British university to compensate Israeli after bias claims

MA student Smadar Bakovic complained her anti-Zionist thesis supervisor was prejudiced against her

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

University of Warwick (Wikimedia Commons/Mike1024, public domain)
University of Warwick (Wikimedia Commons/Mike1024, public domain)

An Israeli master’s student who charged that she had suffered prejudice at the hands of her thesis supervisor due to her pro-Israel views was awarded £1,000 (NIS 5,600) following an inquiry by England’s body for reviewing student complaints.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator also ruled that Warwick University must apologize to Smadar Bakovic, 37, for failing to find her a new supervisor, according to the Times Higher Education supplement.

However, the OIA rejected the Tel Aviv resident’s charge that she was unfairly graded.

Bakovic, who works for Honest Reporting’s MediaCentral, studied for her MA in Warwick’s department of politics and international studies, finishing her dissertation on Israeli Arabs in August 2010.

She was assigned to work with Nicola Pratt, assistant professor of international politics of the Middle East. After seeing Pratt at campus anti-Israel events, Bakovic searched the internet and found that Pratt had signed onto a January 2009 letter to the Guardian calling the 2008-9 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza a “massacre.”

“Israel must lose,” the letter, signed by over 100 academics, read. “It is not enough to call for another ceasefire, or more humanitarian assistance. It is not enough to urge the renewal of dialogue and to acknowledge the concerns and suffering of both sides. If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.”

Bakovic requested to switch supervisors, but the department rejected her petition, claiming it would violate university policy. After it was read by Pratt and a second professor, her dissertation received a grade of “pass” in November 2010.

Bakovic appealed the decision, asking for a regrade. She alleged that Pratt had told her that she had a tendency to “adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts,” according to THE.

Initially, Warwick again turned Bakovic down, but later changed course and allowed her to submit a reworked thesis to different reviewers. This time, Bakovic’s thesis was upgraded to “distinction.”

According to Bakovic, the new grade proves Pratt’s bias, but the university called her behavior “exemplary” and found “there was no evidence of unprofessional behavior.”

Both sides are claiming victory. The university is “pleased to note that the OIA has rejected almost the entirety of the complaint, in particular the allegations of bias,” a spokesman told THE.

“I feel great,” said Bakovic. “I won the battle. But the war is not over yet.”

“I did this for myself, for Israel, for Jews and for all other minorities all over the world who are being discriminated on the basis of where they come from or anything else,” said Bakovic, who spent a year writing letters and fighting the administration, in an interview with British media watchdog CiF Watch. “I am sure that had I been gay or black and professor Pratt were to sign petitions to boycott all gays and/or blacks, the university would have kicked her out a long time ago, and petitions would not be necessary, as the act would have been so disgraceful to the university.”

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