this book does not address the struggle for academic freedom in Israel despite the promise in its subtitle.2

The book unfolds the tortuous journey of a "narcissus" away from the dank marshland in which it grew, and its striving to drain the swamp (a routine Zionist duty, incidentally . . .). It is the story of the private and academic life of Ilan Pappe3 and his flight from the disillusionment and injustice of Zionism to the just promised land of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe of 1948). An ornate and presumptuous narrative, it tells of a man who turned his back on his home and his homeland and, with an excess of explanations, seeks to disguise his exit under high-minded and ideological pretexts.

The book, then, is given over to propaganda and the exposition of a personal political ideology. It accommodates the struggle for academic freedom only in as much as it touches on Prof. Pappe's own struggle with Israeli academia, as part of it and outside it. It neither examines nor illuminates the state of academic freedom in Israel in 2010 the year Out of the Frame was published.

Chapter 5, "The Best Runner in the Class," is a fable made up by Pappe about the Tantura Affair which occupies some forty percent of the total book. It is an imaginary tale told by Pappe as a hardly veiled but singularly misleading account of the Tantura Affair. The actual Tantura was a village on the shores of the Mediterranean near ancient Dor that was captured by IDF forces 22-23 May 1948 after a long night's combat. The Tantura Affair, [End Page 165] which became a cause célèbre and a life-trauma for Pappe, evolved from his involvement with an MA thesis written by Theodor Katz, a student in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Haifa. Written under the supervision of Prof. Kais Firro, Katz's thesis, titled "The Exodus of the Arabs from the Villages on the Slopes of Southern Carmel in 1948," was based primarily on numerous interviews conducted some 50 years after the events with refugees from the villages Tantura and Umm az-Ziynat. It is crucial to appreciate that Pappe himself was surreptitiously and deeply and involved in the writing of this thesis and that the rejection of Katz's thesis and unsubstantiated claims was tantamount to a rejection of Pappe's own position.

Basing himself on hearsay and on village folklore and ignoring demographic and historical evidence to the contrary, Katz claimed that IDF soldiers of the Alexandroni brigade committed war crimes that caused the deaths of 200-250 villagers after Tantura was occupied. Katz's thesis was judged internally in the department as excellent and given a grade of 97. After an Israeli journalist published the story of the alleged massacre based on the thesis which was available in the University library, the veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade sued Katz for libel. Katz was cross-examined in court for two days whereupon he signed a statement acknowledging that no massacre had taken place in Tantura. The University of Haifa suspended Katz's degree and established a special committee of experts in Arabic and History to check his tapes, which he initially refused to expose. The committee found numerous mistakes, inconsistencies in the use of evidence, fallacies and misleading use of the original tapes by the student.

Nevertheless, Katz was invited to revise his thesis. The second version was sent out to five external examiners, the majority of whom gave it a failing grade due to its low academic standard. The thesis contained flaws in each aspect of both oral and written history. In 2004 proposals were made to dig in the parking lot of Dor beach, the alleged mass...


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