Scholars Slam Bill to Change Makeup of Israel Antiquities Authority

Culture Minister Limor Livnat did not approve Israel Academy of Sciences president's nominations for authority chairman, has submitted Knesset bill that would let her appoint a non-academy member.

Culture Minister Limor Livnat previously asked Prof. Oded Abramsky, a neurologist at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital and member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, to serve as chairman of the board of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Haaretz has learned.

Livnat turned to Abramsky after rejecting three historians and archaeologists from among the academy's ranks who were nominated by Prof. Ruth Arnon, the academy's president. After this idea proved impractical - possibly because Abramsky refused, though that remains unclear - Livnat submitted a bill to let her appoint someone who isn't an academy member as the authority's chairman.

Limor Livnat - Emil Salman -
Emil Salman

This is impossible under current law.

The bill, which the Knesset Education Committee is set to discuss on Sunday, would allow any "senior researcher in the field of history or archaeology" to be chairman of the board, even if they are not an academy member. It would also allow the two representatives of academia on the board to be chosen from the faculty of the colleges, rather than from only the country's five universities. The board sets policy for the authority and approves its budget.

Now, the academy has given the committee a position paper attacking the bill.

First, it assailed the claim in the bill's explanatory notes that current law offers limited choices for the chairman's job, "whereas in practice there are many suitable candidates for the job who aren't academy members." The academy document said 12 of its approximately 100 members are historians or archaeologists, and another half dozen work in related fields - hardly making up a "limited list of candidates."

The document said Livnat submitted her bill after rejecting the academy's three nominees - Prof. Yoel Rak, an anthropologist from Tel Aviv University; Prof. Margalit Finkelberg, a classicist from Tel Aviv University; and Prof. Yoram Tsafrir, an archaeologist from Hebrew University - rather than exploring further options within the academy.

The document charged that the bill would undermine "perceptions of the scientific and national stature of the Antiquities Authority." This view has been echoed by the heads of the country's four university archaeology institutes, by the chairman of the Israel Archaeological Council and by the authority's incumbent chairman.

One source said the "red flag" from Livnat's standpoint was apparently Arnon's nomination of Tsafrir. He is the only archaeologist in the academy, but he is also an avowed leftist who has spoken out against Elad, the organization that runs Jerusalem's City of David national park and works to settle Jews in East Jerusalem. Recently, he opposed a planned construction project over an archaeological site in the Western Wall Plaza.

Livnat's spokesman said she would respond to all "politically motivated" attacks on the bill at tomorrow's Knesset session.

However, he added, the rule that the Antiquities Authority chairman must be a member of the academy applies, "as far as we know," to no other public authority. It was enacted more than 33 years ago, and since then "the number of archaeologists and historians serving as senior researchers has risen substantially, and there is no reason to prevent the candidacies of researchers who are academically and professionally worthy of chairing the board," he said.

He noted that, under the bill, the chairman would be chosen in consultation with the academy, and charged that opposition to opening the candidate list stemmed from "a desire to force a particular appointee" on Livnat.

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