The Fight for Academic Freedom

After decades of a feeling of stifling anti-Zionist bias at the universities, change is knocking at academia's gates.

This opinion page has recently carried articles attacking the legitimacy of the Im Tirtzu movement and distorting the report we submitted to the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee. These articles continued a hysterical assault against our movement by academics on Internet forums. The authors' main argument boils down to the tired old mantra of labeling with McCarthyism anyone trying to criticize what happens in academia.

The system is trying to depict those seeking academic freedom as enemies of enlightenment, those fighting to end the discrimination against Zionism as thugs, and the academics with the stable salaries, complete academic freedom and wanton lack of transparency surrounding their appointments as victims of the students dependent on them for their grades. These are the same students who dedicate the little time they have after work and studies to fight for future students.

But the truth cannot be concealed, and the fight for equality and true academic freedom cannot be suppressed. After decades of a feeling of stifling anti-Zionist bias at the universities, change is knocking at academia's gates. Sooner or later the exclusion and silencing of anyone with opinions slightly to the right of the academic consensus between Meretz and Hadash will cease. The freedom and liberty to research, study and enrich education, the freedom and liberty to think differently, will soon be given to all students in Israel, not just an extremist anti-Israeli minority.

The attempt to escape a matter-of-fact discussion on the anti-Zionist bias in some departments, and the feeling of exclusion and humiliation felt by many students will come to naught. Throwing around swearwords like "McCarthyism," "fascism" and "Stalinism" a dozen times a day won't stop the public and the students from asking over and over the following questions.

Is there, in some parts of academia, an over-representation of post-Zionism in complete disproportion to this worldview's representation in the overall population? How did this situation come about? Is it true that academic achievement is limited to these circles, or could it be that academics of such persuasions promote their fellow post-Zionists? Is it right for academics, people with a clear vested interest, to be the only ones marking the boundaries of "academic freedom" - or rather, deciding that such freedom means that everything is allowed? Don't the public, the education minister and NGOs have a right to help mark the borders of academic freedom? Is merely raising this question equivalent to censorship and a witch hunt? Could it be that the cries of McCarthyism are the real attempts at censorship?

Is a member of academic staff allowed to call for the boycott of the institution where he works and expect not to be sanctioned? Can we accept a situation in which scores of anti-Israeli petitions calling for economic, cultural and academic boycotts are issued from the universities sponsored by our taxes? Did a handful of lecturers buy a monopoly on truth, and when did this take place? Is the opinion of the education minister, the members of Im Tirtzu, significant parts of the academic faculty who find themselves silent, and significant parts of the Israeli public less worthy than the cries of McCarthtyism by that academic handful? And how long will the exclusion and silencing of Zionist voices at universities last? Freedom is knocking on the doors of academia. Don't hold it back.

The writer is the chairman of the movement Im Tirtzu.

The fight for academic freedom
Nir Kafri