No war criminals in our classrooms

January 14, 2019

Why would the University of Chicago hire a retired Israel Defense Forces general to teach a class? Student activists in UChicago Socialists and UChicago Students for Justice in Palestine wrote this response in an op-ed article first published in the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago.

UNDER THE auspices of the Public Policy Program and the Committee on International Relations, Meir Elran, a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), will teach a class this winter at the University of Chicago titled “Security, Counter Terrorism and Resilience: The Israeli Case.” Elran’s main qualification for teaching this course is that he has devoted his career to conceiving and administering Israel’s counterterrorism policy.

In recent months, under the guise of counterterrorism, Israel has violently suppressed demonstrations against invasive security measures at the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site; it murdered seven Palestinians during a botched intelligence mission inside the Gaza Strip; and it massacred over 150 more Palestinians in the Great March of Return, targeting civilians, paramedics and journalists with high-velocity expanding bullets, designed to “mushroom inside” and permanently maim the body.

Israeli troops target Palestinian protesters on the outskirts of Ramallah
Israeli troops target Palestinian protesters on the outskirts of Ramallah

When retired Brig. Gen. Meir Elran walked into a classroom off the Main Quad on Tuesday and distributed syllabi to his new students, it became all the more difficult to determine where militarism, U.S. imperialism and ethno-nationalism end, and the university begins.

Elran’s tenure as deputy director of Military Intelligence for the IDF coincided with the first two years of the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The IDF responded to the First Intifada with a campaign of brutal suppression and torture. Under the slogan “force, might, and beatings,” the IDF instructed troops to break the bones of Palestinian protesters with truncheons. As Elran oversaw Military Intelligence, the IDF cut off water supplies to Palestinian communities. During the First Intifada, counterterrorism in Israel meant shutting down all West Bank universities for years at a time, as a means of weaponizing access to education. Today, Elran has come to teach at a university to spread the counterterrorism techniques he learned 30 years ago.

Elran’s allegiance to the IDF isn’t confined to the past either. He maintains close ties to Israel’s military and security complex to this day as head of the Homeland Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. The INSS publishes research and policy recommendations geared toward Israel’s national security establishment. Many of the Institute’s researchers previously served in the IDF. In providing the cover of counterterrorism to Israel’s war machine, the INSS is complicit in its crimes. Senior researchers at the INSS like Meir Elran do not produce knowledge in the service of critical inquiry or human enrichment. The knowledge they produce arms the Israeli state as it dresses up its war crimes in the language of counterterrorism.

A grant from the Israel Institute’s Visiting Faculty Program has made it possible for Elran to teach at UChicago in the first place. Founded by a former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, the Israel Institute functions in practice as a propaganda arm for the Israeli state. The Institute is part of a larger campaign to persuade the next generation of college students in the U.S. — Israel’s most important ally — to support the Israeli state project, to look the other way as Israel builds more settlements on expropriated Palestinian land; incarcerates Palestinians without charges; and expands its system of racial segregation.


ELRAN’S COURSE is advertised as a historical examination of Israel’s national security strategy, from the time of the Nakba in 1948 to the present. Students will explore how “Western liberal democracies respond to the threat of terrorism and sub-conventional ‘hybrid’ warfare.” We condemn this course offering as a shameful repackaging of Israel’s human rights abuses under the cover of a liberal arts education.

The use of counterterrorism as rhetoric to justify the continued occupation of Palestinian minds and lands is at best Orientalist and at worst murderous. It was with this rhetoric that the IDF justified the suppression of resilient Palestinian communities during Elran’s tenure as a brigadier general. And it is with this rhetoric that Israel’s occupying forces today conceal the dehumanizing violence of their siege on Gaza and colonization of the West Bank.

The implications of bringing this rhetoric into the classroom are grave. No matter Elran’s intentions, the basic foundation of his course necessarily encourages students to dismiss the legitimacy of Palestinian struggles for justice, to accept the occupation of Palestine as a normal state of affairs, and to celebrate the “liberal” policies of an army that commits human rights atrocities. The course description manages to exclude any reference to Palestinians, implicitly demonizing their struggle for liberation. To write this class off as simply presenting one side of a complicated issue would be disingenuous. Under the guise of a liberal arts education, Elran’s course actually infringes upon open discourse by furthering the all-too-common and virulently Islamophobic rhetoric that positions Israel as standing bravely and resiliently in the face of their country’s barbaric natives. The rhetoric of counterterrorism is inseparable from Islamophobia and thus inseparable from Israel’s system of racial segregation.

In articles he has written and in his course description, Meir Elran touts what he calls “the doctrine of resilience” as a paradigm for counter-terrorism. Elran’s embrace of the “doctrine of resilience” is tragically ironic, since nothing embodies resilience better than the everyday struggle of Palestinians for dignity, equal rights, and self-determination.

First published in the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago.

E-mail alerts

Further Reading

Latest Stories

From the archives