Tuesday 22 September 2009

Israeli University in West Bank Is Disqualified From Architecture Competition

September 22, 2009, 08:39 AM ET

An Israeli college that reached the finals of a Spanish environmental-architecture competition has been disqualified because it is situated in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. The college, the Ariel University Center of Samaria, was among 20 university architecture departments from around the world selected for the finals of the Solar Decathlon, sponsored by Spain's Housing Ministry, after a two-year competition. The college, which has 10,000 students, including many Arabs, had been awarded a 100,000-euro grant by the competition's organizers to build a model house for the finals, slated for Madrid in June 2010. But Ariel's involvement was terminated after a campaign led by Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestinian group.

Sunday 13 September 2009

An Israeli Professor Tests the Limits of Academic Freedom

An Israeli Professor Tests the Limits of Academic Freedom 1

Ben-Gurion U. of the Negev

Neve Gordon's call for a worldwide boycott of Israel as "an apartheid state" has raised a fierce debate about academic freedom far beyond the confines of his campus at Ben-Gurion U. of the Negev.

September 13, 2009

By Matthew Kalman

A bitter and very public debate in Israel has raised difficult questions about how far an academic can go in criticizing his own institution while continuing to work there.

Last month Neve Gordon, chairman of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, branded Israel an "apartheid state" in an op-ed essay in the Los Angeles Times. He called for an "international boycott" of his country, including his own university.

The university's president, Rivka Carmi, quickly shot back an angry response. In the same newspaper and in a letter to faculty members, she noted that Mr. Gordon, a tenured professor, could not be "readily dismissed." But, she said, he had "forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting."

Both Mr. Gordon's attack on Israel and Ms. Carmi's attack on one of her faculty members have inspired impassioned debates in Israel and beyond.

The Israeli Social Science Network, an online forum that usually carries notices of conferences and opportunities for financial support, was transformed into a heated intellectual battleground as Israeli academics debated the implications for academic freedom in the country. Nearly 200 tenured faculty members in Israel signed a petition supporting Mr. Gordon's right to freedom of expression.

Chilling Factor?

The professor's future at Ben-Gurion seems assured by the legal protection he enjoys through tenure, but many of his colleagues say they find his position untenable. Many others support and admire him, while still others disagree vehemently with his opinions but defend his right to express them. Nagging questions persist about whether the controversy will dissuade junior faculty members and students from freely expressing their opinions.

"I was not surprised by the fact that the president of the university and people in Israel disagreed with me and even disagreed with me vehemently," Mr. Gordon said in an interview with The Chronicle. "I think it's part of some of the people's job, and I think that's what they were supposed to do."

But he said that suggestions he should leave Israel or be sacked "went just overboard."

Ms. Carmi said she had spent years defending the right of her rebellious political-science professor to express his radical views about Israeli policy, but that this time he had gone too far.

"If I had lived in South Africa when it was an apartheid country, I would have left," she told The Chronicle. "I wouldn't be able to live in a country that I believed was an apartheid state."

"I don't understand how he can carry on doing his job in an institution that he is damaging by his very public comments. I don't understand how he can condemn the university and continue to take the salary that it pays," Ms. Carmi said.

"There is an inherent contradiction between calling for academic boycotts and fulfilling the responsibilities of leading an academic department in research collaboration, publications, and international conferences," she said.

Ms. Carmi said Mr. Gordon's opinion essay had branded Ben-Gurion as a radical, left-wing university and was endangering potential donations, crucial for future development. Several major donors have written to say they will no longer support the university unless action is taken against him, she said.

Mr. Gordon said he accepted that there was "tension" between his support for a boycott and his duties as department chairman, and he said he had considered stepping down. But he called Ms. Carmi's comments "a form of harassment and intimidation."

"My stepping down as department chair would have caused so much damage to academic freedom in Israel that we could not do it," he said. "If someone has to lose his position as department chair because of his opinion, however controversial, it creates a precedent."

'A Disservice' to Peace

Alon Tal, a veteran peace activist and associate professor of desert ecology at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at the university, said Mr. Gordon had done "a disservice" to the peace camp and undermined the work toward Israeli-Palestinian coexistence at which the university excels.

"The country is in a state of war—let's not lose that context," Mr. Tal told The Chronicle. "People forget that. And you go to our enemies and you give them comfort and you strengthen their activities, and most of all you take actions that you know will damage your own university that supports you. That I find unacceptable."

He said Mr. Gordon should resign as department head and apologize. "When you take on a position as a head of department, you represent an institution. You don't represent just yourself," Mr. Tal said.

Uri Ram, head of Ben-Gurion's sociology department, agreed but drew different conclusions.

"There is a tension between a call to boycott Israeli universities and working in them and promoting them," he said. "Yet it should be left to Dr. Gordon to decide whether he can perform properly as department chair with this contradiction or not. He should not be sanctioned with discharge because he expressed an opinion. He is entitled unequivocally to freedom of expression."

Mr. Ram said he would resign as department head if Mr. Gordon was forced to step down, and he urged his colleagues to do the same.

'The Stakes Are Quite High'

The online petition in support of Mr. Gordon's academic freedom was started by Alon Harel, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He said he "vehemently" disagreed with Mr. Gordon's opinions but warned that it would be "death for Ben-Gurion University" if Mr. Gordon were not allowed to express them.

"The stakes are quite high. The stakes are the future of Israeli academia," he said. "It would be a great loss to Israeli universities if people completing their Ph.D.'s and looking for a job believe they cannot teach at Ben-Gurion because their positions are ones that the president of the university does not tolerate."

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, said he was disturbed by Ms. Carmi's attitude but encouraged by the debate it had aroused.

"The kind of statements that Rivka Carmi has made have an immense chilling effect on untenured faculty from exercising the same freedom of speech," he said. "If Neve Gordon had been untenured and had written this op-ed and then came up for tenure, a president who says this oversteps the boundaries of academic freedom would seem implicitly willing to fire him."

"One of the greatest challenges for any nation-state is to protect the free-speech rights of its citizens and its faculty members during times of war," Mr. Nelson continued. "My own country has repeatedly failed that challenge. Israel is hardly alone in finding it difficult to meet the challenge of sustaining freedoms in wartime. The rest of the countries in the Middle East wouldn't even consider such a thing. In Syria they already would have shot him. In Iran they'd just beat him to death in a jail."

"I do think it is valid in thinking about the status of these freedoms in Israel," Mr. Nelson said, "to recognize that Israel is practically the only country in the Middle East where you could even have this debate."

Friday 11 September 2009

Antiquities Authority chief: Top scholars were suspected of ties to forgery group

Sep. 8, 2009


A world-famous French scholar who authenticated one of the Israel Museum's prize exhibits and Israel's leading analyst of ancient semitic inscriptions were once suspected of being part of an "international forgery industry," it was revealed on Tuesday.

Shuka Dorfman, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that both Prof. Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne and Ada Yardeni, Israel's leading epigrapher, had been under suspicion as the Authority prepared its case against those accused of faking dozens of priceless archeological items, including a burial box possibly connected to Jesus.

Dorfman divulged this information as part of the testimony he was giving at the Jerusalem District Court in the long-running trial of two men accused of dealing in fake antiquities.

The trial, which began in 2005, followed an indictment that Dorfman described at the time as "the tip of the iceberg" of an international forgery network.

Oded Golan, a Tel Aviv collector, is charged with forging the inscription on a 60 cm.-long limestone burial box, or ossuary, that reads "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus."

The ossuary was exhibited in Toronto in 2002 and hailed by scholars as the first physical link ever discovered to the family of Jesus. But when it was returned to Israel, an Antiquities Authority committee of experts determined it was fake.

Golan is also accused of forging an inscribed stone tablet supposedly from the First Temple, and dozens of other ancient items.

Robert Deutsch, a prominent antiquities dealer based in Jaffa, was also charged with forgery, but the prosecution has been forced to retract many of the original charges after they were challenged in court.

Many of the world's top archeological experts have testified as both prosecution and defense witnesses in proceedings that already run to more than 9,000 pages.

Judge Aharon Farkash has wondered aloud in court how he could determine the authenticity of the items if the professors could not agree among themselves.

Deutsch called Dorfman to give evidence as a defense witness after the prosecution refused to put him or his deputy, Uzi Dahari, on the stand.

Dorfman said the anti-theft unit of the Antiquities Authority believed the items were forged by an international group of experts and dealers that included the two defendants.

He said the suspects at one time included Prof. Lemaire, a paleographer at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Lemaire was the first scholar to study an ivory pomegranate believed to have been used in the First Temple. The thumb-sized pomegranate is inscribed in ancient Hebrew: "Sacred donation for the priests in the House of God."

It was purchased nearly 20 years ago by a private philanthropist for $550,000 and donated to the Israel Museum after its authenticity was verified by experts.

Lemaire said he discovered the item in 1979 when an antiquities dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem showed him the tiny ornament over a cup of tea.

Lemaire photographed it and published his findings two years later in the respected Revue Biblique journal. In 1984, he published his findings in English, triggering worldwide interest.

In 2002, Lemaire published the first study of the James ossuary in the Biblical Archeology Review after seeing the burial box at the home of Oded Golan.

The pomegranate was later inspected and the inscription on it found to be suspect by a separate Antiquities Authority inquiry. Dorfman told the court they decided not to bring criminal charges against eight suspects identified in that case.

Lemaire was questioned by Antiquities Authority inspectors during a two-year investigation, but apparently was never told that he was under suspicion.

Under questioning by Deutsch's attorney, Hagai Sitton, Dorfman was challenged to justify the sweeping statements he made at a press conference in December 2005, the day the defendants were charged.

"We know there are antiquity forgeries - it's not a new thing. But the extent and the drama in attempting to fake history didn't allow us as a government body not to become involved," Dorfman told the press conference.

"I believe we have revealed only the tip of the iceberg. This industry encircles the world, involves millions of dollars," he said.

"I said there was an industry involved in making all these fakes," Dorfman told the court on Tuesday. "In my view, it looked like an entire industry, not a single forger."

Dorfman said he took responsibility for the prosecution, which has run into difficulties as the trial has wound on, but Dorfman himself cast doubt on the reliability of much of the testimony of the prosecution's star witness, billionaire antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff. According to the indictment, Moussaieff was duped into paying huge sums for several of the allegedly fake items, but his version of events has been repeatedly questioned.

Asked to comment on one story told by Moussaieff, Dorfman responded, "He is not telling the truth, plain and simple."

In another setback for the prosecution, Judge Farkash agreed to recall an expert on isotopes from the Geological Survey of Israel to explain apparent contradictions between testimony given to the court and research submitted to a scientific journal three weeks earlier.

Sunday 6 September 2009

The Burial Box of Jesus' Brother: A Case Against Fraud

By Matthew Kalman / Jerusalem
Saturday, Sep. 05, 2009

The world of biblical archaeology was stirred in 2002 by the unveiling of a limestone burial box with the Aramaic inscription Yaakov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua ("James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus"). Allegedly dating to an era contemporaneous with Christ, the names were a tantalizing collation of potentially great significance: James was indeed the name of a New Testament personage known as the brother of Jesus, both ostensibly the sons of Joseph the carpenter, husband of Mary. If its dates were genuine, the burial box — or ossuary — could well be circumstantial evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, a tenet supported only by gospels and scripture written, at the earliest, a generation after his crucifixion and, of course, by the faith of hundreds of millions through 2,000 years.

Experts, however, declared the ossuary a modern-day forgery. It was seized by Israeli police and its owner, Tel Aviv collector Oded Golan, was arrested and charged with counterfeiting the ossuary and dozens of other items. Golan and co-defendant Robert Deutsch were put on trial in the Jerusalem District Court in 2005. Deutsch is accused of forging other valuables, though not the ossuary. Both men deny all charges. (Read a review of a book on fraudulent biblical relics and the ossuary of James.)

Their trial is still continuing. Many of the world's top archaeological experts have testified as both prosecution and defense witnesses in proceedings that already run to more than 9,000 pages. And while the original charges against the ossuary appear to have been popularly accepted as conventional wisdom, they seem to be headed for trouble in the courtroom. Judge Aharon Farkash, who has a degree in archaeology, has wondered aloud in court how he can determine the authenticity of the items if the professors cannot agree among themselves. (Read a story from TIME's archive on the ossuary of James.)

The director of the Israel Antiquities Authority will soon take the witness stand for the first time since he declared, in December 2004, that the ossuary and other items seized in a two-year investigation were the "tip of the iceberg" of an international conspiracy that placed countless fakes in collections and museums around the world. He promised more arrests. But no other fake items have been seized, no-one else has been arrested, and Judge Farkash has hinted strongly that the prosecution case is foundering.

Next week, defense attorneys will present evidence suggesting that scientists testifying for the prosecution have disproved their own findings against the ossuary. The scientific evidence against Golan is largely based on measurements of the oxygen isotopic composition (in technical terms, d18O — Delta 18 Oxygen) of the thin crust — or patina — covering the ossuary inscription.

Scientists are unsure exactly how the patina is formed but most agree it is composed of deposits of solid calcium carbonate that come by way of rain or groundwater. It can contain particles added by wind and perhaps biological. Additionally, depending on the levels of acidity, it may also involve a chemical reaction with the surface of the object. Some scientists say the process is similar to the way stalagmites grow in caves; others disagree.

Testifying for the prosecution, Miryam Bar-Matthews and Avner Ayalon from the Geological Survey of Israel recorded isotopic values as low as -10.2 permil (parts per thousand) in patina found within the inscription on the ossuary. (It is believed that the lower the number permil, the wetter the season was when it was created.) "The patina could not have been created in the Judean Hills or the surrounding area in a natural way," Bar-Matthews told the court in October 2007. With the exception of one letter in the word Yeshua ("Jesus"), she said, "the patina in the other letters is not natural."

Bar-Matthews and Ayalon based on their research on stalagmites in a cave near Jerusalem, where isotopic data showed rainfall and surface temperatures over many centuries, they concluded that the climate in the past 2,000 years could not have produced the patina on the ossuary. As they wrote with Professor Yuval Goren — another prosecution witness and professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University — in the Journal of Archeological Science in 2004, "the patina covering the letters was artificially prepared, most probably with hot water, and deposited onto the underlying letters." The article states: "There is no evidence for the existence of water with such low d18O values in the area during this time span. The range of rain and groundwater d18O values in the Judean Mountains region during the last 3,000 years could not have been lower than approx -6 permil." Pressed by defense counsel, Bar-Matthews declared that an isotopic value lower than -6.5 permil for the ossuary was "impossible."

However, a subsequent paper by Bar-Matthews and Ayalon with their American colleagues Ian Orland and John Valley studied samples from a stalagmite that apparently grew from about 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D. And that showed isotopes as low as -8.5 permil, with annual rainfall in the Roman era reaching double the amounts the scientists had previously calculated. The article, published in the 2009 issue of Quaternary Research, was submitted for publication on October 11, 2007, before Bar-Matthews and Ayalon gave evidence at the ossuary trial.

The defense expects to use these esoteric contradictions against the prosecution when the trial resumes on Sunday. Defense expert Prof Joel Kronfeld of the Department of Geophysics at Tel Aviv University says the new data shatters the prosecution case. "I think this is amazing — it blows my mind," Kronfeld told TIME. "The findings in this study stand in complete contradiction to the assumptions presented by Ayalon and Bar-Matthews, and shed new light on the theory they presented to the court. They not only undercut their own arguments for determining that the patina on several items was not natural but rather quite the opposite. These data can support the authenticity of the items."

Bar-Matthews, however, argues the data from her later study are "irrelevant" to the ossuary trial. She and her colleagues say that the very low values representing wet seasons were "noise" that should not be taken in isolation since patina takes many years to form. Patina's isotopic value would represent an average figure, not just the low winter results. "It's like comparing tomatoes and gloves," Bar-Matthews told TIME. "There is no scenario where we can get light isotopic values below -6 permil also in Jerusalem under natural conditions."

The defense is likely to point out that the tests on the ossuary carried out by Bar-Matthews and Ayalon also found traces of patina in at least two other letters of the inscription with isotopes of -4.65 and -5.82 permil — well within the original range they suggested. Bar-Matthews and Ayalon discounted these results, saying the results had been corrupted either from the limestone of the box or from a nearby crack that had been recently repaired.

The trouble with this kind evidence is, of course, that the formation of patina isn't yet explainable in science everyone can agree on. The patina on one letter could be the result of one particularly wet winter that happened to leave its evidence on the ossuary — but perhaps not in a stalagmite in a cave. Or vice versa. "The analogy between the formation of cave deposits and the formation of patina on archeological objects is imprecise and more work is needed," says Professor Aldo Shemesh, an isotope expert at the Weizmann Institute who was also called as a defense expert. In the end, it is a numbers game — figuring on averages of statistics over which all the experts disagree. Says Shemesh: "Scientific debates should be discussed and resolved in peer-reviewed literature and scientific conferences, not in court." But a judge in Jerusalem has to decide on the "facts" as he sees them, for Jesus' sake.

Friday 4 September 2009

Israel Bars Some Foreign Academics Who Teach in the West Bank

September 3, 2009

By Matthew Kalman
Ramallah, West Bank

Israel has clamped down on the movement of foreign academics teaching at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, barring some from entering the region altogether or stamping "Palestinian Authority only" in the passports of others, preventing them from entering Israel.

An English-language instructor from Ireland who taught for several years at the Arab American University, in Jenin, was refused entry on August 23 when she returned to the West Bank to take up a new position at Bethlehem University and is now unable to teach. A Canadian instructor of Iranian descent was given the "Palestinian Authority only" stamp when he arrived on Sunday to teach at the Arab American University's English Language Center. A British lecturer in Middle East politics had to cancel a planned lecture at Birzeit University this year after she was denied entry by Israeli immigration officials.

The Irish instructor, who asked not to be named, said she had been teaching English at the Arab American University since 2007. Although the Israeli authorities refused to issue her a work permit, in the past they had always accepted her employment contract and extended her tourist visa to the contract's end date.

She left the West Bank for Jordan on August 20 and returned via the Allenby Bridge, which connects the West Bank with Jordan, on August 23, with 11 days left on her visa.

"I was due to take up a new position at Bethlehem University on August 24. I had a letter from the university on official paper, but it was all very different this time," she told The Chronicle from Jordan, where she was stranded. "I was kept waiting for four hours and then the immigration officer started screaming at me about a lack of work permit."

After lengthy interrogation by a plainclothes security officer and an Israeli Ministry of the Interior official, she was photographed, fingerprinted, and told her request to enter was denied.

"It is greatly to be regretted, she was a valued employee," said Graham Stott, chair of the department of modern languages at the Arab American University.

Mr. Stott said several lecturers who were allowed in were issued visas restricting them to the Palestinian Authority areas only.

"For some the restrictive visa is not problematic because they are here to work in Jenin, and they are quite happy to leave via Jordan and so it doesn't really affect them. For others who had planned to visit Israel it seriously compromises their position and their ability to do research," Mr. Stott said.

Information for travelers posted on the Web site of the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem confirms the recent change in policy.

"Anyone indicating that they either have connections to the West Bank or are planning to travel to the West Bank, may get this stamp," which does not permit them to enter into or return to Israel. "The Consulate can do nothing to assist in getting this visa status changed," the Web site states. It is not clear when or why the new visas were introduced. The Israeli Defense Ministry directed all inquiries to the coordinator of Israeli government activities in the territories. A spokesman for the coordinator directed inquiries to the country's Interior Ministry, where a spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment.

The new visa being stamped in tourists' passports has been criticized for unfairly limiting the movements of visitors with Palestinian relatives or friends, whose first stop may be the West Bank but who intend to visit Israel as well. Many Americans of Palestinian origin but who lack Palestinian passports have been turned back on arrival at Ben Gurion Airport and told they can enter only from Jordan via the Allenby Bridge.

Hanadi Abu-Taha, administrative assistant at the Arabic-language-teaching program at Birzeit University, told The Chronicle that two American students and one Japanese student were turned back at the Jordanian-Israeli border at the end of August.

"None of them is from a Palestinian background. Students who came through Ben Gurion Airport managed to enter, but those who came through the land crossing from Jordan were refused. We don't know why," Miss Taha said.

"Because of the visa problems we have shortened the semester from four to three months, which is the length of the Israeli tourist visa. It is causing major disruption," she said.

Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian-American activist who revealed the new policy on his blog in early August said the new visa was a violation of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Agreement (known as the Oslo II Accords), which allows for most foreign tourists to pass from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel.

"Most visiting faculty have been granted a one-year single-entry visa if they are associated with an educational institution, but some haven't," said Salwa Duaibis, coordinator of the Right to Enter Campaign, a group advocating unfettered access to the Palestinian Authority areas. "I have a feeling there isn't much effort put into making sure the regulations are understood by the police at the border."

Ms. Duaibis said that foreign students enter on tourist visas and can be forced to leave after three months. "Universities cannot plan their academic year properly and neither students nor professors can rely on the arrangement 100 percent," she said.