Im Tirtzu Threatens High Court Petition Over Politicization at Ben-Gurion U.

The university issued a statement reiterating its opposition to an academic boycott and promising to 'look into appropriate tools for dealing with this problematic but marginal phenomenon in Israeli academia.'

The Im Tirtzu movement has once again taken aim at Ben-Gurion University, threatening to petition the High Court of Justice if the university does not end what the group calls the leftist politicization of the Department of Politics and Government.

But the university rejected this demand and accused the group of "threatening academic freedom at the university with political censorship."

Im Tirtzu protest - Archive
An Im Tirzu protest on the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev campus after the IDF raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.Archive

Im Tirtzu issued its threat in a letter sent on Sunday pursuant to a public statement made by the Council for Higher Education last week. The CHE statement said that students and lecturers must not be penalized for their political opinions, and that "attempts to politicize academia must be rejected."

The CHE statement had stressed that lecturers' appointments and promotions should be based on "excellence in research and teaching and not on any extraneous considerations, including their political views." But it added that universities had an "obligation to expose students to the widest possible variety of information."

A separate CHE decision said that "calls for an academic boycott of Israel by members of Israeli institutions of higher education undermine the foundations of the higher education system."

In practice, however, the council left the job of dealing with both boycott calls and complaints of politicization to the universities themselves, though it said it intends to make sure that such complaints are indeed addressed.

In Sunday's letter to Ben-Gurion University President Prof. Rivka Carmi, Im Tirtzu leaders Ronen Shoval and Erez Tadmor wrote that in July, they had pointed out the "gross politicization of the Department of Politics and Government," as reflected by the fact that "eight out of 11 tenured faculty members held radical political views."

The July letter also charged that faculty members were not hired in a transparent manner, that students' education suffered from "the presentation of a grossly one-sided view of the course material," and that senior faculty members in the department supported an academic boycott of Israel, in contravention of the CHE's stand. That letter closed with a threat to work to persuade donors to halt contributions to the university unless these problems were corrected - a threat not repeated in the current letter.

Instead, the new letter threatened to go to court if Im Tirtzu's demands were not met. These demands include stopping what it termed the "politicization" of the department, "diversifying the staff," publishing the minutes of discussions on hiring, and adding scholars and research that had "so far been excluded from the syllabus" to the curriculum.

It also called for "formulating a procedure that would allow the dismissal of lecturers who call for a boycott of Israeli universities" - something the CHE has no power to do.

The letter concluded that Im Tirtzu expects the university to meet its demands promptly, "so there will be no need to petition the High Court."

A source at Ben-Gurion University said Im Tirtzu's letter "proves that its members do not understand the CHE's decisions and principles. They are attempting to make cynical use of a correct decision intended to keep academia free of any political influences, to limit [academic] freedom and to force the university to conduct itself in accordance with considerations that conform to their political agenda."

The university issued a statement reiterating its opposition to an academic boycott and promising to "look into appropriate tools for dealing with this problematic but marginal phenomenon in Israeli academia." But it accused Im Tirtzu of "crushing the principles outlined by the CHE underfoot."