German university denies accusations that course promoted anti-Semitism

(JTA) – A German university is defending itself against accusations that it promoted anti-Semitism by offering a course whose material offered a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including accusations that Israel harvested body parts from dead Palestinians.

Rebecca Seidler, an academic who had been asked to teach a companion course at the HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, contacted the Central Council of Jews in Germany after reading the material for a course on the “Social Situation of Young People in Palestine.”

She objected that rather than addressing a variety of social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, the course readings focused solely on political issues that paint Israel in a negative light.

Defending the course, University President Christiane Dienel said in a statement that “the examination of critical reading material does not imply that a lecturer maintains the views presented as his or her own or promotes them.”

An independent expert commission has now been established to review the course content, and several news articles have exposed the controversy.

Seidler said the course in question featured topics such as: ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948; histories of families with children who become suicide bombers and the empathy and understanding they got for it; articles alleging the Israeli military was robbing dead Palestinians of their body organs; and a collection of anti-Zionist statements. Seidler said that the texts were not scholarly, but appeared to be taken from Wikipedia, from conspiracy theory blogs and other non-scientific sources.

After Seidler brought her concerns to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, they spoke with the education ministry in Lower Saxony. She told JTA that the university dismissed her concerns as “oversensitivity.”

Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, condemned the course in a statement to The Jerusalem Post. “This is an ugly and outrageous demonstration of Jew-hatred. This is not a university, it is a hatred factory,” he said. “One would think that in Germany of all places people would understand the pernicious nature of hatred and racism under a pseudo academic guise.”

For their part, university representatives claim that the controversial course is part of an attempt to present different perspectives.

“The accusations [of anti-Semitism] have a severe impact on us and we are convinced that they are unjustified and indefensible,” Dienel said.  “Our university maintains diverse and vital exchange relationships with Israel. The accusation of anti-Semitism is unjust and offends every party concerned.”

She added that she and her colleagues had been “massively insulted and threatened, even on a private level,” after the news stories appeared,  and suggested that for that reason alone the school “might need to rethink the concept of these courses.”

Said Seidler, “They are turning things around so that they are now the victim… What upsets me is they are not looking at the texts themselves. We can have an argument about facts, but no one apparently wants to do that.”

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