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April 01, 2016

Did Vera Baboun Broadcast Misinformation (Again)?

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Mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun appears to have a difficult time adhering to the facts when she speaks about life in the West Bank. (Note, April 25, 2016: This article previously referred to Baboun as former Mayor of Bethlehem, but she is still the incumbent. Snapshots regrets the error.)

Speaking at the 2014 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, Baboun, (pictured above), said the city where she served as mayor was “surrounded with a wall,” when in fact, the security barrier does not surround the city. It passes by the southern and eastern sections of the city, but it does not “surround” it. As mayor of Bethlehem when she made this statement, so she knew full well where the barrier is situated.

She knew the truth, but she told her audience something else.

Well, it looks like she has done it again, this time in Ireland.

Baboun, who lectures at the Vatican-founded Bethlehem University in the West Bank, recently appeared in Ireland and gave a talk at an event organized by the Irish chapter of Friends of Bethlehem University.

Her talk was covered in the Feb. 15, 2016 issue of the Irish Times. The article, reads in part, as follows:

“The situation is really difficult,” she said. Israeli visa restrictions mean international students cannot attend the university, cutting off one likely stream of revenue. Only three-month tourist visas were available to such students.

The complaint is that Israeli policy makes it impossible for international students to attend Bethlehem University.

This is not true.

How do we know?

The school where Baboun lectures has webpages devoted to serving the needs of international students.

Here’s the link.

And here’s a screenshot of a relevant section of Bethlehem University’s FAQ page for international students:

Visa BU.jpg

Note the reference to Israeli cities as "Palestinian Occupied Territories." Apparently, as a matter of policy, the school does not accept Israel's legitimacy, which is an outrage, but the FAQ page clearly indicates that foreign students, do in fact, get visas to attend classes at Bethlehem University.

A webpage describing the school's student exchange program reports the following:

Each year we receive, from our partner institutions, international students at Bethlehem University and also send our students abroad.

Exchange can last from one semester to one academic year depending on the program and department. Our English learning environment allows international students adapt to campus life easily. Bethlehem University education courses will allow you to enrich your knowledge about the local language and Middle Eastern culture. Most importantly, credits earned here can be recognized at your home institution.

Something does not compute, so CAMERA contacted Bethlehem University via email and asked about international students at the school. An official from the school responded by describing the process foreign students need to follow to attend classes in Bethlehem.

As it turns out, Bethlehem University has memorandums of understanding with a number of colleges and universities throughout the world. Foreign students who want to attend the school make arrangements to get the visas they need with the help of the embassies or consulates of their home countries

The visa applications are oftentimes rejected, the school reports. Given that the West Bank has become a haven for anti-Israel activists, it’s no surprise that Israel rejects visa applications, but the fact remains some students get the visas they need to attend classes at Bethlehem University, contrary to what the Irish Times reported.

According to Bethlehem University, the school has a number of international students attending classes from the United States, Korea, Sweden, Norway and Germany. For information about these students go here, http://www.bethlehem.edu/4-adm/avp/external-academic-office/sweden-exchange, here and here.

Maybe Israel could allow more students in to the West Bank to study at Bethlehem University, but is broadcasting misinformation to score propaganda points, as it appears Baboun has done, the way to proceed? Is exaggerating the impact of Israeli policies on students at Bethlehem University an honest way to fundraise for the institution?

It could be that Baboun was misquoted, but given that the student visa issue has become a talking point for anti-Israel propagandists, it’s possible that the Irish Times accurately quoted what she said.

So, the question remains. Did the Irish Times accurately report what Baboun said and inadvertently pass on misinformation to its readers, or did the paper get it wrong and introduce the misinformation into the story on its own?

Posted by dvz at April 1, 2016 11:18 AM

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