Archaeologists: Right-wing Culture Minister Making Appointments Based on Politics

Top archaeologists slam Limor Livnat's bid to change make-up of Israel Antiquities Authority's board of directors, say move will allow her to appoint officials identified with the political right.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Senior archaeologists are up in arms over an amendment to the Antiquities Authority Law proposed by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat , which they say will shift the political slant of the Israel Antiquities Authority's board of directors to the right.

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Culture Minister Limor Livnat. Credit: Michal Fattal

Critics say Livnat has proposed the legislation to prevent the appointment of Prof. Yoram Tsafrir as chairman of the board of directors of the authority and to allow her to instead appoint archaeologists identified with the political right. Opponents of the bill also say Livnat has also been changing the makeup of the country's senior archaeological body, the Archaeological Council, which advises the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the minister who oversees the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"People are being elected according to what they have on their head as opposed to in their head," an opponent of the bill who declined to be named said, referring to religious head coverings.

By law, the authority's board of directors sets policy and approves and supervises the budget. The law currently requires the board to be made up of two representatives on the faculty of one of the five universities in Israel, and one scholar from the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, who also serves as chairman of the board.

Tsafrir, one of Israel's foremost archaeologists and the only archaeologist who is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, was the likely successor to Prof. Benjamin Kedar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is also deputy chairman of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

However, Livnat's detractors say Tsafrir is considered a leftist for having spoken out against the involvement of Elad, an organization identified with the political right, in excavations of the City of David in Jerusalem.

Livnat's amendment states that the minister "would appoint a senior scientist from the realm of history or archaeology, after consultation with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities."

The explanatory notes accompanying Livnat's bill state: "The law currently obliges the minister to choose from a limited list of scientists, while in fact there are many worthy candidates who are not members of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities."

Over the past year,three new members were appointed to the Archaeological Council: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Ronny Reich and Dr. Eilat Mazar. All three are known for their work in excavations funded by Elad in East Jerusalem. Reich was elected head of the council.

Archaeologists critical of Livnat's moves also say scholars from Bar-Ilan University have a greater representation on the Archaeological Council than other universities.

Prof. Ze'ev Weiss, head of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology said that if the bill becomes law, it could "stymie academic freedom and the ability to act without political influence."

Emek Shaveh, an organization of archaeologists and community activists identified with the left wing said: "The day is coming when Israeli archaeology will be nationalistic archaeology whose main function is to serve as a tool in political debate about the country."

Barkay said he did not deal with politics, but with archaeology.

Mazar said her work in Jerusalem is about Jerusalem and not about Elad.

Livnat said in a statement that the proposed amendment would not change the makeup of the board and was "intended to allow for an appointment of chairman of the board from among a wider variety of academics in relevant fields..."

The statement goes on to say that limiting the appointment of chairman to members of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities is unheard of in any other public authority.

"The source of this limitation is a law going back 33 years. Since then, the number of archaeologists and historians who are senior researchers has increased significantly and there is not reason to prevent worthy candidates from heading the board. ... It seems that claims against opening up the appointment to additional worthy candidates stems from extraneous interests and the desire to force a certain appointment as chairman of the board."



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