Israeli Academic Freedom at Risk
Israeli Academic Freedom at Risk - by Stephen Lendman
Born in Haifa, the son of German-Jewish immigrants who fled during the Nazi period, noted historian Ilan Pappe left Israel in summer 2007, telling London Guardian writer Chris Arnot he began "feeling for a while like public enemy No. 1" for his anti-Zionist views and supporting a boycott against Israeli universities, saying:
"I supported (it) because I believe that without pressure, Israel will not end the occupation....I believe that things would change only if Israel receives a strong message that as long as the occupation continues it would not be a legitimate member of the international community, and that until then its academics, doctors and authors would not be welcome. A similar boycott was imposed on South Africa. It took 21 years, but it eventually led to the end of Apartheid."
Now chairing Britain's Exeter University's history department, he explained by the time he left, the Knesset publicly condemned him and Israel's education minister, Yuli Tamir, wanted him sacked.
In addition, death threats came by mail, email and phone, and his picture once appeared in Israel's "biggest-selling newspaper at the centre of a target," the caption reading: "I'm not telling you to kill this person, but I shouldn't be surprised if someone did."
An environment this hostile got him to leave, the same one today afflicting other Israeli academics, opposing policies they don't accept, nor should anyone respecting the rule of law, democratic freedoms, and equal justice, endangered species in Israel for Jews - non-existent for Occupied Palestinians and Israeli Arab citizens.
On August 17, a Haaretz editorial headlined "Politruks (Russian for political commissars) in academia," citing a report submitted by the extremist hard right Im Tirtzu movement to the Knesset and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar wanting research prohibited unless it:
"complies with the winds blowing in the Knesset and the street....Evidently the report (wants to spread) fear in the universities, further deligitimizing Israeli intellectuals, and undermining" free expression, research and thought, Haifa University Rector/Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi calling it McCarthyist material academia must reject to stay credible.
On August 10, Haaretz writer or Kashti headlined, "Im Tirtzu threatens boycott of Israeli university over 'anti-Zionist' bias," saying:
It threatened Gen-Gurion University of the Negev President/Professor Rivka Carmi in July "to put an end to (its politics and government department) anti-Zionist tilt" or face a donor boycott and campaign to "advise political science students to stay away from the university." Im Tirtzu (IT) gave Carni one month to comply.
Heads of all Israeli universities responded saying:
"No Israeli university has to prove its staff's love of their homeland to any organization, and certainly not to a political one that is trying to present a tendentious, manipulative document as 'research' to advance its own public relations."
Ben-Gurion's Professor David Newman, a tireless Israeli academic boycott campaigner, said IT's threat is "a clear attempt to threaten the university in an era of diminishing financial resources," calling its accusations "very far from the truth."
IT charged 11 permanent faculty members for their "radical left-wing" political activities, six for signing a letter supporting refusal to serve in the military, and two research fellows for their "anti-Zionist worldview." Professor Neve Gordon was included for advocating a "social, economic and political boycott of Israel."
In addition, IT called the department's course syllabi heavily (tilted) toward "anti-national and anti-Zionist content," adding:
The department's large number of "anti-Zionist" faculty "arouses grave suspicions that the main basis for acceptance into and promotion within the department is not professional, but political."
Further, Carni was accused of "apathy that has enabled an academic dictatorship to overpower academic freedom."
Ben-Gurion University didn't respond directly, but called the accusations "scandalous," saying they violate "everything that is sacred to academia. The very act of responding to (Im Tirtzu) would give this right-wing organization legitimacy." It deserves condemnation instead.
On August 19, Haaretz writer Or Kashti headlined, "Right-wing groups join forces to fight 'anti-Zionist bias' in Israeli academia," saying:
Besides Im Tirtzu (IT), Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) founding chairman, Israel Harel, "recently drafted a report that accused academic institutions of propagating 'post-Zionist bias' in their sociology departments....The campaign....by the two groups has evoked a firestorm of criticism from educators and university administrators," the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities stating:
"In a democratic state, we must vigorously defend with all available means the independence of academic institutions. As such, we cannot accept attempts by external and foreign bodies to intervene in appointing faculty members, determining curricula, and the manner in which material is taught."
Democratic freedoms have greatly eroded under Netanyahu's extremist government, including by the Knesset's proposed Loyalty Oath bill, requiring all Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs, swear allegiance to a "Jewish, Zionist, and democratic State," its emblems and values, and perform military or civic service as a condition for a national identity card signifying citizenship.
On July 20, Israel's cabinet approved it, Netanyahu praising a way to maintain Israel's "Jewish and democratic character." The Israeli Association for Civil Rights condemned it, calling it "racist (and) dangerous." The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said it would impede family reunifications and pressure non-Jews to support Zionism, effectively renouncing their heritage by doing so.
Other human rights groups and independent observers call Netanyahu's government Israel's most extremist ever, governing far to the right of center, partnered with Yisrael Beitenu, Israel's ultra-right party under Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an untranationalist/revisionist Zionist, a man Haaretz called "unrestrained and irresponsible."
A July 18 Haaretz editorial called the loyalty oath "an attempt to light a societal fuse," saying forced allegiance amounts to "tarring several large communities with disloyalty (unjustly) and opening a dangerous channel for revoking citizenship," repressively and arbitrarily, "though that may be precisely what a number of coalition lawmakers would like most."
It may also target dissident academics, Jewish ones, unwilling to pledge loyalty to lawless Israeli practices or relinquish their right to condemn them - to freely express opinions, bedrock democratic values, without fear of recrimination, including loss of citizenship.
Expressing concern, Tel Aviv University's Professor David S. Katz said "we are entering a McCarthyite phase - and I do not exaggerate....There is legislation being discussed that would limit freedom of expression in universities. The education minister has expressed satisfaction with a report that looks at the course content of professors, sniffing out 'anti-Zionist' ideology. The Knesset Education Committee (backs it). It is very bad indeed, and the universities have done little to reject this, apart from" Haifa University Rector Yossi Ben-Artzi, "who was very forthcoming."
Many academics are at risk, like Tel Aviv University's Rachel Giora for strongly supporting the Global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, backing Palestinian liberation, and being vocally critical of Israeli lawlessness. Others like her include Hebrew University Professor Nurit Peled-Elhannan, peace activist recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech, and one of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine's founders.
Also Professor Jeff Halper, co-founder and Coordinating Director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) who's organized and led nonviolent direct protests and civil disobedience against Israel's repressive occupation.
Ben-Gurion University Professor Neve Gordon got death threats for supporting BDS, more still for criticizing the Gaza Flotilla massacre, saying "When I walk on campus people ask in jest if I am wearing a bullet proof vest." Regarding loyalty, he says "the appropriate chant is not 'No citizenship without loyalty!' but rather 'Loyalty to every citizen!' "
He and many others defend speech and academic freedoms, hundreds of professors petitioning against Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar intention to punish university lecturers and institutions for freely using them, stating:
"If the higher education system in Israel wants to maintain a high quality, it must also include opinions that are not acceptable to everyone, social and political criticism, and critical and even controversial research and instruction....We have different and varied opinions about solving the difficult problems facing Israel, but there is one thing we are agree on - freedom of expression and academic freedom are the very lifeblood of the academic system."
State measures subverting them violate core democratic principles, inviolable ones essential to defend, preserve, and challenge anyone acting against them.
Among those signing were Haifa University Rector Professor Ben Artzi, Israel Prize laureates Professors Benjamin Isaac and Yehoshua Kolodny, and former education minister, Professor Yuli Tamir. Netanyahu's extremist government opposes them, intolerant of internal opposition, even scholars, intellectuals, and universities demanding speech and academic freedoms.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.