Ben Gurion University has intensified the witch hunt against Prof. Neve Gordon, who published an op-ed column in The Guardian and L.A. Times endorsing the Global BDS movement’s program against the Israeli Occupation. The column provoked a firestorm of controversy here in the U.S. and in Israel. The worst vitriol has come from the University’s president herself, Rivka Carmi. She has approvingly noted that many are calling Gordon a “traitor.” She has called for him to resign and leave Israel (Gordon is a decorated paratroop officer who was severely wounded during the first Lebanon war). She has alleged that Gordon seeks to destroy Israel. She has also called her University a “Zionist institution” that cannot have any truck with nation-threatening notions such as BDS.
But now, things have gotten worse. The school cannot fire Gordon because he has tenure. But they can exert enormous pressure on the department to can him as chairman. That’s what’s happening now. The University rector met with faculty supporting Gordon and told them:
…Gordon is not able to properly promote his department’s international programs while addressing the same people regarding a boycott, and the contradiction on this point poses a conflict of interests.
Since when is it a conflict of interest for a political scientist to publish an article on a major issue within his discipline? When the distaste of donors conflicts with the pursuit of knowledge, must the latter lose at BGU? If so, what kind of University is this?
In addition, the American support group for Ben Gurion has introduced particularly hateful rhetoric into the controversy. In Jewish Week, the American affiliate’s PR flack weighed in:
Gordon has been a “thorn in our side for many years” and that there has been a campaign by a number of people in the U.S. to have him fired from the university. Strongin said Gordon’s op-ed has reactivated the group…
She further calls Gordon’s column the “reprehensible remarks of one rogue faculty member.” When a faculty member called Strongin’s comments against Gordon “irresponsible” she had the temerity to reply:
How dare you call me irresponsible…My comments only reflect that of BGU’s administration, so don’t you dare stand on your high horse and accuse me of wrong doing.
In further communication, Doron Krakow, executive vice president of American Associates of Ben Gurion University (Strongin’s boss) lays down the law and fires up the big rhetorical guns against Gordon:
Gordon’s editorial is merely the latest example of his exploiting his position with the University to call attention to himself through the use of extreme, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric not inconsistent with that which we hear from Israel’s worst enemies. Though this is hardly news, you and your colleagues nonetheless saw fit to elect him as department chair.
Personally, I find it extraordinarily offensive that the non-academic American affiliate of an Israeli university would lecture a faculty member about the mistake of appointing another faculty member as department chair. Since when did anyone arrogate to Doron Krakow the right to lobby for or against candidates for academic positions? Is Ben Gurion to appoint its leaders solely on the basis of which donors they will or won’t offend? Will it vet candidates for academic positions based on the controversial nature of their writings or publications? Where does this end?
Furthermore, since when does someone who is essentially a fundraiser get to make politically freighted judgments on faculty members comparing their views to those of “Israel’s worst enemies?”
The truth is that the academic discourse at Ben Gurion is among the most diverse among all Israeli universities. Debate about the Occupation among various disciplines on campus is vigorous and challenging. That is why a smart president would tell the world that this is a mark of what universities do best and would praise such diversity. Donors may not like certain points of view, but they can be made to understand that to be a great institution all ideas from the popular to the unpopular must be debated and studied.
If someone doesn’t calm Rivka Carmi and her associates down, her University will end up the laughingstock of Israeli institutions. Their thinking represent the tyranny of small minds. If they win, BGU will proudly bear the banner of a “Zionist” educational institution which wears its ideology on its sleeve; and where inquiry, academic freedom, and the pursuit of knowledge take a back seat to Zionist political correctness. The only faculty who will want to teach there and the only students who will want to study there are settlers and supporters of the Likud and Israel’s nationalist parties. What kind of University will that be?
If there are academics reading this I would like to start a campaign on Gordon’s behalf that might involve a letter published in the N.Y. Review of Books and any other activity that might enlist support here in the U.S. and in Israel. Carmi and the American branch of Ben Gurion are clearly bullies who care nothing about concepts like academic freedom. But if they know there are other distinguished academic figures who are watching what they are doing they will back down. But Gordon needs our help now.
And for anyone who doubts Neve Gordon’s commitment to his country (which he proved by the severe injury he suffered at Rosh Ha-Nikra in the first Lebanon war), please read Why I Live in Israel.