Text size

A credulous reader of the Israeli press could conclude that the Israeli left's freedom of expression is under assault. Indeed, 542 academics signed a petition protesting what they called Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's infringement of academic freedom, after Sa'ar pledged action against Israeli professors who are spearheading the international academic boycott of their own universities. It is difficult to take the petitioners' protest seriously.

For one thing, the traditional threat to academic freedom in Israel emanates from the political left. Be'er Sheva's Ben-Gurion University hotly defended the academic freedom of its political science chair, Neve Gordon, to proselytize internationally in favor of boycotting Israel (equaling his exploits during the Oslo War when he holed up with Arafat at the besieged Muqata ). Simultaneously BGU sacked bioethicist Dr. Yeruham Leavitt for his politically incorrect assertion that same-sex parents were not healthy to a child's upbringing.

Such is the unidirectional thrust of purveyors of Israeli academic freedom that also ensures the monochromatic character of many local social science departments.

A still better example involved Prof. Hillel Weiss of Bar-Ilan University. In August 2007, while witnessing the nocturnal demolition of a Jewish home in Hebron, its contents still inside, the Hebrew literature professor addressed a few intemperate remarks to the army commander overseeing the bulldozing. In response, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened the university that unless it disciplined him, the army would stop sending students to study at Bar-Ilan. Needless to say, Weiss was not backed by petitions with more than 500 signatures. Bar-Ilan's president, Moshe Kaveh, cravenly convened a panel of lawyers to see what disciplinary actions could be taken, although Weiss, as Kaveh himself conceded, was acting in a purely personal capacity and never invoked his academic affiliation.

Bar-Ilan, in the words of Prof. Asher Cohen, a political scientist there, has been acting like a cowed, post-trauma victim ever since the Rabin assassination and the ensuing intellectual witch hunt against "inciters" - a campaign aided and abetted by the self-proclaimed defenders of academic freedom.

Leftist dominance in academia is replicated in other culture and opinion gatekeepers. Three of our major Hebrew dailies are left of center, and two of them (Haaretz was the exception ) came out in support of legislation that would put a fourth, right-of-center paper out of business. Our state-subsidized theaters mount endless productions critical of the right and none attacking the left. Even this week's puppet-theater festival in Holon would not have been complete without the premiere of Guy Elhanan's "A Visit to Silwan," depicting an intrusive army base dominating a mosque.

Furthermore, we are entitled to the leftist satire of TV's "A Wonderful Country" ("Eretz Nehederet"), which portrays deranged settler women using Palestinians as ironing boards or compares settlers to Hamas holding Israeli soldiers for ransom (satire must sometimes be extreme to be effective, they tell us ). Yet satire from the other direction, such as the internationally successful Latma troupe (responsible for the post-flotilla clip "We Con the World" ), has no place on our airwaves.

Perhaps because the left is so effective at excluding opposing views, it justly fears that its ideological opponents may one day exact retribution. That hasn't happened till now because unlike David Ben-Gurion, who could sort out the extreme left, the Likud governments were gentlemanly to a fault. Events, however, may force a change.

As could have been predicted, once Israel conceded the issue of the Palestinian state, the next step in the Palestinian strategy of stages would be to assail the very legitimacy of Israel within the 1949 armistice borders. This agenda is sustained by petrocrats from Caracas via Middle East capitals from Tripoli to Tehran, and media allies who either politely question the sense of Israel's establishment, or, like Helen Thomas, would see the Jews expelled from Israel and dumped back in Kielce or Munich.

The battle for Israel's survival is no longer merely a test of armed strength and skills: It is equally a battle for legitimacy. If Israel is denied the right to retaliate against or blockade those in a state of war with it, all its sophisticated hardware will not avail it. Once betrayers of state secrets did the most damage; today, though, those leading the propaganda war against Israel can be equally lethal.

Prof. Carlo Strenger (in his Haaretz blog on May 13 ) defended Tel Aviv University's policy of allowing its boycott cheerleaders to remain in their positions and - invoking FDR's immortal "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - rejected the argument that Israel's existential peril justified harsher actions.

As noted above, Israel's fears are well founded. Strenger, however, could not have picked a worse example than Roosevelt, who even before the U.S. joined the war against the Axis, fought the German American Bund and other German apologists with trumped-up charges and by enlisting Hollywood to churn out espionage movies featuring German sleeper-agents at work in America. Britain, with its Emergency Powers Act, interned Nazi sympathizers for the duration of the war or, in the case of the Duke of Windsor, exiled him to the West Indies.

Nobody is about to emulate Roosevelt or Churchill, but neither do we have to suicidally go to the opposite extreme and pay the salaries or finance the films of those who support Israel's destruction or dissolution as a Jewish state. If Israel could prosecute nationalist Nadia Matar for "insulting" civil servant Yonatan Bassi, the relocation czar for Gush Katif expellees, it can do the same for those who finger Israeli officers and expose them to lawfare in Britain and elsewhere.

 

Political scientist Dr. Amiel Ungar writes regularly for Haaretz English Edition.