A bomb exploded in Israel two weeks ago. It was a lethal bomb, whose shock waves are still reverberating. The bomb was dropped in broad daylight on a civilian population in the center of its university campus. Its purpose was to blow an entire department off the face of the earth - the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
The war against Iran is being delayed, but the bellicose energy of the government and of Education Minister Gideon Saar has found creative outlets. Why should we attack a strong enemy that is well entrenched at a distance of thousands of kilometers, when we can do battle with an enemy on our home ground that is unprotected and has few means? There are advantages to fighting a war against higher education in Israel. For one, it does not require 14 - ton bombs that can penetrate bunkers, which the United States is refusing to provide us. It is enough to set up a committee.
The committee was indeed set up and its damage is worse than that of bombs. A sub-committee of the Council for Higher Learning in Israel recommended not to allow students to register in the department of Politics and Government at the Negev university. Of three possible recommendations, the most extreme was chosen. Its significance is that the department will be closed down. This is contrary to the recommendations of an international committee set up to examine the way in which the department conducts itself, and is totally contrary to the position of Ben Gurion University and its president, Professor Rivka Carmi.
There is no precedent in Israel or in well managed countries for a decision that forces a university to close an academic department. It undermines the academic independence of the universities, it has no moral validity and it is doubtful whether it has legal validity. Behind this devastating step lie political motives. The fact that the Im Tirtzu movement and other right-wing elements attached labels of post-Zionism and anti-Zionism to lecturers in the department should have obliged the Council for Higher Learning to protect academic freedom in Israel and to distinguish between politics and research. Instead it in effect did the exact opposite. The council's role is to provide protection, like the Iron Dome defense system, for the academic world in Israel, and to intercept the caprices of unrestrained politicians in good time. Adopting the recommendation of the sub-committee, which is contrary to the report of the international professional committee, will also contribute to Israel's isolation in the world and to turning it into a leper state, which is apparently the deep desire of our leaders who contribute to this daily with such talent. The shock to the academic system in Israel must not be accompanied by silence. The shock waves from the bomb that originated with the council's sub-committee must not be locked within the campus of Ben Gurion University. We are all Ben Gurion University. The committee of heads of the universities has to act in unified fashion now against the council, and not allow the politicization, destruction, and pinpointed assassination of an entire department. The shock being felt now within the universities and by their heads must not be accompanied by paralysis. The universities' dependence on the council must not lead to institutionalizing a regime of fear and conformism here. The struggle for academic freedom and against political oppression cannot be allowed to take place only in the back rooms. It must be conducted also fearlessly in the media, in legal channels and on all the campuses. Other more established departments, such as those in the natural sciences, must not separate themselves from the departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences that are experiencing greater difficulties and pressures since they are less profitable and they encourage more critical thought. This is the time for solidarity, not for segregation or apathy. Scientists like myself must not keep quiet now and say to themselves that it cannot happen to them. During these days of awe at the start of the Jewish year 5773, we must all be Politics and Government.
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