Petition to Thomas Jefferson University to Rescind Honorary Degree for Dr. Tarif Bader, Surgeon General of the Israel Defense Forces

STEPHEN KLASKO, President and CEO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health & MARK TYKOCINSKI, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, Thomas Jefferson University

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In the wake of increasing violence at the hands of the Israeli government, settlers, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA has chosen to honor the Surgeon General of the IDF at their medical school's commencement ceremony on May 25, 2021. We must make our voices heard that we do not stand by this. We will be emailing this petition directly to Dr. Stephen Klasko once we have gathered 250 signatures. Until then, names will remain anonymous.

Petition by
Nida Bajwa
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

To: STEPHEN KLASKO, President and CEO, Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health & MARK TYKOCINSKI, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, Thomas Jefferson University
From: [Your Name]

Thomas Jefferson University recently named BG Tarif Bader, Surgeon General of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), as an honorary degree recipient to be awarded during the Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC) Commencement ceremony on May 25, 2021. The school’s website describes Dr. Bader as “a successful educator of military medicine” and a “known humanitarian.”[1] Israel has remained in control of the area of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT)—the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—for over 50 years. During this time, the state of Israel and the IDF have engaged in a system of institutionalized discrimination, well-documented by many human rights organizations.[2] Israel’s abuses have led the Human Rights Watch to deem the country an “apartheid state,”[3] the United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights to deem Israel’s occupation of Palestine “illegal”[4] and “inhumane,”[5] and Amnesty International to outline numerous forms of abuses by Israel as “crimes against humanity.”[6]

Just this week, Israel hit Gaza with hundreds of air strikes that killed at least 43 Palestinians (including thirteen children),[7] fired on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque and wounded hundreds,[8] and forcibly removed residents in East Jerusalem from their homes.[9] As members of the SKMC class of 2021, and human beings aligned with justice and sovereignty for all peoples, we ask that Dr. Bader’s honorary degree be rescinded, effective immediately. We stand in opposition to the decision by the SKMC and Thomas Jefferson University—a large, diverse, and well-regarded healthcare institution with a purported humanitarian mission—to honor a military official of an “apartheid state,”[3] and find it especially egregious given the current escalation of attacks on Palestinians throughout Israel and the OPT.

For Palestinian graduates, allies, and their loved ones in attendance, the honoring of a member of the IDF represents the honoring of violence against the Palestinian people. As an academic institution, Jefferson has a duty to provide a safe space for all of its students, and those they invite to partake in celebration. In order to create this safe space, we ask Jefferson to cancel any planned commencement speech by Dr. Bader as well as any speech made in his honor.

In an email addressed to Jefferson faculty, staff and students on March 18, 2021 titled “Protecting Our Asian-American Colleagues,” CEO of Jefferson Health Dr. Stephen K. Klasko wrote:

"We are committed to holding ourselves accountable, at every level of the organization, to nurture an environment of inclusion and respect, by valuing the uniqueness of every individual, celebrating and reflecting the rich diversity of our communities, and taking meaningful action to cultivate an environment of fairness, belonging and opportunity."[10]

Here we are, as concerned members of the Jefferson family, “holding you [and other Jefferson administrators] accountable.”

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Background:

The Israel Defense Forces were created in 1948 alongside the state of Israel to maintain control over the newly established nation. They represent the maintenance of the illegal occupation of Palestine, and have consistently violated international law through the use of lethal force against demonstrators who pose no imminent threat to their lives. The UN has specifically cited the IDF’s killing of children using live ammunition and crowd-control weapons to be especially egregious, in some cases constituting war crimes. In not a single case has any individual from the IDF been held accountable for these killings.[11] Israel has repeatedly failed to comply with any and all UN orders, and in recent months, has ramped up settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The expulsion of families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, is the latest in this wave of illegal settlement building.

In their recent report, the Human Rights Watch lays out, in great detail, the many crimes of Israeli control for over 50 years– unlawful killings, detention of Palestinians without due process, illegal settlement-building on Palestinian land, restriction of movement, displacement and demolition of Palestinian homes, denial of clean water and energy, restrictions on legal status, and denial of voting rights. Taken together, these crimes constitute the definition of “apartheid,” defined by the Apartheid Convention as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”[3] According to the Human Rights Watch, Israel engages in a campaign of systematic oppression against Palestinians and other non-Jewish minorities in order to ensure Jewish-Israeli domination.[3]

Sources:

[1] “2021 Honorary Degree Recipients.” Commencement 2021, Thomas Jefferson University, www.jefferson.edu/about/commencement/2021-honorary-degree-recipients.html.

[2] “Israel: 50 Years of Occupation Abuses.” Human Rights Watch, 4 June 2017, 1:01AM EDT, www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/04/israel-50-years-occupation-abuses.

[3] “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” Human Rights Watch, 27 Apr. 2021, www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution.

[4] “'High Time for Accountability', UN Expert Says as Israel Approves Highest Rate of Illegal Settlements.” UN News, United Nations, 30 Oct. 2020, news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1076572.

[5] “Israel's Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms.” Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, United Nations, 23 Dec. 2016, www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm.

[6] Marlowe, Lara. “Amnesty Report Finds Israeli Army Committed War Crimes.” News, The Irish Times, 4 Nov. 2002, 00:00, www.irishtimes.com/news/amnesty-report-finds-israeli-army-committed-war-crimes-1.1104073.

[7] “Gaza Health Ministry Says Death Toll from Israeli Airstrikes Climbs to 43 Palestinians, Including 13 Children.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 12 May 2021, apnews.com/article/middle-east-health-government-and-politics-b1a9544d77e9d9790ed962282080fdeb.

[8] Godlasky, Anne. “Al-Aqsa Mosque Taken from Prayer to Violence: Divergent Photos from One of Islam's Holiest Sites.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 11 May 2021, 13:22 ET, www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2021/05/11/al-aqsa-mosque-prayer-violence-photos-islams-holy-site/5028332001/.

[9] Krauss, Joseph. “Palestinians Fear Loss of Family Homes as Evictions Loom.” ABC News, ABC News Internet Network, 10 May 2021, 06:09 AM, abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/palestinians-fear-loss-family-homes-evictions-loom-77595319.

[10] Klasko, Stephen K. “Re: Protecting Our Asian-American Colleagues.” Message to “Jefferson Faculty, Staff and Students.” 18 March 2021. E-mail.

[11] “UN Rights Experts 'Deeply Troubled' by Impunity for Killing of Palestinian Children.” UN News, United Nations, 17 Dec. 2020, news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1080402.