Education Minister Bennett Acting as if Ministry Is Part of His Party

The pretext for the resignations of six Higher Education Council members – Bennett's dismissal of the deputy head for no reasonable cause – is a blow to a fundamental building block of higher education.

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Moti Milrod

At 8:49 A.M. on Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett posted an item on his Twitter account regarding his "culture basket" reform, which he had announced on Thursday. (“That’s how to strengthen the outlying areas!” he wrote, concerning additional funding for schoolchildren’s cultural activities, without explaining why it was necessary to bypass the opinions of panels of experts or to establish a mechanism for disqualifying artistic performances.)

That post came more or less at the same time as a report on another achievement the education minister can chalk up to himself: the collective resignation of six members of the Council for Higher Education. In all of the 58 years of the council’s existence, such a thing has never happened – until the appearance on the scene of Bennett, who sometimes seems to treat the country's education system as if it were the central committee of the party he heads, Habayit Hayehudi.

The six professors who resigned – Prof. Moshe Maor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Judith Gal-Ezer of the Open University, Prof. Eli Zeldov of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Fadia Nasser-Abu Alhija of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Chaya Kalcheim of the Hebrew University – said yesterday that they would not serve as a rubber stamp for Minister Bennett’s actions.

It has been a long time since such a clear and unambiguous voice was heard here. The pretext for the resignations – Bennett's dismissal of Messer-Yaron as deputy council head for no reasonable reason, without the right of response or preliminary discussion –– is a blow to a fundamental building block of higher education: “taking into consideration the needs of society and the state and while safe-guarding academic freedom and with due diligence for research and instruction.”

The idea that the realm of higher education needs to be administered by an independent body, which formulates policy and makes decisions based on relevant and professional discussions, was not Messer-Yaron’s, nor did it come from the approximately 1,500 academics who expressed no confidence in Bennett in a recent petition. It is the concept at the basis of the Council for Higher Education Law.

The above quote is on the Council for Higher Education's English website. Academic freedom? Due diligence? People around Bennett must be snickering.

There was likewise snickering – over the rewriting of the civics textbook; the significant increase in so-called Jewish identity centers, of which religious Zionist groups close to Bennett are the main beneficiaries; the freezing of support for pluralistic organizations; the prohibition against the leftist NGO Breaking the Silence entering schools; the weakening of the culture basket experts’ committees; the disqualification from high school reading lists of the novel “Borderlife”; and other decisions. Only an especially nave observer would find it hard to connect the dots: The Education Ministry under Bennett has declared war – venomous and dirty – on anyone who seeks to think about reality in a way that's slightly different from what is acceptable in Habayit Hayehudi.

The resignation of the six CHE council members holds up a mirror, not necessarily complimentary, to other members of the council who confirmed Messer-Yaron’s dismissal, and to senior officials in the Education Ministry, who show no little flexibility while their boss gleefully tramples the state education system and its pluralistic principles and spirit.

On the horizon not far away are glimmers of additional resignations, perhaps from the direction of repertory committee heads. There must be a sharpening of differences and boundaries. Sometimes it has to be said – enough is enough.