German university denies course required anti-Semitic material

Toby Axelrod

BERLIN (JTA) – A German university is defending itself against accusations that it offered a course with anti-Semitic material that unfairly criticized Israel.

At issue is a course entitled “On the Social Situation of Young People in Palestine” at the  HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. It was offered as part of a module on gender issues.

Rather than addressing a variety of social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, the course readings focused solely on political and anti-Israel issues, said Jewish educator Rebecca Seidler, who in 2015 was asked to teach a companion seminar in the module, about Jewish

life in Germany in the present day. She turned down the invitation and contacted the Central Council of Jews in Germany.


Defending the course, University President Christiane Dienel said in a statement that “the examination of critical reading material does not imply that a lecturer maintains the views presented as his or her own or promotes them.”

An independent expert commission has now been established to review the course content, and several news articles have exposed the controversy.

Seidler said the course in question featured topics such as: ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948; histories of families with sons 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 were not scholarly, but appeared to be taken from Wikipedia, from conspiracy theory blogs, and other non-scientific sources.

Seidler brought her concerns to the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which in turn spoke with the education ministry in Lower Saxony. She told JTA that the university dismissed her concerns as “oversensitivity.”

For their part, university representatives claim that the controversial course is part of an attempt to present different perspectives.

“The accusations (of anti-Semitism) have a severe impact on us and we are convinced that they are unjustified and indefensible,” Dienel said.  “Our university maintains diverse and vital exchange relationships with Israel. The accusation of anti-Semitism is unjust and offends every party concerned.”

She added that she and her colleagues had been “massively insulted and threatened, even on a private level,” after the news stories appeared,  and suggested that for that reason alone the school “might need to rethink the concept of these courses.”

Said Seidler, “They are talking now about a shitstorm and libel, and I say, ‘Hello!’ – they are turning things around so that they are now the victim… What upsets me is they are not looking at the texts themselves. We can have an argument about facts, but no one apparently

wants to do that.”

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