890 Academics Protest Right-winger’s Shake-up of Education Council

Education Minister Naftali Bennett has replaced a deputy head with a woman with alleged subpar credentials.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Avishag Sh'ar-Yeshuv

Almost 900 academics have signed an online petition supporting the six members of the Council for Higher Education who resigned after Education Minister Naftali Bennett replaced the council’s deputy head.

As of Tuesday night, 890 people had signed the petition, which calls for the council to be dissolved and reconstituted in a transparent manner.

They said they envisioned a council “in which the finest academics serve as required in a country where higher education and science are the main natural resources.”

The six resigned on Sunday, after Bennett replaced Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron with Rivka Wadmany Shauman, who has a doctorate but is not a professor.  The move sparked criticism partly due to Wadmany Shauman’s relative inexperience. The six said her academic record was not distinguished enough for her to be the council’s deputy head. 

The petition states that the new appointments should be made only “after a detailed procedure is established, with dialogue and consent, on the suitability of CHE members... We call on the university heads to join this call and avoid the artificial effort to correct what cannot be corrected. We declare that we will not cooperate in any way with the current CHE.”

The Committee of University Heads said Tuesday it would cooperate with Bennett and propose a list of academics to replace the six who resigned. The committee head, Technion President Peretz Lavie, said the panel “regretted the circumstances under which the CHE members were leaving.”

“The Committee of University Heads sees great importance in filling the posts of CHE members with leading academics... to preserve the high quality and advancement of the higher education system in Israel,” Lavie wrote.

Meanwhile, members of the Education Ministry’s “culture basket” repertoire committee issued a public statement against what it called far-reaching changes in the cultural offerings subsidized by the ministry announced recently by Bennett. The heads of the culture basket programs in municipalities all over the country criticized Bennett’s decision too.

Last week, Bennett announced the National Culture Basket of works and performances approved for high-school students would be expanded and its budget increased. But at the same time the repertoire committee, experts who choose the basket’s composition, would see their influence reduced.

High-school principals will be instructed to select 30 percent of the performances from the approved list and the other 70 percent from a list that has not been vetted.  In addition, a new committee would be able to disqualify works for pornographic content, encouraging violence, racist elements, incitement to terror and attacking the foundations of the State of Israel.

The new committee to disqualify works is a dangerous step of silencing and undermining the foundations of democracy, they said.