BERLIN (JTA) — Following mounting protests, a controversial course on the Israeli-Arab conflict has been expunged from the syllabus at a German university.
Designers of the course on “The Middle East conflict and social work,” at the HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony had been accused of promoting anti-Zionist ideology through reading material that gave a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including accusations that Israel harvested body parts from dead Palestinians.
Dean of Studies Anna Friedrich said in Friday’s statement that the decision to change the course followed “threats from multiple sources.” But the statement also said that the changes had been announced internally last May, well before the storm of media attention erupted.
Speaking with JTA, university press spokesperson Sabine zu Klampen said she could not give further details about the threats, except to say that they were aimed at many individuals. “We are appalled… it was very bad, and the critique is not appropriate. We are not an anti-Semitic college,” she said.
In their public statement, the university said it would no longer offer the paired seminars on “Prospects of Social Work in Israel” and “On the Social Situation of Young People in Palestine.”
Green Party legislator Volker Beck, in a statement following the announcement, called the decision “overdue,” but “better late than never.”
“The seminar was unscientific, one-sided and hair-raisingly anti-Israel,” he continued, adding that he could not understand how such a course could be offered for ten years.
The issue came to light in 2015, after Dr. Rebecca Seidler, an academic who had been asked to teach a companion course on Jewish life in Germany, saw the list of reading material for the section on Palestine.
Seidler told JTA the course 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 appeared to be taken from Wikipedia, from conspiracy theory blogs and other non-scientific sources.
After she turned down the invitation to teach the section on Jewish life in Germany, the university dismissed her concerns as “oversensitivity,” Seidler, who is Jewish, said.
The executive committee of the university has now said it hopes the “heated debate will change into an honest and constructive discussion about how best to deal with different points of view in reference to the Middle East Conflict within the context of the Social Work degree program curriculum.”