Israeli Education Chief Orders 'Ethics Rules' for Professors Aimed at Curtailing 'Political Preaching'

Bennett asks former IDF ethics chief to take on 'ongoing situation of overlap between academic and political activity.'

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Naftali Bennett and Asa Kasher
Naftali Bennett and Asa KasherCredit: Olivier Fitoussi/Kobi Gideon, BauBau

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday he wants special ethics rules to govern academic and political activity at colleges and universities – a move seen as an attempt to reduce leftist thinking on campuses.

Prof. Asa Kasher, who drafted the Israeli army’s ethics code, has been asked to provide recommendations “regarding the principles of proper ethical behavior at institutions overlapping academic and political activity.”

The document declaring Kasher’s appointment has been sent to some of the members of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee.

“In my role as chairman of the Council for Higher Education, I have recently received many complaints about an ongoing situation of overlap between academic and political activity,” Bennett wrote in the document.

“As is also reflected in past decisions by the council, we must prevent a situation in which students or professors suffer rejection, silencing, exclusion or discrimination due to their identity or personal worldviews, including their political opinions.”

As Bennett put it, “Academic freedom requires every institution to try to expose students to as comprehensive a view as possible of data, theories, viewpoints and relevant arguments. We are also all obligated to preserve the student’s right to study at an institution of higher education without being required to listen to political preaching that has nothing to do with the study of the specific field.”

Bennett gave Kasher four months to complete the job, and requested that he meet with the heads of student groups or ask the public for suggestions.

In recent years, right-wing groups have complained about the left's alleged “politicization” of academia, and the Knesset Education Committee has discussed the subject several times. In the most recent discussion in July, MKs attacked university heads for not dealing with professors who call for an academic boycott of Israel.

In December 2010 the council passed a decision recognizing “the supreme importance of academic freedom and academic excellence, and a total rejection of attempts at politicization in academic life.”

The decision includes five principles that have not yet been translated into regulations, people involved in the effort say.

In his directive to Kasher, Bennett mentions that the 2010 decision “is almost impossible to implement because it lacks criteria and an explanation of the various elements and complex issues.” He has thus asked Kasher to create “a kind of code of ethics for proper conduct in these instances.”

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