Tel Aviv U Rejects Request by Group That Blacklisted Academics to Give Credits for Volunteers

'One must be very cautious about giving academic credit for social-service work,' A Tel Aviv University source said

Students at Tel Aviv University, June 9, 2019.
Students at Tel Aviv University, June 9, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani

Tel Aviv University has rejected a request by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu and will not grant students academic credit for volunteering with the organization, Haaretz has learned.

Last week Haaretz revealed that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem had recently recognized work for the organization as part of a social service program under which students who volunteer with any of several approved organizations earns two course credits. Haaretz has found that Im Tirtzu had applied to a number of institutions of higher education that operate similar programs. Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev refused the request for technical reasons. Ariel University recently recognized Im Tirtzu for the purposes of receiving academic credits.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63Credit: Haaretz

The recognition of volunteer work with Im Tirtzu and other organizations for academic credit stems from a law passed in 2018, that requires academic institutions to grant undergraduates two course credits for volunteering at least 30 hours a month or for doing 14 days of reserve military duty. While Hebrew University regulations state that such credit cannot be given for work with political organizations, the university said that Im Tirtzu has no political or party links. It added that the approval was given after the movement declared that it engages in activities that help the needy, elderly and other underserved populations in Jerusalem, including Arabs.

Tel Aviv University, however, rejected Im Tirtzu’s request because “Im Tirtzu is included in the definition of an organization with a political character.” A source at Tel Aviv University said, “One must be very cautious about giving academic credit for social-service work, especially when at issue is an organization with fascist characteristics.” Another source added that those institutions that had recognized volunteer work with Im Tirtzu can’t really supervise it and that it’s often hard to distinguish between the political and nonpolitical aspects of the work.

Following the criticism within Hebrew University after the Haaretz report, the university administration said the university senate would discuss the issue at its next meeting.

Hebrew University’s rector, Prof. Barak Medina, published in Wednesday’s Haaretz an opinion piece explaining the university’s stance, saying, “In light of the basic difficulty of deciding which organizations will be considered political and which will not, the committee examines mainly the nature of the concrete activity for which recognition is requested, without trying to define the overall nature of the organization requesting it.”

He added that in the request to get academic credit for volunteer work, “every student will have to declare the nature of their activity, and the exemption will be approved only if it meets the restrictions that were determined. Im Tirtzu’s request was approved despite the strong reservations of the university administration regarding many aspects of the movement’s activity. The decision is based only on an assessment that no danger which justifies restriction of freedom of activity is expected to result from the activity of the students requesting the exemption.”

Ben-Gurion University rejected Im Tirtzu’s request because the university regulations require that the social-service activities must be regular and continuous, while the movement submitted a work plan based on various one-time activities throughout the year. The organization recently approached Bar-Ilan University but was rebuffed on grounds that the list of recognized nonprofits for this year was already closed. The university said another discussion of the issue will be held at the end of the school years. The University of Haifa said it was not aware of a request submitted by Im Tirtzu. Ariel University approved the activities of Im Tirtzu on grounds that its activities meet the criteria in its charters: Activities of a social-service nature without political activity, with the aim of supporting and advancing a variety of populations.

Im Tirtzu was founded in 2006 in order to promote and strengthen what it calls “the values of Zionism in Israel.” It operates 15 branches in academic institutions throughout the country. For years it has run campaigns against the New Israel Fund, demonstrated against left-wing organizations, including Breaking the Silence, and recently was a sponsor of right-wing demonstrations in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it was decided to charge him with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Im Tirtzu activists protest against Nakba Day at Tel Aviv University, September 9, 2016. Credit: Moti Milrod

A substantial portion of its activity is devoted to battling university lecturers with left-wing views. In 2015, Hebrew University suspended activities of the organization’s branch on campus for a month, after its members interrupted a lesson given by a lecturer who had compared them to Nazis. In 2017, Im Tirtzu launched a hotline for reporting lecturers espousing left-wing views, and in 2019 it published online the names and contact information of some 80 lecturers at various institutions about whom complaints had been received.

Last year the organization was one of the leading critics of the Hebrew University following an incident in which it was claimed that a lecturer had criticized a student for coming to class in her army uniform. Haaretz checked and found that contrary to the public statements and responses of Im Tirtzu, the lecturer had not commented on the student’s uniform and there had been no argument or discussion about the uniform during class.

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