President Rivlin Speaks Out Against Israel's Proposed University Ethics Code

'The freedom to express a different opinion requires protection,' Rivlin says

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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File photo President Rivlin speaking at the President residence, February, 2017.
File photo President Rivlin speaking at the President residence, February, 2017.Credit: Mark Neyman/GPO
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

President Reuven Rivlin expressed veiled criticism on Sunday of Education Minister Naftali Bennett's proposed code of ethics for faculty members at Israeli institutions of higher learning. The code would limit the ability of faculty members to express themselves on political issues.

Rivlin's comments also hinted at opposition to the policies of Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has sought to limit her ministry's funding of some cultural content.

"The freedom to express a different opinion, different thought, requires protection," Israel's president said. "The voices of the minority are essential to scientific research, to art and the humanities and social sciences."

The proposed ethics code, which was drafted by Tel Aviv University professor Asa Kasher at Bennett's request, includes broad provisions relating to nearly every field at the country's institutions of higher education. It features a requirement that students be allowed to demand clarifications from lecturers who have made comments that "have created the appearance of political activity."

At a Knesset ceremony at which the international Wolf Prize was awarded, Rivlin said, "We cannot build thriving, essential mechanisms for scientific research and development, for inspiring artistic works, if we don't actively cultivate mechanisms encouraging what is different, controversial, initiating and unexpected, rather than just being defensive in the face of them."

At the beginning of the month, Culture Minister Regev expressed support for the steering committee of the Acre Festival, which disqualified a political performance, Einat Weitzman’s “Prisoners of the Occupation." Regev complimented Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri for his opposition to performance in his role as festival chairman. Lankri "is not the mayor of Ramallah," Regev said, referring to the Palestinian West Bank city.

Last month, Regev contacted the chief executive of the Israel Festival, Eyal Sher, demanding that the festival withdraw its request for financial support for scheduled performances of two works that include full nudity. Regev said the works "harm the basic values of the Israeli public and of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

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