In the wake of reports that were compiled in regard to anti-Zionist slants in research and instruction in a number of the country's university social sciences faculties, and after students and teachers complained about being reprimanded and insulted when they voiced their opposition, on Tuesday the Knesset Education Committee debated the issue. Lo and behold, members of the Knesset - so protective of freedom of expression of this body - claimed that the discussion is not legitimate.
The very act of discussing academia at the Knesset, argued several MKs, including Haim Oron, Nitzan Horowitz, Ahmed Tibi, Raleb Majadele and Orit Zuaretz, is a violation of academic freedom. University heads who attended the session echoed the same sentiments.
They were not reassured by the calming words of committee chairman Zevulun Orlev, nor the admonishments of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, according to which there was no intention, heaven forfend, of dictating curriculum. Rather, the purpose was to determine, for the sake of the universities' public image, whether the hue and cry was founded. But the MKs stood firm.
One can imagine how these legislators - these in particular - would react were the Shin Bet security service, or the Israel Defense Forces, or the Mossad, to claim that discussing matters pertaining to it in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee harms national security. After all, the MKs would say, the main purpose of this committee is to supervise the defense establishment. And of course they would react similarly to any criticism of the Knesset over any other public entity in the state with the exception of the Holy of Holies, academia.
The complaints that reached the committee concerned departments such as sociology and political science, as well as law faculties. As part of its "partnership with organizations" effort, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, according to its website, has academic partnerships with dozens of NGOs from the extreme left, including B'Tselem, Amnesty International, Yesh Din, Machsom Watch and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. A few of these, such as Adalah and Mada al-Carmel, deny Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Students who volunteer with these NGOs are awarded scholarships, and at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev they even receive credit.
A considerable number of instructors in these departments teach their students that Israel is the spearhead of colonialism in the Middle East, that Zionism is a racist movement that supports expulsion and that the Law of Return is racist. They call for getting rid of "Hatikva," the national anthem, and the other symbols of the Jewish state, and quote from "research" establishing that Israel is a war-mongering nation. And if all that were not enough, students have complained, anyone who dares to protest is reprimanded and pays the price in their grades, while faculty members who fail to toe the line are not promoted.
Is it any wonder, then, that few dissenting voices are heard and that they are lampooned? Where can one find a respected unversity abroad that would dare to host on sabbatical a declared Zionist who has been pegged as a McCarthyite?
In their false championing of the precious and genuine value of freedom of expression, the university heads are protecting the real McCarthyites, those who libel the state and Zionism and who suppress the brave, decent teachers. The leaders of these institutions have themselves, as one admitted to me, been threatened with the McCarthyite label if they stray from the path, but one could still expect better from them.
Those who believe that they would be able to continuously recruit these departments to serve the purposes of the radical-left NGOs in the name of "academic partnership" are wrong. They will never be able to avoid criticism by terrorizing their critics or by libeling those, at home or abroad, who expose their real face.
The Council for Higher Education must wake up. If the university establishment persists in extending full protection to them and their ilk, and in ignoring the broad public criticism, it will be responsible for the decline in the public image of the universities, especially the image of the social sciences and humanities faculties.
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