Over 300 academics signed a petition over the weekend saying they will ignore any recommendations in the new ethics code commissioned last week by Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
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The code is being interpreted by many as a way of controlling left-wing statements made by academics in Israel’s colleges and universities.
Bennett said last Thursday he wants special ethics rules to govern academic and political activity on campus, and asked Prof. Asa Kasher to provide guidelines.
The academics’ petition states that, as faculty members, “We declare in advance that we will completely ignore the conclusions of the Kasher committee.”
The petition, which was signed by a number of prominent Israeli professors, added: “The government has no authority to determine how to express oneself in academia.”
Bennett’s decision was first revealed in Haaretz on Friday. He did not consult with or inform the heads of Israel’s universities and colleges before making his decision.
In his document on the matter he wrote: “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.
“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,” Bennett added.
The committees of university and college presidents said they had learned about the matter from Haaretz, and refused to comment on it officially.
Bennett gave Kasher four months to complete the task, and requested that he meet with the heads of student groups or ask the public for suggestions.
The document announcing Kasher’s appointment was sent to some of the members of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee.
Dr. Uri Weiss, from the Polonsky Academy – Van Leer Institute and a lecturer at the Business School at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, was behind this weekend’s petition.
Weiss, who also writes a blog for Haaretz, explained that there are some bodies one must avoid conducting any negotiations with. “This is true for the Bennett-Kasher committee,” which must be boycotted, he said.
“Censors in academia deserve to be ignored, and when there is an attempt at collective institutional censorship, like here, they are worthy of being pointedly ignored,” said Weiss.
The censors are trying to create the norm of silence in academia by scaring people, he added.
Weiss said that the government’s initiative to intervene in academic freedom of expression is forbidden, and such interference lacks any legal or moral basis.
Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University called on Kasher not to accept the role. “I appeal to you, in the name of democratic values and academic ethics, not to take the job as imposed by Education Minister Bennett,” he wrote to Kasher, calling the move another sign of the government’s desire to create a totalitarian regime in Israel.
Prof. Isaac Nevo, from the philosophy department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said the move represented an attempt by Bennett to limit free speech on campuses. He added that Bennett’s statement that the code was being introduced in order to protect the rights of students was misleading.