Israel’s highest academic society: 108 professors, but not a single Arab

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities selects its members from among scholars at the peak of their career, usually when they’ve passed 60 years old; academy official says: ‘Regrettably, the number of Arab scientists… is too small’.

By Yarden Skop | Haaretz | 12 septembre 2013 |

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which comprises 108 of Israel’s most distinguished scholars, doesn’t have a single Arab member. The universities employ only a handful of Arab scholars each – between one and five – in the most senior position.

« In academia abroad, in the United States for example, they boast of affirmative action in the approach to minorities. In Israel there is no openness or desire to accept the other, » says Professor Yousef Jabareen of the Technion.

The academy selects its members from among scholars at the peak of their career, usually when they’ve passed 60 years old. Members include former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and Nobel Prize winners Yisrael Aumann, Dan Shechtman Aaron Ciechanover. The academy’s president is Ruth Arnon.

Every year the members are permitted to choose up to five new members in humanities and natural sciences. The chosen few, picked on the recommendation of academy members, are typically the most senior tenured professors in an academic institution.

An academy official said there are no Arabs there because « the stratum from which the academy’s members are chosen is the senior faculty of academia – leading scientists with achievements and accomplishments. »

« Regrettably, the number of Arab scientists … is too small in the senior academic staff, from which the most prominent and excellent ones are chosen as academy members, » he said.

Higher Education Council figures show only 2 percent of the 174 senior staff members of state-funded institutions are Arab.

A Haaretz survey of research universities found few Arab scholars in the highest professional level at each university. Hebrew University has two Arab professors at the highest level out of 20 senior faculty members. Ben-Gurion University has 13 Arab professors out of 451, five at the highest level and eight in lower positions. Haifa University has two Arab professors at the highest rung and 10 in a lower levels, out of 265 professors.

Tel Aviv University officials said there were about 25 senior Arab faculty members there, and at Bar-Ilan University there are two senior Arab faculty members. Ariel University’s 80 professors include not a single Arab.

Technion, Weizman Institute offer no data

The Technion spokesman refused to respond to Haaretz’s query, saying, « The Technion admits students and faculty members according to their qualifications and not on the basis of criteria such as religion, race or sex. » The Weizmann Institute of Science gave no data.

Only 31 percent of Arab students pass their matriculation exams and only 23 percent meet the threshold requirements to enter university. Only 11 percent of the B.A. students in Israel are Arabs and their rate drops to 4.4 percent in the doctoral program. Overall, Arabs make up 21 percent of Israel’s population.

Prof. Muhammad Haj-Yahia of the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work became the university’s first senior Arab faculty member when he was appointed in 1994, some 20 years ago. « Arab scholars started entering Israeli academia at a very late stage, » he says.

Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, former head of the Psychology Department in Haifa University, says « breaking the glass ceiling isn’t easy. I, for example, had to write twice as many essays to be promoted.

Academia consists of closed clubs and old boys’ networks, so members are usually of the same milieu and origin. Obviously Arabs have a much lower starting point and have to pass many more obstacles. »

Prof. Yousef Jabareen of the Techion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning says that since his appointment as assistant to the Technion president for minorities, « We’ve been employing more Arab lecturers and advancing Arab students for second and third degrees to create a scholarly reserve. The proportion of Arab professors in Israeli universities is among the lowest in the world. Our colleagues in the world find it hard to believe how few of us there are. It’s a serious, malignant problem. »

Jabareen obtained his second degree from Harvard and his post-doctorate from MIT. Although he already had a contract to work in Yale University, he chose to work in Israel « to contribute to my society, » he says. « It’s a utopian idea I don’t apologize for. »