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Wednesday, 16 April 2008

American Internships in Israel Promote Extremism, Report Says

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By MATTHEW KALMAN

Jerusalem

A forthcoming report on American student internships in Israel and the Palestinian territories says that some programs are promoting extremist politics instead of academic values.

The report, "Human Rights Internships That Promote Conflict, Not Education," is to be published in May by NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog based here.

A draft copy of the report obtained by The Chronicle singles out programs at the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies and George Mason University's Center for Global Education, both of which send students as interns to human-rights nongovernmental organizations, or NGO's, in the Middle East.

"Many of these NGO's are highly political and partisan," says the draft report.

"The NGO's involved in these internship programs are systematically biased in promoting a pro-Palestinian political agenda, and present human-rights and international law in a simplistic, partisan, and misleading manner, in which the environment of terrorism and asymmetric warfare is erased," the draft charges.

Some targets of the criticism assailed the draft report as a right-wing smear, and they said the interns furthered their studies in rigorous academic programs.

Among the NGO's criticized is the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an Israeli group that promotes an anti-Israeli boycott and denounces Israeli "apartheid" and "atrocities." That committee and Mossawa, an Israeli-Arab rights group, have compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Another group criticized in the draft report, I'lam, was involved in an "Israel Apartheid" week at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

"These internships are an inappropriate element of any kind of university educational program," said Gerald M. Steinberg, executive director of NGO Monitor and chairman of the political-studies department at Bar-Ilan University. "Such one-sided political campaigning by unaccountable NGO's is antithetical to academic norms and standards of conduct."

Mr. Steinberg called on the American universities to "end such biased internships, and to appoint an independent committee to review this and similar activities."

'Clear Right-Wing Political Agenda'

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, an official at the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said Mr. Steinberg and NGO Monitor were pursuing "a clear right-wing political agenda ... he's trying single-handedly to put us out of business."

She said her group made no secret of its political agenda, which opposes the Israeli policy of destroying the homes of Palestinians built without permits and the homes of militants in retribution for their attacks.

"We're very political," she said. "We campaign for the human right to have a roof over your head. We say that people's human rights are being abused because of the occupation. If we were in South Africa, then the Israeli separation policies being implemented on the West Bank would be called apartheid­that's the translation."

She said the Israeli committee welcomed students who wanted to study the conflict close-up.

"I have no problem with people who want to learn," she said. "Let them spend time with us and with NGO Monitor. Let them see for themselves."

A Smear?

Yehuda Lukacs, director of the Center for Global Education at George Mason University, accused NGO Monitor of "trying to smear programs like ours."

"Professor Steinberg is labeling all these programs as human-rights and international-law internships," Mr. Lukacs said. "Our program is none of that. It's a workshop in civil society, politics, and conflict resolution."

"Professor Steinberg would have our students wear blinders and pursue only one point of view," he said, "and we don't do that."

He said students spent two months in the Middle East, met with Israeli and Palestinian activists and officials representing all viewpoints, and then began their internships.

"The objective of the program is to let the students decide for themselves what is happening in the area," he said. "This is a rigorous academic program with a full syllabus and lots of course requirements, including research papers. It does not have any particular ideological bent, except that we would like you to see the situation with your own eyes."

A Student's Perspective

Julie Szegda, a master's student in international peace and conflict resolution at American University, interned at Mossawa, the Israeli-Palestinian rights group, through the George Mason program in 2007.

"I didn't feel as though I was involved in political activity," said Ms. Szegda. "I saw myself as someone interested in conflict resolution coming in to analyze the level of grassroots organizations and advocacy within the conflict. I felt like, going into Mossawa, I was really aware of who they were and what they represented and what I was going to get out of it."

Mr. Lukacs drew a broader analogy. "Every year hundreds of students head to Washington to intern with U.S. senators for college credit," he said. "Would Professor Steinberg say they were involved in political activity?"

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