3881Israeli academics fight 'racist' university test - Guardian, UK
- Dec 1, 2003Israeli academics fight 'racist' university test
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Monday December 1, 2003
Israeli academics are threatening to call for an
international boycott of their own university heads if
admission tests alleged to have curbed the number of
Arab students are reintroduced.
The heads of the country's five universities last week
announced that they would bring back controversial
psychometric testing that favours middle-class Jewish
The boycott would include rejecting academic papers
from individual heads.
The psychometric assessments were dropped more than a
year ago, resulting in a big increase in the admission
of Arab students. A statement by university heads
justifying the tests has reinforced the view that the
move is racist. Arab lecturers at Israeli universities
met at the weekend to decide how to respond.
Nadim Rouhana, a psychology professor at Tel Aviv
university and director of the association of Arab
professors, said: "It's an openly racist policy, but
what's more dangerous is that it's being conceived and
conducted by what should be considered the centres of
enlightenment, the centres of education. I will be one
of those to call for a boycott in Europe and the
The psychometric tests were dropped in the hope of
benefiting poorer Jews whose families originate from
the Middle East. They lost out in tests skewed in
favour of wealthier Jews of European origin.
But the main beneficiaries were Arab Israelis poorly
versed in test subjects such as Jewish history and
Hebrew literature. At Tel Aviv university the number
of Arabs studying medicine rose sixfold.
University heads did not refer to Arabs in their
statement announcing the reintroduction of the tests
but spoke instead of students from poor Jewish
families. It said: "Admissions policies based on
grades do not make studies more accessible to students
from the periphery. Since the number of places
available in university enrolment has not risen, the
acceptance of one population nudges out another
Arab lecturers say the wording refers to Arab students
replacing Jews. But the universities deny any such
"The psychometric tests are relevant to the whole
population. They are held in six languages, including
Arabic. The sections dealing with culture do not have
an inclination toward Jewish culture," said the
association of Israeli university heads. But the
universities cannot explain why the number of Arab
students increased when tests were dropped.
Among those who question the claim is Hassan Jabareen,
director of the Israeli Arab legal rights centre,
"The whole system is sys tematically biased," he said.
"Twenty years ago I sat one of these tests at Tel Aviv
university. I was asked who Einstein was. I said he
was the biggest scientist in the world. But they said
no, we gave a different first name. We are speaking of
a singer from Tel Aviv."
The controversy has flared as Israel tries to head off
a growing foreign boycott of its universities by
accusing those behind it of anti-Semitism or holding
Israel to a higher standard than other countries.
"It's ironic," said Prof Rouhana. "They [university
presidents] don't see the connection between the
boycott and their actions."
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