The assault on academic freedom on Israeli campuses continues apace with a slimy report in Yediot Achronot which brays about a review of the department of politics and government at Ben Gurion University. The committee appointed by the Israeli Council for Higher Education recommended closing the department for its so-called “extreme leftist tendency” if it didn’t mend the errors its ways.
The report, as portrayed in the article, seems astonishing in a number of ways (Dahlia Scheindlin has written about it here). First, its contents seem heavily influenced by student evaluations of the program. While student opinion should perhaps be a factor in such an evaluation, it should be a minor one at best since there are far more important factors in determining the quality of program. But one thing the large amount of student input tells us is that the committee collaborated in ways large or small with Im Tirzu and other pro-Zionist academic advocacy groups which have been on the warpath regarding Ben Gurion in general and this program in particular.
I’ve written here about the University president’s invitation to faculty member Neve Gordon, to quit the school after he wrote a Los Angeles Times calling supporting the BDS movement. Shortly after this controversy, the department responded to her high-handed tactics by appointing him its chair. Now, it appears some in the University, Im Tirtzu and the Israeli far-right are taking the battle to a new venue.
Here are some of the real doozies in the Yediot article:
The department is known to have no small number of researchers with extreme leftist tendencies, who have expressed controversial views.
Among the views they featured were Neve Gordon’s supposed comments (and “radical ones” at that) during a class, that Gilad Shalit’s capture was not an act of terror, but rather a military attack. Another faculty member, Danny Filk, organized official University meetings at which Im Tirzu claims only those from the “left camp” were permitted to address the gathering.
Another issue that bothered the committee was the faculty’s lack of care in making clear to students what their personal political views were in the course of classroom teaching. Apparently, it believes that students aren’t able to distinguish between a professor’s politics and the course subject matter. Nor did the reviewers like at all the supposed emphasis faculty made on political activism, which would distract from the serious pursuit of scholarly research. They also claim that teachers do not represent a diverse set of views in their classrooms, but rather tend to present their own views and omit those conflicting with them.
Prof. Galia Golan, a member of the committee, disputed its findings, saying that the claim that the professors inserted their own views too prominently into the curriculum violated the fundamental value of academic freedom.
Scheindlin, in her 972Magazine post asked how could they know what ideas or values were espoused by professors in class when all of them, except for Golan, neither spoke nor read Hebrew. Did they have classroom presentations translated for them into their native languages so they could evaluate?
She points out another coincidence: Education minister Gideon Saar is the chair of the Israeli Council on Higher Education and a devout supporter of Im Tirzu. Could it be possible that the appointment of the committee was done at the behest of the minister and his friends in the far-right Israeli group?
The current department chair, Prof. Filk, dismissed the committee’s findings as a political witch hunt and noted that it was the most popular of its kind in any Israeli university. He also noted that the evidence offered in the report was often faulty and simply wrong. A senior member of the faculty went event farther:
This was an outside committee a portion of whose members have pronounced extreme right-wing views that created a reported fundamentally flawed. Theirs is a political report whose agenda was to damage the department through exploitation of outside extremist groups [like Im Tirzu].
Prof. Carmi defended the department from charges that it wasn’t focussed enough on the traditional elements of the political science discipline by saying that this was precisely the mission of its program: to see the academic field from non-conventional, non-traditional viewpoints. This is why the faculty includes a medical doctor and architect among its members.
The truth is that for years now Im Tirzu and rightist Israeli academics have had it in for both the University and this department claiming it isn’t sufficiently “Zionist.” That because it entertains views critical of Zionism or, God forbid, even anti-Zionist, that it departs from the national consensus. Therefore a call for shutting down the program is music to their ears. But as Galia Golan noted in her demurral, there is an even more important issue here: the critical need to support free inquiry and academic freedom. In presenting their subjects to students and the wider world, they must do so in ways that are true to their own sense of themselves as academics and researchers. They must not be pressured to present a certain point of view to the exclusion of others.