Nazareth has been arguing for decades that it should host the first Arab university in Israel. Successive governments have turned a deaf ear, fearful that an Arab university teaching in Arabic might make the local “minorities” uppity.
A few years back, a group of academics set up their own college in the city, calling it the Nazareth Academic Institute. It quickly earnt a major distinction: it was the only college of higher education in Israel that the government refused to give state funding to. It’s been limping along ever since.
Now a saviour has come along in the form of Texas A&M University. They will raise $70 million for the college, meaning it will now be a campus of a US University.
Suher Bisharat, dean of students, says:
“We hoped and wanted to be an Israeli academic institution in every respect, not a branch [of a foreign university]. But when we didn’t find a budgeting solution, and ran into many problems, we saw that cooperation with Texas, which is a respected university, was a solution.”
There are good reasons to be worried about this development.
The chancellor of Texas A&M, John Sharp, has this to say: “I wanted a presence in Israel. I have felt a kinship with Israel.”
Also behind this initiative stands the very unpleasant figure of Pastor John C. Hagee, a notorious Christian Zionist who has no love of Palestinians in Israel. He apparently sold the idea to Shimon Peres, who wants to get Arabs better integrated into the workforce to help Israel’s poor OECD rankings.
Lessons will be taught in English, not Arabic – and therefore will do nothing to stop the gradual erosion of Arabic language and culture in Israel. It also seems that the staff will be from Texas A&M, therefore doing nothing to help local Arab academics who are massively under-represented in Israeli academia (currently they’re about 1% of higher education staff).
It will be called the Texas A&M Peace University, reiterating the idea commonly expressed by Israeli Jews that “Arabs” need western education and values to curb their inherent terrorist impulses.
Doubtless, economically this move will be good for Nazareth. But there are reasons for great concern. It will destroy for another generation any hope of a real Arab university in Israel. The foreign staff, with their dubious agenda, risk subtly reinforcing racist colonial stereotypes among the local population. And with Hagee involved, there are good grounds for fearing that the campus could ultimately contribute to increased tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Galilee, one of Israel’s long-standing goals.