On April 12, 2022, the University of Manouba located in Tunis, Tunisia determined it would withdraw the title of emeritus professor from Habib Kazdaghli, a scholar of history and former dean of the university’s faculty of letters, arts, and humanities. The administrative decision was intended to rebuke Kazdaghli for participating alongside an Israeli panelist, Haïm Saadoun, at an international symposium organized by the French-founded Tunisian Jewish History Society.
Relations between Tunisia and Israel have remained fraught under current President Kais Saied’s rule, who has repudiated any efforts to “normalize” relations with Israel and has labeled attempts to do so as “high treason” largely because of Tunisia’s historically sympathetic and supportive relationship with the Palestinian people. However, this defense has resulted in a hostile and repressive crackdown on Tunisian-Israeli ties that resemble larger governmental efforts to undemocratically and aggressively threaten human rights. In recent years, Tunisian authorities have arrested dozens of journalists, politicians, and activists for “speech-related offences” that have criticized Saied and the Tunisian military, signaling worrying conditions for Tunisian democracy and academic freedom amid an increase in the “repression of dissent.”
In step with Saied’s rule, when the University of Manouba leadership discovered a Facebook post affirming the Israeli scholar’s involvement in the conference, they penned an indignant letter to Kazdaghli accusing him of “organizing meetings behind the scenes'' to enable the “normalization of relations with Israel” and discouraged him from attending the event. Kazdaghli, however, went ahead with his planned participation, undeterred by the administration’s threats.
Kazdaghli has appealed the decision to the Ministry of Education but has yet to receive a response. The scholar has emphasized his own anti-colonialist position by stating his opposition to the “Israeli settler project,” but has denounced extremist Tunisian political positions that propagate anti-Semitism and repress Israeli voices.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) forcefully condemns the unjust withdrawal of Kazdaghli’s title because of his academic participation alongside an Israeli scholar. The Tunisian government’s attempts to censor international dialogue and discriminate against the nationalities and ethnicities of scholars only serve to suppress academic freedom and infringe on the basic freedoms of speech and assembly. We call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights and academic freedom to strongly protest the University of Manouba’s decision and to ask for the reinstatement of Kazdaghli’s title as emeritus professor.
Please send appeals to the following:
Mohamed Ali Boughdiri
Minister of Education of Tunisia
Boulevard Bab Bnet
Tunis, 1030 TN
Phone: (216-71) 568 768
Chokri El Mabkhout
President of the University of Manouba