Israeli University Heads Call to Scrap Plan Limiting Professors’ Political Remarks

'We don’t want academics to fear sharing their views in public, as happens in some countries that we don’t want to resemble,' committee says.

Students at an Israeli university.
Emil Salman

The Committee of University Heads called on Tuesday on Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also chairs the Council for Higher Education, to drop his plan to draw up a code of ethics for political expression by academics.

It was the universities’ first response to the appointment last month of Prof. Asa Kasher to devise such a code. When Haaretz first reported on the appointment, the committee refused to comment.

The committee said the universities should be allowed to conduct their own independent disciplinary procedures without external interference, noting that every university has a system of rules and regulations that govern ethical behavior.

“A uniform code of ethics dictated by an external source will undermine freedom of expression and the proper conduct and independence of academia,” the committee said. “The code would inhibit the freedom of expression essential to academia, which is the life force of ground-breaking science and academia.

"This is a slippery slope that constitutes a real danger to the character of the state. We don’t want academics to fear sharing their views in public, as happens in some countries that we don’t want to resemble.”

Bennett did not consult with the heads of the universities or colleges before appointing Kasher. At the time, Bennett wrote, “In my role as chairman of the CHE, I have recently been receiving numerous complaints regarding ongoing phenomena of an overlap between academic and political activity. We must prevent a situation in which students or lecturers suffer from rejection, silencing, exclusion or discrimination because of their identity or personal views, including their political views.”

At the end of last week, the CHE posted on its website a call for the public to comment on the matter, as part of Kasher’s research before writing the code. The ad called on “members of the public, including academia, organizations and private or public entities, including students and lecturers,” to submit their comments to the council by February 5.