Editorial

Censoring Israel's Professors

Israel's education minister wants to establish a code of silence - a new system of political commissars whose goal will be to censor universities and colleges | Editorial.

Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, December 8, 2016.
Naftali Bennett at the Knesset, December 8, 2016. Olivier Fitoussi

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett is also the education minister. In that capacity, he seeks to educate the educators. Last week, Bennett appointed Prof. Asa Kasher – an expert on codes of ethics – to draft a recommended code of ethics for institutes of higher education “on the issue of political and academic activity” (Haaretz, December 9).

Bennett sprang into action after hearing “many complaints about an ongoing situation of overlap between academic and political activity.” Therefore, he decided to protect “the student’s right to study ... without being required to listen to political preaching that has nothing to do with the particular field of study.”

Bennett is belittling the intelligence of the students. He is acting as if they need protection from “political preachers,” disguised as lecturers in a given field, lest they be brainwashed and switch from being loyal to the entire Land of Israel to becoming defeatist leftists. (A move in the opposite direction wouldn’t bother him.) He’s convinced that the code he seeks won’t violate freedom of speech, academic freedom or the Basic Law on the Freedom of Occupation. Perhaps he has forgotten the extent to which professors were involved in political activity both before and after the state’s establishment: from Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader who became Israel’s first president, through the professors who signed a petition in favor of keeping the entire Land of Israel, to Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current prime minister.

Beneath his knitted skullcap and cloak of high-tech entrepreneurship, Bennett is a Bolshevik. He is not content with military censorship and the censorship of films and plays. Now he wants to establish a code of silence – a new system of political commissars whose goal will be to censor universities and colleges. Comrade Naftali will have the floor, but only he.

He will staff his new censorship agency and set the rules for what is permitted and prohibited. He has yet to set the penalties for anyone who dares utter a word about the manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria during math class instead of talking only about Pythagoras. But advocating a land-for-peace position will doubtless be considered politics that has no place in academia.

Bennett’s proposal comes on top of other initiatives, both his own and those of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud), for governmental interference in the areas of thought and creativity. Their respective parties are competing for voters on the right, but they share a dual goal: To curry favor with the settlers, and to shape a new generation of voters who won’t be exposed to views that challenge the current government’s axioms.

Bennett is a politician who doesn’t hesitate to use whatever methods will advance his goal. Even the responsibility he bears as education minister has been distorted and emptied of all statesmanlike content, in favor of cynical political interests. His latest infringement on Israeli democracy emits a strong stench of preservatives, aimed at keeping the right in power.

It’s too bad that Kasher let himself be roped into this job. He should have known he was being used for an unacceptable purpose.