Caution, McCarthyism ahead
The public debate surrounding the appointment of Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, does not relate to her academic qualifications or scholarly achievements, but to her positions. This is a serious development that endangers academic freedom and is reminiscent of the days of American McCarthyism.
The public debate surrounding the appointment of Colonel Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, head of the military advocate general's corps' International Law Division, as a lecturer at Tel Aviv University's law faculty does not relate to her academic qualifications or scholarly achievements, but to her positions. This is a serious development that endangers academic freedom and is reminiscent of the darkest days of American McCarthyism.
I do not know Sharvit-Baruch, nor do I seek to state any case regarding her professional qualifications. There is one thing that merits one's insistence in this case, and that is that her nomination be decided solely according to the customary academic standards, and not according to whether someone from the university's staff does not care for her opinions.
One of Israel's most impressive achievements is that despite the severe security and diplomatic pressures that have been exerted on it over the decades, academic freedom in its universities has been exemplary, as Israel's critics abroad concede. There are universities in Israel whose lecturers nearly challenge the legitimacy of Israel's existence.
The extreme right occasionally calls for their dismissal, and individual university staffers sometimes make similar suggestions. All such proposals are rejected, not because the majority of lecturers agree with the radical opinions expressed by some of their colleagues, but because academic freedom to express unusual and even vexing opinions is the lifeline of academia.
When the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz called Israel Defense Forces soldiers "Judeo-Nazis," no one thought to remove him from the Hebrew University even though the comparison was infuriating and contemptible.
When another lecturer from the university equated the children of settlers in Hebron to the Hitler Youth, there were those who demanded his dismissal, but the proposal was met with resolute resistance even from those who found the comparison a sign of a twisted historic perception.
When lecturers called for IDF soldiers to disobey orders, this created discomfort in the minds of many - including this writer - but no one thought to "take steps" against them. We know of at least one young lecturer who did time in a military prison for refusing to serve in the Gaza Strip during the intifada. No one thought that because of this, the university should have no place for him.
And there was another case, closer to the one at hand. Yale University has one senior lecturer who, during his service in the U.S. Justice Department, developed a doctrine which alleges that the Geneva Convention does not apply to the "war on terror" that the United States is waging in Afghanistan and Iraq. His positions were acrimoniously criticized within the academic community, but no one proposed firing him.
The attempt to "protect" those who belong to the left while employing McCarthy-style methods against those associated with the right is nothing but hypocrisy, which has no place in academia. The people working to prevent Sharvit-Baruch's appointment do not realize that the proposal gives legitimacy to the dark forces that lurk on the sidelines of Israeli society, to begin pursuing the voices in academia that strike them as "unpatriotic" or "insufficiently Zionist." This may even apply to some of the people heading the fight against Sharvit-Baruch.
And above anything else, free speech - and certainly academic freedom - is cemented in the famous saying attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Some people must have forgotten this principle, in which lies the foundations of enlightenment and modern liberalism.
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