Opinion |

For Israeli Universities, There's Only One 'Real' Truth

Contrary to what critics say, the ethics code will create a safe space for students and staff in which they can voice opinions without undermining academic freedom

Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi
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Students on the campus of Tel Aviv University in 2012.
Students on the campus of Tel Aviv University in 2012.Credit: Alon Ron
Nave Dromi
Nave Dromi

Progressivism and post-modernism are based on the belief that there is no one truth. According to this approach, the conservative outlook, which does believe in the existence of clear truths, is extremist and one-dimensional. In the opinion of its devotees, the progressive approach has a halo of morality and inclusiveness. But in effect, it is far from that since it pushes aside any opinion that questions its “truth.”

The closed minds of the critics of the proposed ethics code for university, and their unwillingness to listen, is an enlightening example of that same progressive truth, which asserts that there is no one truth but is unwilling to listen to other opinions. As far as they’re concerned, academia is a shining example of pluralism and freedom of expression, and it’s impossible to criticize it, improve it or make it freer and more professional.

It’s not clear whether all those complaining about the ethics code have actually read it, but if so, they must have read it very quickly and missed the place where it says that the document is without teeth, neither false ones nor molars. It is meant to draw educational boundaries in order to enable a free and productive academic discussion without politicization, which undermines academic freedom.

The main starting points for the ethics code, authored by Prof. Asa Kasher, are the need to prevent politicization and the Council for Higher Education’s 2010 manifesto regarding the supreme importance of academic freedom – two simple and obvious principles which actually contribute to pluralism by aspiring to an academic standard of political openness and humility, which perhaps should be included in other institutions as well.

Imagine, for example, that the Supreme Court’s code of ethics recommends choosing a judge based on his qualities and not disqualifying him for his political opinions (see the case of Ruth Gavison). Or a code of ethics that divorces the army from politics, which could have prevented a crisis of confidence like the one created at the speech of Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan.

As opposed to the prevailing argument, the university code of ethics is not attempting to silence professors. They can continue to express their opinions. The concept of nationalism is a good example of the code’s potential for improving the situation: In academic circles they sometimes err and present the idea that nationalism is a 20th-century invention as “truth,” ignoring the approach that sees it as an old phenomenon, and the Jews as one of the most ancient nations.

Those who favor progressive truth refuse to understand that a varied syllabus in the spirit of the ethics code would present both approaches, thus contributing not only to pluralistic thought and freedom of expression but to the academic level as well. The unbridled attacks on the chairman of the Education Ministry’s pedagogical secretariat for rewriting the civics textbook about a year ago, and now against Kasher, raise questions about that community's willingness and ability to confront other opinions.

On American campuses there’s a concept called a “safe space,” which allows for voicing opinions without feeling threatened. Today it’s identified mainly with the left, which has gone as far as to request a “day without white people” on campus. In its initial format, however, the concept is positive. The ethics code is trying to create a safe space for students and faculty members in which they can voice opinions, study, teach and express themselves politically without undermining academic freedom and quality. After all, Israeli academia can't teach only one "truth" in the name of the belief that there is no one truth.

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