Haifa University’s scandalous treatment of Teddy Katz, stripping him of his MA, was an Academic Lynching for the sake of a Zionist lie
Haifa University failed a student in order to uphold the Zionist fable that there was no massacre in the Arab village of Tantura in May 1948
On 21 January 2000, Ma’ariv published an article on the massacre in Tantura, a village on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, based on an MA thesis by Teddy Katz, a student at Haifa University. The thesis had been awarded the highest possible grade, 97%.
The testimonies, of both Palestinian survivors and members of the Alexandroni Brigade of the Haganah, which perpetrated the massacre, tell a chilling tale of a brutal massacre. On 22–23 May 1948, some 200 unarmed villagers were shot dead after they had surrendered.
The Tantura chapter of the thesis is based on the testimonies of 40 witnesses, 20 Arabs and 20 Jews. A few days after the Ma’ariv article, the veterans of the brigade sued Katz for libel. One would have assumed that Haifa University would stand behind Katz. In fact from the start the university began acting as if he were already guilty. It is clear that their loyalty to the Zionist narrative exceeded any attachment to academic freedom.
Spearheading the crusade against Katz within the university were senior members of the Department of Land of Israel Studies, who have always defended the Zionist narrative that the Palestinians left voluntarily, on the orders of the Arab regimes, rather than being expelled and ethnically cleansed.
It was a Palestinian NGO in Israel, Adalah, that provided assistance on a pro bono basis. Katz’s name was summarily removed from a list of those to be honored for their work. It was literally tippexed out.
Before the trial began, Katz tried to persuade the court not to take the case, arguing that it was a scholarly debate that should be determined not in court but within the university. If the university had supported this effort, he may have succeeded in avoiding a trial, but the university refused to support his application.
The trial began on 13 December 2000, with Katz being called to the witness box. The crux of the prosecution’s case rested on six minor mistakes. For example Katz substituted the word “Germans” for “Nazis.” No discrepancies were found in any of the remaining 224 references concerning Tantura.
That night, weakened by a stroke several weeks earlier and subjected to enormous pressures by his family, friends, and neighbours in the kibbutz where he lived, Katz acquiesced on the advice of one of his lawyers Katz signed an agreement that repudiated his own academic research. The agreement titled “An Apology,” is so sweeping as to bear a resemblance to a police “confession” extracted under physical pressure.
Haifa university lawyer Amazia Atzmon, an Israeli Defence Force General, also pressed him to stop. “Tell him to sign [the recantation document] and just continue his studies for his doctorate”. Atzmon had a strong interest in ending the case.
Twelve hours later, Katz formally regretted his retraction and wanted to continue the trial, but the judge, Drora Pilpel, refused to allow Katz to withdraw his concession. She threw it out, as she later admitted, without listening to Katz’s tapes.
When interviewed for the film “Tantura” a shamefaced Pilpel admitted that
If it’s true, it’s a pity. If he had things like this, he should have gone all the way to the end.
The judge’s ruling made no reference to the merits of the case, but only to the court’s ability to accept Katz’s retraction of his retraction. A number of members of the academy were only too happy to swoop down like vultures on the alleged defects in the work of a historian just starting out on his academic career.
One can speculate that the motivation of Haifa and mainstream Israeli academics was not simply denial of the massacre but a recognition that if Katz had won the case, Israeli academia’s role for more than 50 years in suppressing the truth about the Nakba would itself be in the dock.
The injustice of what happened is now apparent as a result Alon Schwarz’s documentary “Tantura” which had its world premiere at the Sundance Festival.
Schwarz listened to all 140 hours of the taped testimonies and he is convinced that Israeli soldiers killed between 200 and 250 male residents of Tantura. Former combat soldier Moshe Diamant said:
They silenced it. It mustn’t be told, it could cause a whole scandal. I don’t want to talk about it, but it happened. What can you do? It happened.
According to Diamant, villagers were shot to death by a “savage” using a submachine gun, at the conclusion of the battle. He added that, in connection with the libel suit in 2000, the former soldiers tacitly understood that they would pretend that nothing unusual had occurred after the village’s conquest. “We didn’t know, we didn’t hear. Of course everyone knew. They all knew.”
Another combat soldier, Haim Levin, related that a member of the unit went over to a group of 15 or 20 POWs “and killed them all.” Levin says he was appalled, and he spoke to his buddies to try to find out what was going on. “You have no idea how many [of us] those guys have killed,” he was told.
Another combat soldier described a different incident that occurred there: “It’s not nice to say this. They put them into a barrel and shot them in the barrel. I remember the blood in the barrel.” One of the soldiers summed up by saying that his comrades simply didn’t behave like human beings in the village – and then resumed his silence.
Amitzur Cohen, talked about his first months as a combat soldier: “I was a murderer. I didn’t take prisoners.” Cohen related that if a squad of Arab soldiers was standing with their hands raised, he would shoot them all. Asked how many Arabs he killed he said: “I didn’t count. I had a machine gun with 250 bullets. I can’t say how many.”
The film presents the conclusion of experts who compared aerial photographs of the village from before and after its conquest. A comparison of the photographs, and the use of three-dimensional imaging done with new tools, makes it possible not only to determine the exact location of the grave but also to estimate its dimensions: 35 meters long, 4 meters wide. “They took care to hide it,” Katz says in the film, “in such a way that the coming generations would walk there without knowing what they were stepping on.”
Yad Vashem historian Yoav Gelber, who played a pivotal role in discrediting Katz’s paper, asserted that a few dozen Arabs had been killed in the battle itself, but that a massacre had not occurred.
Katz’s and now Schwarz’s claims are backed up in the film with documents obtained from the IDF archive and historical aerial maps analyzed by experts, including some in the IDF who Schwarz said wished to remain unidentified.
Schwarz interviewed Katz and Ilan Pappe as well as the- veterans who admitted to the killings. Also included are interviews with some veterans who continue to deny the killings, as well as academics who doubled down on their dismissal of Katz’s methodology and findings.
One of those who had provided Katz with a four-hour testimony, wherein he repeatedly compared the horrors to the acts of Nazis and suggested the Alexandroni Brigade acted worse in as much as they killed prisoners of war, was a veteran IDF General, Shlomo Ambar. For the court case Ambar had signed an affidavit stating that he did not recall anything he said to Katz.
But in his interview with Katz, Ambar had said that
“I associate [what had happened in Tantura] only with this: I went to fight against the Germans who were our worst enemy. But when we fought we obeyed the laws of the war dictated to us by international norms. They [the Germans] did not kill prisoners of war. They killed Slavs, but not British POWs, not even Jewish POWs— all those from the British army who were in German captivity survived.”
Haifa University joins the political battle
The then Minister of Education Limor Livnat personally told Katz that she had ordered the university to strip his research from the shelves and that failure to do so would result in a complete cancellation of state funding.
The university was urged by the plaintiff to strip Katz of his Master’s degree. Rather than waiting to see how the Supreme Court would rule in a few months’ time, the university leadership acted immediately.
The actual stripping of Katz’s title was halted at the last moment due to protests from the Middle East History department. Yet the university proceeded with the work of two committees it had set up: one to check the quotations in the thesis against the tapes, and another to check if there had been fault in the supervision process.
Zalman Amit, a professor emeritus at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology in Concordia University, Montreal, noted
the university has never explained by what procedural rules it was able to re-open consideration of the status of a thesis that had already been approved and awarded a rating of 97%.
The committee found some faults and on this basis Katz’s degree was suspended. The school made him an offer to submit a revised thesis. None of this was in accordance with academic procedures. Amit wrote:
the university never explained the legal and procedural justification for this development in accordance with a pre-existing rule-book. This is particularly relevant since it is clear that Katz’s thesis was not “re-inspected” as a result of an internal academic complaint, or on the basis of academically-based information presented formally to the faculty by a qualified and authorized academic body, or as a result of a complaint from any person who launched such a complaint as a result of an academic scrutiny of the thesis. Instead, it appears that evaluation of the thesis was re-opened on the basis of some allegation that arose from an aborted legal case and that the action did not follow established and formal rules of academic procedure.
The “cleansing” of a village (this is the terminology found in Haganah documents) was to close off a village from three directions, and cause most of the population to flee in the desired direction. If it was a northern town, it would be towards Lebanon or Syria; if eastern, towards Jordan etc. In Tantura the town was closed off from land in all directions, and at sea there was a blockade by a Haganah navy force.
“[Shimshon Mashvitz] agreed [to stop] after he had killed eighty-five people [alone]…He killed them [with a Sten gun]. They stood next to the wall, facing the wall, he came from the back and killed them all, shooting them in the head…Every group twenty or thirty people. Twice or three times he changed magazines.” (Salih ‘Abd al-Rahman (Abu Mashayiff), from Tantura – Teddy Katz, Master’s Thesis).
Katz took the challenge up and interviewed more people and added in more verbatim interview sections, as well as restructuring the work. 1½ years later, Katz submitted the revised thesis, which was considerably larger than the original. The university then proceeded to appoint a five-examiner committee to judge Katz’s revised work.
Two of the examiners gave Katz passing scores, 85 and 83. Another gave a 74, which in this context was a failing mark. But the most interesting thing was the marks from two of the examiners: 40 and 50. As Benny Morris noted in The Jerusalem Report (9th February 2004), the last two graders were Dr. Avraham Sela (Hebrew University) and Dr. Arnon Golan (Haifa University). Morris wrote:
Three years ago, together with Hebrew U. professor Alon Kadish, those two scholars authored “The Conquest of Lydda, July 1948” which argued that the Israeli army had carried out only a “partial expulsion” of the populations of the Arab towns of Lydda and Ramlah and dismissed the charge that the troops had massacred Lydda townspeople, some of them inside a mosque, on July 12 1948.
In fact, according to IDF records from 1948 what was ordered and carried out was a full-scale expulsion; and Yiftah brigade troops killed some 250 townspeople. Oral testimony of Yiftah veterans, deposited in the Yigal Allon archive posits that the troops fired one or more bazooka rounds into the mosque compound, where dozens of Arab POWs were being held. The authors even failed to mention the expulsion order signed by the then Lt. Col. “Yitzhak R”, (Rabin) the operations officer, which ordered the brigade to expel “the inhabitants of Lydda”.
In other words, Haifa University got two examiners who themselves had fabricated the history of the Naqba in the interests of the Zionist narrative, to fail Katz.
Katz was thus stripped of the MA degree which would have allowed him to continue on to his PhD. In an act of “magnanimity” the university nonetheless offered him a “2nd class” Masters, a “non-research Masters”.
Following his first stroke, Katz had 4 subsequent strokes. The fifth stroke, some 8 years ago, which occurred on the 20th annual memorial day of his daughter Amira’s death, left him partially paralyzed. The treatment of Katz cannot but have helped play a part.
The behaviour of Haifa University is shocking but this incident (along with the forced resignation of Ilan Pappe) demonstrates that political considerations have long since affected its academic decisions. The time is long overdue for Haifa University to make amends for what was an academic lynching. Haifa’s behaviour also confirms the rightfulness of the academic boycott of Israeli academia.
Israeli universities are complicit, at all levels, in the oppression and exploitation of the Palestinians. Academic freedom simply does not come into it.