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A gang of hoodlums, whose names no one knows but whose political affiliations everyone knows, has succeeded in shaking up academia and deceiving the media. We're damned if we do respond to them and damned if we don't.

But apparently, we have no choice but to respond - not just because the little foxes are devouring the vineyards of higher education, but mainly because of who is hiding behind their backs and giving them direct and indirect support.

All those who have been asked to serve as these shadowy figures' mouthpieces, and have done so willingly, would do better to first request the list of Im Tirtzu's donors. Perhaps they will find dubious names and suspect addresses, people who are plotting to destroy yet another beautiful portion of Israel. Perhaps they will be surprised to discover the evangelical preacher John Hagee, whom even a conservative Republican like John McCain was forced to repudiate due to statements such as that Hitler was half-Jewish, that Hitler was doing God's will, and that the Holocaust happened because the Jews denied and rebelled against the true God.

But why should we complain about the hidden anti-Semites when prominent officials are openly jumping on the bandwagon - for instance, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar?

Two months ago, he told the Knesset that while he had "not yet had time" to read Im Tirtzu's report on the universities' political science departments, he deemed it important, because it "is sparking public debate." And he added, "it's important to look into the issues it raises."

Does Sa'ar not read material before expressing an opinion on it? Is this how he would advise all Israeli students and teachers to behave - not to know what they are talking about?

Sa'ar was invited to Im Tirtzu's annual conference. He happily accepted the invitation and even addressed the gathering. And if he attended and spoke, it's a sign that he supports the group. "I want to praise you. I greatly admire your activity," he said. That is how the starling can fly safely among the crows - by becoming one of them.

Dedicated bureaucrats have a well-developed sense of smell that helps them meet their superiors' desires. Thus when the Institute for Zionist Strategies - the same hoodlums with the same values - published its report on the grade school civics curriculum and found it, too, tainted with post-Zionism, the head of the Education Ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Zvi Zameret, quickly agreed with its main findings.

And Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, who heads the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee and is thus supposed to loyally serve academia, this week offered only a weak response to the onslaught: Im Tirtzu's threats against Ben-Gurion University, he said, are an "internal institutional matter." If that's an internal matter, one has to wonder what would constitute an external matter that Trajtenberg would deign to address.

Fear is doing its job. And after all, that was the main purpose of the report - to intimidate institutes of higher education, and not only them. And indeed, some have already been intimidated. The president of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Joseph Klafter, has asked to examine the syllabi of his university's sociology courses, lest they be stigmatized as anti-patriotic.

That is precisely what the destroyers are counting on - the fear they sow, and the calculations university presidents will make to prevent the flow of donations from suddenly drying up.

This is not a time for hesitant, stuttering responses; it's a time to stand up and speak clearly. And anyone who is afraid to say the following should go home, and not undermine his colleagues' courage:

* A thought police will not arise on college campuses.

Lecturers will be hired, or not, solely on the basis of their academic talents and achievements.

Quotas will not be established for lecturers based on their views, nor will there be an artificial and arbitrary balance between leftists and rightists.

No external political organization will be allowed to dictate course syllabi and reading lists.

The voice of the masses will not be the voice of academia; no views will be banned because they cannot pass the Knesset's electoral threshold. That is what we learned from our teachers and from history, and that is what we will continue to teach.

Like the Torah, Zionism has 70 faces, and each of us has the right to chose the face he prefers. If the face of Zionism resembles that of Im Tirtzu and its funders, we should consider a face transplant. And if the Ariel college, for example, claims exclusive ownership of modern-day Zionism, than we will be post-post-Zionists.

But in fairness, the warning must be given in time: When Israeli academia is besmirched and slandered, it is liable to capitulate and include the science of occupation on its syllabus. And only unabashed rightists, top patriots will teach this course - a supreme contribution to the glory of the State of Israel, its global legitimacy and the effort to prevent imposition of a boycott.