Editorial

A Resignation Worth Emulating

The resignation of two German scientists from the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research strengthens the conclusion that minister Akunis is causing damage to Israeli science

Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 2018
Yitzhak Har, Knesset Spokesperson's Office

The rejection of the appointment of neuroscientist Prof. Yael Amitai as a member of the board of governors of the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, due to a petition she signed about 15 years ago, is among the most serious instances of political intervention in academic affairs. In his decision to disqualify her, Science Minister Ofir Akunis proved that he is not worthy of his position. The resignation of two of the German scientists from the board of governors signals a worthy red line, and strengthens the conclusion that Akunis is causing damage to Israeli science.

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Neuroscientist Prof. Yael Amitai, 2018

The joint German-Israeli science foundation annually distributes research grants to researchers in Israel and Germany, totaling tens of millions of shekels. Until now the foundation was greatly admired in both countries. However, all that didn’t interest Akunis. In the context of competition for the votes of the extreme right, he didn’t hesitate to reject Prof. Amitai, the head of the Inter-Faculty Brain Sciences School at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, solely for political reasons: the signing of a petition expressing support for soldiers who refuse to serve in the territories. The science minister also rejected the attorney general’s recommendation that he reverse his decision.

Prof. Ute Frevert and Prof. Brigitte Röder are two of the three German representatives on the Board of Governors, whose recommendations form the basis for the foundation’s support for researchers. In their letter of resignation they called for defining clear regulations for choosing members of the board, explaining that Amitai’s disqualification undermines the prestige of the foundation.

According to Prof. Frevert, this is “a blatant slap in the face to free and independent science – one of the greatest assets of democratic countries. This asset is in significant danger when politicians appoint only those who are politically close to them to scientific committees” (Asaf Ronel, Haaretz).

The resignation of the two German scientists is the correct response to the contamination that the minister introduced into the scientific body, and constitutes a demonstration of complete solidarity with 450 Israeli academics who have declared that they won’t cooperate with the science foundation until Amitai’s rejection is revoked. Basic principles that require separation between academe and politics have long since gone by the wayside, and in the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu they are even held in disdain.

On an internal media network Prof. Amitai said a few days ago that “principles of integrity and basic decency, and promoting the national goals for which the minister is responsible,” come before political considerations. These principles must also guide the other two Israeli representatives on the board, professors Noam Eliaz and Yehuda Skornick. They would do well to join their German colleagues and also resign from the science foundation. There must be no legitimization of the McCarthyite behavior of minister Akunis.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.