Tanya Reinhardt: Israeli linguist, courageous defender of Palestinian rights 1944 - March 17 2007 Print E-mail
Sunday March 18 2007

Linguist, left-wing activist Prof. Tanya Reinhardt dies age 63

By Haaretz Service

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Linguist and left-wing activist Professor Tanya Reinhardt died in New York on Saturday at age 63.

Reinhardt, one of the most outspoken representatives of the radical Israeli left, was a fierce critic of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying they represented a perpetuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. She was also a proponent of an academic boycott of Israeli universities to protest the occupation.

After receiving a master's degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Reinhardt wrote her doctoral thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under renowned linguist Noam Chomsky.

Her contributions to linguistic theory dealt with the connection between meaning and context, and the interface between syntax and systems of sound.

From 1977, Reinhardt taught courses in linguistics and literature at Tel Aviv University, including classes in critical reading of media and the analysis of discourse based on Chomsky's methods.

For the last 15 years she also taught at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

In December 2006, Reinhardt left Israel and settled in New York to teach at New York University.

Reinhardt and those close to her said the change in the university's relationship to her was made in response to her statements calling for an academic boycott of Israel.

Reinhardt espoused the principle of non-violent resistance, and was among the leaders of the left-wing activists who called for boycotts of the 1996 and 2001 elections.

She was active in recent years in Israeli-Palestinian efforts against the West Bank separation fence and the seizure of land from Palestinians for its construction.

Reinhardt was married to poet and translator Aharon Shabtai.


19 March 2007


In Memoriam: Tanya Reinhart

On Saturday, 17 March 2007, Israeli linguist and activist Tanya Reinhart passed away in New York at the age of 63. Tanya's was a vital and rare Israeli voice that never wavered when it came to criticizing Israel's systematic violations of Palestinians' rights, including making a professional sacrifice by contributing to the discourse over the academic boycott of Israel. The following article, penned by Tanya and published by EI on 25 May 2005, reminds us what a void she leaves behind.

Why us? On the academic boycott

A boycott decision -- like that passed by Britain's Association of University Teachers to boycott two Israeli universities -- naturally raises a hue and cry among Israelis. Why us? And why now just when negotiations with the Palestinians might be renewed?

It may be worthwhile, however, to consider how the world perceives us. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel must immediately dismantle those parts of the wall that were built on Palestinian lands. We disregarded the ruling. We are turning the West Bank into a prison for Palestinians, as we have already done in Gaza in the course of 38 years of occupation, every one of which is a violation of UN resolutions. Since 1993 we have been engaged in negotiations with the Palestinians, and in the meantime, we have continued expanding settlements. In its judgement, the Court recommended to the UN that sanctions be imposed on Israel if its ruling is not obeyed. The Israeli reply: no need to worry! As long as the United States is behind us, the UN will do nothing.

In the eyes of the world, the question is what can be done when the relevant institutions do not succeed in enforcing international law? The boycott model is drawn from the past: South Africa also disregarded UN resolutions. At that time as well, the UN (under pressure from the United States), was reluctant to impose immediate sanctions. The South African boycott began as a grass roots movement initiated by individuals and independent organizations. It grew slowly but steadily until it finally became an absolute boycott of products, sport, culture, academia and tourism. South Africa was gradually forced to abrogate apartheid.

The international community is beginning to apply the same model to Israel in all domains, from the Caterpillar bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes, to sports and culture. In the eyes of the international community, the relevant question is whether the Israeli Academy is entitled, on the basis of its actions, to be exempt from this general boycott. Many in the Israeli Academy oppose the occupation as individuals. But in practice, no Israeli university senate has ever passed a resolution condemning, for example, the closure of Palestinian universities. Even now, when the wall cuts off students and lecturers from their universities, the protest of the Academy is not heard. The British boycott is selective -- two universities were selected to signal to the Israeli Academy that it is being watched. But the Israeli Academy still has the option of removing itself from the cycle of passive support of the occupation.

One puzzle still remains: why only us? Why is Israel being singled out? What about Russia in Chechnya? What about the United States? What the United States did in Fallujah, no Israeli General has yet dared to try. Indeed, the logic behind a boycott of Israel dictates that a boycott of the great powers is fully justified. It is only because at the moment there is a greater likelihood of success in stopping a small state that Israel became the focus. Still, if an effort is made to save first the Palestinians and at least stop the wall, can we condemn that effort as unethical? Is it more ethical to refrain from trying to save anyone until it is possible to save everyone?

As usual, we believe that the solution lies in the realm of force. When the Valencia basketball team tried to boycott Israel in March 2004, and announced that it would not participate in the League Championship if it took place in Israel, the steamroller was set in motion. There were threats and there were mutterings about contracts, until Valencia was forced to relent and play here. Similarly, in the case of the academic boycott, the global Israeli lobby has tracked down, one by one, those who have declared support of the boycott, and have tried to make their lives miserable. The attempt by Haifa University to dismiss Dr Ilan Pappe in 2002 was not instigated because of the Teddy Katz affair, but because Dr Pappe openly supported the boycott and signed the original British petition calling for it.

It is possible that the bulldozer, which has come to symbolize Israel, will succeed in reversing the decision of the Association of University Teachers in England. But will this prevent researchers from boycotting us quietly, without involving the media? Perhaps it would be more worthwhile for the Israeli Academy to direct its anger at the government and demand that it finally put a stop to this wall.

This article first appeared in Yediot Aharonot on 13 April 2005 and was translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall.


Special Report: No 4 – 20 March 2007

TANYA REINHART: Another voice for humanity has gone

by Sonja Karkar


Tanya Reinhart was one of those rare people who looked beyond ethnic, political and sectarian loyalties and saw the human being.  For the Palestinians, long used to being demonised and even caricatured as beasts by their Israeli antagonists, Tanya’s mirror on their lives gave the Palestinians a chance to be seen as a people who are being brutalised, penalised and traumatised by the very state of which Tanya was a citizen. For daring to do that, Tanya was ostracised by many of her own people in Israel and also by the pro-Zionist lobby groups around the world. Her stance required a special kind of courage that few have because it put Tanya outside the world that would ordinarily have feted her achievements and would have elevated her to the ranks of Israel’s intellectual elite.

Although a brilliant linguist and researcher who made major contributions in her field, she did not bury herself in the comfort of books and academic life. Instead, she wrote books to open the debate on Palestine and took herself far and wide to speak about Israel’s crimes. Her gentle demeanour and warm smile belied the steely resolve within, but it was reflected in the words she spoke, quietly and firmly and unaffected by what was politic. She knew that truth has no need for such niceties and Tanya was certainly not shy of controversy.

When so many others would dance around the issues, careful not to tread on the sacred cow of Zionism, Tanya openly acknowledged Zionist Israel’s apartheid policies against the Palestinians and supported an academic boycott of Israel.  To her, human rights could not be qualified for the sake of preserving a state and certainly not for a blindly eulogised one.  Like others, Tanya could see that Israel has followed the South-African Apartheid model in the extreme, yet all the while operating under a mantle of respectability.  Promoting its policies as a compromise for peace, Israel has so far succeeded in convincing a world so easily convinced on Israel, that a Palestinian state is possible behind the Wall going up, the land control taking place, the suffocating military cordons being implemented, the bypass roads, settlements and military bases dissecting the West Bank, and the absolute economic dependence being forced on the Palestinians as Israel takes their water and their fertile land and prevents free access to markets. In a letter to Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling in May 2002, Tanya wrote:

“. . . no matter what you think of the Oslo years, what Israel is doing now exceeds the crimes of the South Africa's white regime. It has started to take the form of systematic ethnic cleansing, which South Africa never attempted. After thirty-five years of occupation, it is completely clear that the only two choices the Israeli political system has generated for the Palestinians are Apartheid or ethnic cleansing ('transfer').”

She saw that intellectual responsibility requires the safeguarding of moral principles and that a large body of Israeli academia, by failing to uphold those principles in their own society, are by their silence, collaborating with the Israeli government in the illegal occupation.  Last year, she took the painful decision to leave her home for good, no longer able to live in a state that has led its citizens into moral bankruptcy. Her decision was a most honourable demonstration of someone willing to act on peace, justice and human rights no matter what the personal cost.  Her untimely death has left an enormous sadness in all of us who so admired her courage, integrity and unshakeable resolve in defending the rights of the Palestinian people. Her writings though remain and will always be testament to the strength of her convictions. Perhaps one day, comfort may be found in the world acknowledging the truth of her life and work. But for now, only sadness wells up at her passing and the memory of a very decent human being who was so willing to provide a voice for humanity.


Tuesday March 20 2007


(Ben Heine@Cartoons)


The following was just sent to me by Benjamin Heine, including the wonderful image of our dear Tanya....

We are going to miss Tanya Reinhart terribly badly.

We were staggered to learn of the sudden death of our friend Tanya Reinhart, yesterday in New York (she had a stroke). Words fail us because we are so stricken by the loss of our friend, of this great lady, of this indefatigable militant against the policy of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians, of this warm woman who never stopped denouncing injustice and lies, through her articles, her books, and her actions.

Ii is particularly difficult for us to speak of Tanya in the past tense. Tanya, who gave us so much pleasure when she came to the opening of the Résistances book-shop in Paris on 7th December last, when she gave an extraordinary address with her companion, the great poet Aharon Shabtai. Tanya, who took part in all the battles against the colonisation and the occupation of Palestine, and who was one of the most lucid analysts of the criminal policy of her government.

Tanya Reinhart could have been content to be a brilliant linguist and to perfect her university career in Israel. But she made the choice of denouncing and resisting pressures. In her weekly column in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahoronot, as in her books, "Destroy Palestine" and "Sharon's heritage", she systematically painted a picture which made no concession to the terrible situation created by the rulers of her country, with a rare faculty for anticipating the future.

"Destroy Palestine" (in French "Détruire la Palestine" published by the Editions La Fabrique) is a masterly description of all the stratagems always used by the Israeli rulers to avoid engagement in a genuine peace process, and to make believe that this was the sole fault of the Palestinians. Tanya Reinhart especially examined in detail the 7 years during which the "Olso agreement" lasted and showed the contrast between what was presented as being the "generous offer" of Ehud Barak, and its reality. This was to show how the vice was being closed around the Palestinians during the same period (between 1993 and 2000), and the totally unacceptable "proposals" put forward by the Israelis, since they allowed for no viable Palestinian state which would instead find itself in pockets, without territorial continuity, and deprived of East Jerusalem.

More recently, Tanya Reinhart was the first to denounce the "red herring" of the announcement by Sharon of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, in which she never believed. "Behind the smokescreen of the 'withdrawal' from Gaza can be seen the transfer of the Palestinians", she wrote, while our rulers praised the "great man of peace".

Tanya was also one of the rare Israeli opposition personalities to support the boycott of her country's institutions, especially the Universities. "We shall stop having to worry about the boycott when we respect international law", she replied not only to the Israeli establishment, but also to that timid, supposedly pacifist, Israeli "left-wing" which accepted the impunity from which the state of Israel and all its institutions benefited. Tanya Reinhart did not hesitate to give her support to the Paris 6 University, when its Administrative Council, in 2003, voted to suspend its special relations with Israeli Universities.

During her last lecture in France, on 7th December last at the Résistances book-shop, she violently denounced the embargo imposed on the Palestinian people, explaining that the European countries, including France in which we live, had no right to cut off food supplies from the Palestinians. "It was not an act of generosity which Europe could either carry on or not", she explained. "It was a choice which had been made to take on the obligations imposed by international law on the Israeli occupier to see to the well-being of the occupied populations. Europe chose not to oblige Israel to respect its obligations, and preferred to pay money to the Palestinians. When it put an end to this, it breached international law".

Tired out, Tanya "apologised" for not having the strength to remain in Israel where, she let it be known, physical repression against genuine opponents had become more and more brutal. She had therefore decided to go to teach in the United States and had just settled in New York.

This marvellous woman, whom we had the joy of welcoming to several of our meetings and concerts, is going to be terribly badly missed by us. We express all our sadness and our sympathy to her companion, Aharon Shabaï, a man with a great heart and talent.

We'll organize an evening in her honour in Paris, at the Bookshop "Librairie Résistances" on the 27th of March, from 7 pm.

London -- Wednesday March 21, 2007

 Tanya Reinhardt

A versatile Israeli academic, she spoke out against the conflict with Palestine

Victoria Brittain

The distinguished Israeli professor of linguistics Tanya Reinhardt, who has died suddenly aged 63, was even better known for her prolific writing on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, her searing criticism of her own country, and her role as an activist, including her support for an academic boycott of Israel. She was a woman of immense bravery, and believed that fierce criticism of Israel "is the best act of solidarity and compassion with the Jews that one can have".

She was born in Israel, and brought up in Haifa by her mother, a communist and single parent. At the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, she gained a BA in philosophy and Hebrew literature in 1967 followed by an MA in philosophy and comparative literature. She was politically active with both the Communist party and the Young Communist league.

She went to study in the US, and in 1976 gained a PhD in linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where her supervisor was Noam Chomsky. On hearing of her death, he described her as an "old and cherished friend" and paid tribute both to her academic work and the political writing on her own society, which "drew away the veil that concealed criminal and outrageous actions and shone a searing light on the reality that was obscured".

Reinhardt taught at Tel Aviv University for more than 20 years, and held a chair as professor of linguistics and cultural studies. She was a multi-disciplinarian and also taught and published on art, literature and media studies. Those who attended her media studies lectures remember how, amid fierce debate, students' mindsets and lives were changed by her analysis, encouraging them to read between the lines of their country's writers. Her moral indignation flared quickly, but she was also given to long and patient discussions with her students.

She taught too at MIT; Columbia University, New York; the University of Paris; and for 15 years was linked to the University of Utrecht. Her contribution to linguistic theory lay in the connection between meaning and context and the interface between syntax and systems of sound. Her most recent academic book, Interface Strategies, was published last year, and she was on the editorial board of several academic journals in various linguistic disciplines.

Reaching to other audiences, she was a columnist for the Israeli paper Yediot Aharnot and for the radical online magazine, Counterpunch. Her most recent political book, The Roadmap to Nowhere, was also published last year.

She came to see parallels with apartheid South Africa, writing in 2003: "What Israel is doing under Ariel Sharon far exceeds the crimes of the South Africa's white regime. It has been taking the form of systematic ethnic cleansing, which South Africa never attempted." It was the analogy between Israel and South Africa's apartheid that she used in justifying the academic boycott movement of recent years.

With great understatement she commented, also in 2003: "It is not easy for an Israeli academic to support the calls for boycott of Israeli academic institutions these days. Like any other segment of the Israeli society, the universities are paying the price of Israel's war against the Palestinians, with severe budget cuts and deteriorating research conditions. A freeze of the EU funds would, no doubt, make things even tougher. It is therefore understandable that the Israeli academia is mobilising its forces to attack any such boycott attempt. Understandable, but not just."

Reinhardt's passionate calls for justice for the Palestinians made her a sought-after speaker internationally, and last October she gave the Edward Said Memorial lecture at Adelaide University in Australia. In her memorable final speech in France, last December at the Résistances bookshop in Paris, she roundly denounced the embargo imposed on the Palestinians since the election of a Hamas government in January 2006. European countries, including France, she said, had no right to cut off food supplies to the Palestinians. "It was not an act of generosity which Europe could either carry on or not - Europe chose not to force Israel to respect its obligations under international law."

She was not only a writer, but also a frontline activist. Over the years she organised solidarity campaigns with Palestinian academics at Birzeit University on the West Bank, and against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Many friends and colleagues described countless visits with her to the occupied Palestinian territories, and the demonstrations and detentions which were part of them. Her like-minded academic colleagues, Avraham Oz and Ilan Pappe, are feeling "orphaned" by her sudden death.

Most recently she was active in protests against the building of the long partition wall and the annexing of Palestinian land for it. She never tired of taking visitors to see the reality of lost livelihoods and unviable lives the wall has created for tens of thousands of Palestinians literally immured in villages without land in the latest Israeli scheme to create facts on the ground and prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Reinhardt was an optimist however, and last October wrote that "persistent struggle can have an effect, and can lead governments to act. Such struggle begins with the Palestinian people, who have withstood years of brutal oppression, and who, through their spirit of zumud - sticking to their land - and daily endurance, organising and resistance, have managed to keep the Palestinian cause alive, something that not all oppressed nations have managed to do."

She also believed in the modest role of international solidarity movements, "that send their people to the occupied territories and stand in vigils at home, professors signing boycott petitions, subjecting themselves to daily harassment, a few courageous journalists that insist on covering the truth, against the pressure of acquiescent media and pro-Israel lobbies. Often this struggle for justice seems futile. Nevertheless, it has penetrated global consciousness."

In 2006 she was ousted by what she felt to be bureaucratic harassment from her post at Tel Aviv University, and with great regret decided to leave Israel. She died in her sleep in New York, where she had immediately been offered a teaching post at New York University. She is survived by her husband, the Hebrew language poet Aharon Shabtai

· Tanya Reinhardt, academic and human rights campaigner, born 1944; died March 17 2007