First Lieutenant (res.) Eyal Cohen, an intelligence officer, arrived at his college in southern Israel this week following a long and exhausting army reserve service. He did not expect the welcome he got.
"He entered the classroom and was stopped by the Arab lecturer, who refused to let him in," a student at the college recalled. "The lecturer told him, 'I do not teach soldiers, policemen and officers in uniform.' He was pretty shocked."
Cohen refused to leave the classroom and tried to protest the order, but the lecturer, Nizar Hassan, did not let him talk. "Eyal sat down and refused to leave the classroom," the soldier's friends said.
"The lecturer was unhappy with Cohen's presence at the lesson and kept on making remarks like 'yes, commander' and talking negatively about the IDF, while staring at him."
According to the other students, when Cohen tried to say something, the lecturer interrupted him and said, "I told you I do not teach officers and soldiers. Next time, come to class in civil clothes and I will give you 10 minutes to talk."
Cohen was angered both by the lecturer's remarks and by the fact that the other students kept silent and failed to protest or leave the classroom.
"I thought that in such a situation the students should have left. I was quite surprised when no one said anything or did anything about it," the soldier told his friends after the lesson. According to the friends, Cohen was agitated and said that he would not ignore the incident.
Cohen's friends said that they were not surprised by the lecturer's remarks.
"This is a lecturer who expresses similar opinions during the classes. He has referred to the IDF as the army of occupation and does not speak positively about the IDF. This time, however, is seems that a red line has been crossed and the college must deal with it."
Knesset members and public figures have called on the college to take action and on students to boycott the lecturer's classes.
Hassan recently signed a petition calling on "conscientious" international artists to cancel their participation in any exhibition or other cultural event planned to take place in Israel. The petition also called on the world not to allow "the Israeli aggression" to grow. "We call on the international community to join us and boycott Israeli film festivals," the document said.
Waiting for an apology
Following the report, Cohen received dozens of telephone calls from students and public figures. "What is important is that the college expressed its support for me and stood by me. I am waiting for the lecturer Hassan to return from his trip abroad and apologize to me. This is the important and only thing he must do."
The student said that he was not seeking the lecturer's dismissal. "I do not wish to harm his livelihood, but what he said was extremely severe, and therefore I demand an apology."
Sapir College president, Prof. Ze'ev Tzahor, said that "after hearing only one side, we tend to believe the student's version. This appears to be severe."
Tzahor explained that the college's stance was unequivocal – every person in uniform is allowed to enter any part of the college.
"I myself was a retired major for many years, and when I arrived in class I was greeted with a lot of respect. This is the behavior I expect from everyone," he said.
According to the college president, some 600 career officers and police officers and many reserve soldiers study at the institute.
"I have yet to talk to Hassan as he is abroad, but I sent him a message. We will hold a hearing and draw conclusions," Prof. Tzahor said.