Bar Ilan University students, faculty and administrators are up in arms over a law professor’s email to his students that opened with an expression of sympathy for all victims of the Israel-Gaza war, implicitly reminding them that the overwhelming majority of those victims are Gazans.
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Prof. Hanoch Sheinman’s email was sent to reassure his second-year law students that because the security situation had disrupted many students’ routines, there would be an additional date scheduled for his course’s final exam. Sheinman opened the email, however, by saying that he hoped the message “finds you in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs.”
Sheinman then proceeded to inform the students of the additional testing date.
Sheinman’s reference to the victims of the fighting with no reference to their national affiliation led many students to complain to the dean of the law faculty, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz, who issued an urgent message to the students yesterday. “I was shocked to learn of the email sent to you by Professor Sheinman,” Lifshitz wrote. “It was a hurtful letter, and since this morning we have been justifiably flooded with messages from students and family members, many of whom are involved during these very days in the battles in the south.”
Lifshitz added, “Both the content and the style of the letter contravene the values of the university and the law faculty. The faculty champions the values of pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of expression, but the inclusion of positions as were included in the administrative message sent by Prof. Sheinman to the students on a matter relating to exams does not fit into the framework of academic freedom or freedom of personal expression in any acceptable sense. This constitutes the inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher to convey messages reflecting his positions, in a way that, as noted, seriously offended the students and their families.”
Dean apologizes for prof's letter
Lifshitz apologized for Sheinman’s letter and promised that “the matter will be handled with the appropriate seriousness.”
Bar-Ilan University responded by saying, “In his letter to his students, Prof. Sheinman made inappropriate use of the platform given to him as a lecturer to convey messages reflecting his political positions, in a way that offended the students and their families.” Sheinman’s response could not be obtained.
Yesterday the Coordinating Council of the University Faculty Associations, which represents the senior faculty at all of Israel’s universities, wrote to the Committee of University Heads in response to warnings issued a few days ago by Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities against “extreme and inappropriate expressions,” on the Internet by students and faculty members.
“Sanctifying the principles of democracy means respecting the right to protest and criticize, and not to limit it,” the council wrote. “[The right to] freedom of expression is meant [to protect] outrageous statements, not pleasant statements.”