Politruks in Academia

The preoccupation with syllabi at Tel Aviv University is nothing more than a cover for a dangerous worldview, which says academic research must comply with the winds blowing in the Knesset and the street.

Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz Editorial

It is to be hoped that Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter's decision to examine senior researchers and lecturers' syllabi was indeed intended - as Prof. Yehouda Shenhav was quoted by Or Kashti as saying (Haaretz English Edition, August 15 ), "to protect academic freedom from McCarthyism," and does not indicate a surrender to the Institute for Zionist Strategies.

University libraryCredit: Nir Kedar

Those who issued the report titled "Post-Zionism and Academia" (which deals only with sociology courses ) can only be defined, to put it mildly, as "politruks" (Russian for political commissars ). The report, which was distributed to university heads and senior lecturers, is a sanctimonious paper, apparently a tedious expansion of a previous, no less shameful report, submitted by the Im Tirtzu movement to the Knesset and education minister.

Implementing the report - by examining syllabi - would be foolish and troubling. It will make it impossible for academics to do any research unless it is in line with the representation determined by the report, which resembles something taken out of an old Jewish National Fund propaganda movie. This narrow-minded demand could damage Zionism research even more.

But the preoccupation with syllabi is nothing more than a cover for a dangerous worldview, which says academic research must comply with the winds blowing in the Knesset and the street.

The report claims there is a prestigious, influential academic elite that trains generations of young researchers and personnel for public administration, and that maintains and runs research centers with considerable influence on the state's decision-makers. "This elite, which represents Israel in the international academic community, advocates radical leftist positions that would doubtfully pass the broader (Jewish ) public test - in the polls," says the report.

These crude statements expose the principles of the new politruk activity and make its intentions clear. Evidently the report has the goal of spreading fear in the universities, further deligitimizing Israeli intellectuals, and undermining the freedom of expression, research and thought. It aims to do these things by means of populistic denunciations and an irrelevant, illegitimate ethnocratic distinction ("the Jewish public" ).

As the rector of the University of Haifa said, this is a McCarthyist report, which academia must reject out of hand.



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