Israel's Bennett Cites U.S. Example to Defend His Professors' Ethics Code, Omits Crucial Difference

Bennett says his code of ethics, which bars academics from expressing political views in class, mirrors U.S. code; but the American one notes purpose of guideline 'is not to discourage what is ''controversial.''

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

Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Philosophy Prof. Asa Kasher claimed Sunday that the code of ethics Kasher wrote for Israeli universities, which bars professors from expressing political views in class, is mirrored in the code of ethics used in American universities.

However, Kasher’s rules are substantially more restrictive than the American ones, said Israel Democracy Institute researcher Dr. Guy Lurie, a former coordinator of the Shamgar Committee for the Formulation of Rules of Ethics for Members of the Government.

Kasher wrote Bennett that the American Association of University Professors published a code in 1915 containing five key principles, and in 1940 the organization expanded the earlier document and published it as a “Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure.” Bennett tweeted a quote from the statement: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.”

In the Kasher document, with regard to controversial matters, political activity is defined as activity “that constitutes direct support for a certain position in a recognized public controversy expressed on an ongoing basis in the Knesset or in public debate, clearly linked to a party in the Knesset or elsewhere, or direct opposition to such a position.” The Kasher code also states that a faculty member “will not permit himself to digress from the syllabus” for “political activity, preaching and the like,” which he says is “improper and could be considered misuse of authority.”

Lurie: U.S. code protects 'controversy' in class

Thus the Kasher code goes well beyond the call for caution from which Bennett quoted in the American document, said Lurie. Moreover, in the American document, a note was added in 1970 stating: “The intent of this statement is not to discourage what is ‘controversial.’ Controversy is at the heart of the free academic inquiry which the entire statement is designed to foster. The passage serves to underscore the need for teachers to avoid persistently intruding material which has no relation to their subject.”

According to Lurie, the two codes are completely different. “Prof. Kasher’s rules are very detailed rules of conduct. It’s really disciplinary regulations more than ethical rules. The AAUP code are five principles by which one should behave,” Lurie said. The AAUP code stresses the primary commitment of professors to the free search for truth, according to their own opinion, Lurie said, adding: “The emphasis is on the positive, on the individual professor and not the institution.

In contrast, Lurie said, Kasher’s code deals extensively with academic institutions and departments rather than with professors as individuals. “He doesn’t talk about ‘truth’ and the search for it, but about ‘academic activity.’ Even in this framework, he constantly restricts the activity to very specific areas of ‘the syllabus,’ ‘the discipline,’ and ‘accepted channels.’”

Another essential difference Lurie pointed out is that while the AAUP is a voluntary organization applying ethical rules to itself, Kasher is working for the government to propose ethical rules for academia.