Researcher Says Knesset Demoted Him Because of His Political Views

The Israeli says parliament wanted him to alter studies on migrants 'solely to appease right-wing activists.'

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A former researcher at the Knesset Research and Information Center has sued the legislature for demoting him, saying he is being persecuted because of his political opinions.

The researcher, Dr. Gilad Natan, who was demoted to the archives a year ago, sued in Jerusalem Labor Court last week. He says he had been asked to approve “corrections” to studies he had done for the Knesset on migrant workers, but he rejected the assignment because the changes had no scientific basis.

Natan says the changes were designed “solely to appease right-wing activists and to adjust the findings to their political agenda.” The Knesset denies these claims.

Natan began working as a Knesset researcher in 2005 and wrote more than 100 papers at the request of MKs needing data for committee debates. His later work was mainly for the Committee on Foreign Workers and the Committee on Drug Abuse.

In 2012, media reports accused Natan of distorting data in his reports on refugees and migration because of his political views. There were then calls in the Knesset to dismiss him, which intensified when it emerged that in 2009 Natan had written opinion pieces criticizing politicians and political parties.

When the decision to transfer Natan to the archives became public, the Knesset cast no aspersions on his research but said it had demoted him “because a Knesset employee is not permitted under any circumstances to insult and offend MKs or Knesset factions.” It said the claim that he was being punished for his political views was “misleading.”

According to the lawsuit, “from information obtained from various sources, including Knesset employees, members of the Likud Central Committee put enormous pressure on then-Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to get him dismissed from the Knesset.” The suit claims that “the political harassment continues in his current job in the archives” – for example, in his being refused permission to take training courses or to do private work.

According to the suit, Natan’s persecution was prompted by the nonprofit group Eitan – the Israeli Immigration Policy Center. The suit claims that Eitan sought “to alter the research findings in Research and Information Center papers. Time and again, the plaintiff had to vehemently object to inserting changes in studies, because they had no scientific basis and were nothing but capitulation to political movements with a very specific agenda.”

In one of his studies on migrants, Natan was ordered to remove any reference to the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as the number of refugees in Egypt, possibly to avoid the impression that the number of asylum seekers in Israel was comparatively low. Natan’s associates say the efforts to persuade him to sign off on the altered versions were “extremely aggressive.”

For its part, the Knesset said Natan’s claims were “erroneous.” “No researcher has ever been asked to make changes that were not based on fact or that stemmed from political pressure,” the Knesset said. “In this case, an examination by an expert hired by the Knesset, as well as an internal evaluation by the Research and Information Center, found that a number of corrections had to be made to the document.”

According to a Knesset source, the study in question was never corrected “because there was no agreement about this with Dr. Natan. In any case, another researcher has written a more updated and detailed document about the policy on asylum seekers.”

According to Eitan, “Our research showed significant methodological and factual defects in the studies. The data were submitted to the Research and Information Center and an internal audit confirmed most of the data.”

Dr. Gilad Natan.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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