Israeli Education Minister's Ethics Code Would Bar Professors From Expressing Political Opinions

The code would forbid academic staff from calling for boycotts of Israel, and would prevent institutions from collaborating with political organizations

Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Olivier Fitoussi

An ethics code devised at Education Minister Naftali Bennett's behest would bar professors from expressing political opinions, it emerged Friday.

The code, put together by Asa Kasher, an ethics and philosophy professor at Tel Aviv University, would also forbid staff from calling for an academic boycott of Israel.
  
Bennett had asked Kasher a few months ago to write a set of rules for appropriate political conduct at academic institutions. Kasher had written the Israel Defense Forces' ethics code.

The contents of the document, which were first reported by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Friday, will soon be submitted for the approval of the Council for Higher Education. 

The code would require each institution "to establish a unit that would monitor political activity" on campus, the document says. The unit could be an existing system, like an ethics committee, or a new department managed by the institution's academic staff.  So far institutions have not been required to reply to students' complaints or inquiries on political activity, according to Kasher. The new units would remedy that.

In a statement, Bennett's office said the code would bar lecturers from "promoting their political worldview in class."  

"If a lecturer does talk [about politics], and one of the students complains about it, that lecturer could receive a disciplinary citation from the institution," the statement said. Should the lecturer ignore the warning, he may face harsher disciplinary action. 

The code also bars academic staff from taking part in or calling for an academic boycott of Israel, and forbids collaboration with organizations that are considered political.  
  
The education minister's office said that while it supports absolute academic freedom, it opposes "the promotion of lecturers' political agendas in the academe."

"It's unacceptable that students are afraid to express their opinions in class for fear for their grades, or that lecturers call for a boycott of the institution where they teach," the statement said. "This isn't against any political side and anyway there is no reason for any side to object."

In December, the Committee of University Heads urged Bennett to scrap a plan to draft an ethics code after Haaretz first reported on it. Universities need to continue maintaining independent disciplinary systems, the committee said at the time, warning that a code dictated by an outside authority would violate the freedom of expression.