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Contrary to claims, Im Tirtzu heads took part in IZS young leadership program

Im Tirtzu chairman Ronen Shoval and the organization's spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, took part in a Young Leadership program run by the Institute for Zionist Strategies several years ago, seemingly contradicting the two men's earlier assertion that they were not acting in concert with the institute in their public campaign against the "anti-Zionist bias" in Israeli universities.

Last month, Im Tirtzu sent a letter to Ben-Gurion University demanding that the school "put an end to the anti-Zionist bias in its politics and government department" and threatening to discourage donors from contributing to the school if it did not. The group also said it would dissuade students from enrolling in BGU's political science department.

The IZS, whose founding chairman is Israel Harel, a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements and a Haaretz columnist, recently drafted a report that accused academic institutions of propagating "post-Zionist bias" in their sociology departments. The report prompted the president of Tel Aviv University to request a list of the reading material taught in TAU's sociology courses. But due to both the ensuing public outcry and criticism from his own university, Prof. Joseph Klafter did not follow through on his planned examination of the syllabi.

The campaign orchestrated by the two groups has evoked a firestorm of criticism from educators and university administrators. In an unusual move, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities joined the chorus of denunciations against Im Tirtzu.

"In a democratic state, we must vigorously defend with all available means the independence of academic institutions," it said in a statement. "As such, we cannot accept attempts by external and foreign bodies to intervene in appointing faculty members, determining curricula, and the manner in which material is taught."

The IZS Young Leadership program, aimed at college graduates, is intended to "identify and encourage the young people who will make up the State of Israel's leadership of tomorrow." The program includes meetings with researchers and academics on a wide range of topics. Shoval and Tadmor participated in the program before they founded Im Tirtzu in 2007.

The IZS, however, denied that it is coordinating with Im Tirtzu on the issue of post-Zionism in academia. "There is no cooperation between the two organizations, aside from any ideological overlap there might be on certain subjects," said IZS staffer Adi Arbel.

Tadmor made similar statements, calling the IZS "one of the most important organizations in the State of Israel."

The IZS report on sociology departments is reminiscent of Im Tirtzu's report on political science departments. Not only is the methodology of the two reports identical (an examination of syllabi and a classification of lecturers into categories such as "Zionist" and "anti-Zionist" ), but the conclusions they reached about the state of Israeli academia are similar.

The IZS website lists various well-known figures on its Advisory Committee, including Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, and credits Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky as "founding associates." But according to the organization, none of the above are still actively involved in the group.

Four of those listed as members of the Advisory Committee are also affiliated with the conservative think tank The Shalem Center. One of them is Dr. Ran Baratz, an academic who also served as an advisor to Im Tirtzu in preparing the report on the political science departments.

Last month, Hebrew University dismissed Baratz, a popular philosophy professor, due to what close associates hinted were his political opinions. The university adamantly denied the suggestion, saying the professor was fired for academic reasons.