Haifa U. Faculty Protests Denial of Honorary Doctorate to Rightist Economist

University of Haifa denies Nobel-winning economist Robert Aumann an honorary doctorate because he is seen as too right-wing.

More than 100 faculty members at the University of Haifa, including those closely identified with the left, are protesting the university’s decision to deny an honorary doctorate to a Nobel Prize-winning economist because his political views were considered too far to the right.

The university recently decided that Robert (Yisrael) Aumann, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2005 for his work on game theory, would not receive an honorary doctorate. Staff members called that decision “embarrassing.”

“We the undersigned, members of the academic faculty of the University of Haifa representing all positions on the political spectrum, agree that the disqualification of Prof. Yisrael Aumann as a candidate for receiving an honorary doctorate from the University is embarrassing and has done enormous damage to the university’s image and public standing. We believe that the university’s Executive Committee exceeded its authority when it deemed it proper to explain this invalidation and to justify it retroactively by citing Prof. Aumann’s political opinions, relying on certain statements he made in response to a reporter’s question in an interview,” said the statement protesting the university’s decision.

Aumann said in a 2010 interview that Jerusalem “must stay Jewish” and that Jews and Arabs should live in different countries.

“The most logical way is for there to be a Jewish state and an Arab state,” he told Maariv. “A Jewish state where the Jews live and an Arab state where the Arabs live.” When asked about mixed cities like Ramle, Jaffa and Lod, Aumann said: “Maybe put up a fence, I don’t know. It needs to be studied. This is another problem we’ve created for ourselves – I’m speaking primarily of the large blocs, the Triangle, Umm al-Fahm. Where it’s not practical, don’t do anything.”

Sources at the university said Aumann’s political views were explicitly discussed in the meeting about his candidacy for the honorary doctorate.

An executive committee member said his remarks about Arabs made it difficult for committee members to grant him the honorary doctorate. “When they asked him about the ability of Jews and Arabs to live together, he answered that they should build fences around Arab towns,” the university official said. “That’s not something that the university has to honor or award an honorary doctorate for.”

One source involved in the university decision said it was legitimate to deny Aumann the award because an honorary doctorate is “an expression of esteem,” not of scholarship or research ability.

“It’s meant to express appreciation to people whose academic excellence contributed to the study of important things,” the source said. “Aumann is a political figure, and it’s absolutely clear that awarding an honorary doctorate also involves addressing the world he represents, and this does not express the value system of the University of Haifa.”

But 160 faculty members disagreed.

Widely considered Israel’s most left-wing university, the University of Haifa regularly finds itself in the sights of right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu. But this time its own staff is criticizing the decision. One of the 160 signatories is Gad Barzilai, the law school dean described by the conservative website Frontpage Mag as “a radical active in leftist ‘human rights’ groups.”

In a document sent to university president Amos Shapira and the chairman of the university’s executive committee, Ami Ayalon, the signatories said, “this public statement is being written out of deep concern for the situation in which the university finds itself as a result of this affair and its aftermath.”

The statement expressed a need to set clear criteria for the awarding of honorary doctorates and to delineate the values of the university.“We very much hope that all the parties concerned will come to grips with the issue quickly and decisively, so that the status and reputation of the University does not deteriorate further,” they wrote.

In addition to Barzilai, other signatories include Eran Vigoda-Gadot, Dan Schueftan, Oz Almog, Gabi Weimann and Batia Laufer.

Reuters / Haaretz Archive
Reuters / Haaretz Archive