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The rector of Tel Aviv University has forbidden its law clinics from representing anyone filing a complaint against any of the country's seven universities or affiliated institutions. The university senate - the institution's highest academic authority, whose acting chairman is the rector - will meet today to discuss the issue.

The ban, which has generated controversy in Israel and abroad, came after the Weizmann Institute of Science protested that one of Tel Aviv University's law clinics was representing Weizmann Institute workers seeking to unionize. The university's rector, Dany Leviatan, ordered the law clinics to stop representing the workers.

"I protest that in an unprecedented move, you ordered... a halt to the representation of workers who realized their universal human right of freedom to organize in order to improve their employment conditions," Israel Prize laureate Ruth Ben-Israel, a former law professor at the university, wrote Leviatan in an open letter. "The only thing I can say in your defense is that you are not aware of the special significance the legal world gives to workers' right to organize."

Hanoch Dagan, dean of Tel Aviv University's law department, rejected Leviatan's order, but the Weizmann workers' case was nonetheless transferred to an outside lawyer so that the workers' efforts would not be harmed.

The university administration had already demanded that the law clinic stop representing the workers, but this is the first time Leviatan has gotten involved personally. A university spokeswoman previously said Leviatan considered it wrong for one university to intervene in another institution's affairs by siding with workers against the administration.

Mark Gergen, a law professor at California's Berkeley Law School, asked Leviatan to reverse his decision. In a letter, Gergen said the decision would harm Tel Aviv University's reputation. It is crucial, he wrote, that universities do not intervene in law clinic decisions about which clients to represent.

The clinic, which was established to provide hands-on experience for law students, published a notice on its Web site saying the "pressure" to stop representing the Weizmann workers "constitutes inappropriate interference in academic freedom, and infringes on lawyer-client relationships and on the workers' right to organize."