SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 12, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Region & Country:Western Asia | Israel

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 12, 2024, Hebrew University suspended Nadira Shalhoub-Kevorkian, the Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of Social Work and Public Welfare, for making comments that expressed doubt about Hamas’s use of sexual assault on October 7. The university later reversed her suspension on March 27.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension came five months after an attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and amidst the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of early April, had killed over 32,000 Palestinians. In late October, Shalhoub-Kevorkian signed a petition calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, prompting the leadership of Hebrew University to call for her resignation (see report).

On March 6, Shalhoub-Kevorkian participated in an interview on the podcast Makdisi Street. During the interview, she stated that she “opposes things that were done” by Hamas on October 7, but expressed doubt that Hamas fighters had used sexual violence. Shalhoub-Kevorkian went on to condemn Zionism, saying, “Zionism is a crime, and only by revoking it will we be able to go on.”

Following the interview, students and right-wing activists, including a Member of Knesset, Sharan Haskel, called on Hebrew University to fire Shalhoub-Kevorkian. On March 12, Hebrew University president Professor Asher Cohen and rector Tamir Sheafer wrote to MK Haskel, informing him of Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension. The letter was then shared publicly with journalists and on social media. In explaining Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension, Cohen and Sheafer pointed to the petition that she had signed in October and stated that Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s statements continued to embarrass Hebrew University. In later comments, Hebrew University leaders pointed to Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s comments on sexual assault as the reason for her suspension. Hebrew University did not summon Shalhoub-Kevorkian to a hearing prior to suspending her.

Around 100 current and former Hebrew University faculty members signed a letter in protest of Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension, writing that, while they objected to her statements, they believed that Hebrew University should follow due process in suspending her and respect her right to academic freedom. In addition, a group of Palestinian academics wrote to Hebrew University stating that the decision to suspend Shalhoub-Kevorkian set a “dangerous precedent, perilously undermining academic freedom.” Yuri Pines, a professor of Chinese studies at Hebrew University, reportedly resigned in protest of Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension.

On March 27, Shalhoub-Kevorkian met with Sheafer and clarified her remarks regarding sexual assault. Following the meeting, Hebrew University announced that it had reinstated Shalhoub-Kevorkian and that she would continue teaching at the School of Social Work and Social Welfare.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a professor without following proper due process and in response to political pressure. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom and should employ transparent, fair processes when engaging in disciplinary actions. Government officials must also refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education and research institutions. Even when ultimately reversed, suspensions stemming from such activity undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.