Not a Question of Discipline

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Dr. Mordechai Kedar in 2017.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar in 2017.Credit: Emil Salman

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a scholar in Arabic culture and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, appeared in Petah Tikva last week at a rally gathered to express support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kedar said there that Yigal Amir was not the man who murdered Yitzhak Rabin, and that the real murderer was a man whose initials were Y.R. “The person behind this, apparently a leading politician, wanted to eliminate Yitzhak Rabin since Rabin wanted to withdraw from the Oslo accords,” said Kedar. His words were harshly rebuked by the entire political spectrum, including a belated dissociation from these statements by Netanyahu, who saw in these words a potential catastrophe for the right.

Top officials at Bar-Ilan said they “vehemently condemn Dr. Kedar’s statement. It was made in his private capacity and does not represent the university’s position. We believe such statements have no place in Israel.” In addition to a letter of censure, the university said it would summon Kedar to a disciplinary hearing and that until the issue was clarified, he would be suspended from representing the university at international conferences. Meanwhile an inquiry is scheduled for tomorrow, and will be held in the presence of the university’s president and rector.

The university did well in dissociating itself from Kedar, clarifying that a conspiracy theory touted by him is his own, and is not accepted as a historical fact by the academic institution which is his academic home. However, Kedar’s statement was made outside the classroom, far from the university and not in any academic framework. They reflect his views, not those of Bar-Ilan University.

Thus, there is no reason to hold a disciplinary hearing. Punitive measures against him will hamper his freedom of expression. And yet, it should be noted that Kedar is a popular scholar in right-wing circles, known to the public outside the university through his media appearances, in which he gives voice to extremist positions. For example, in an interview he gave in 2014, after the bodies of the three kidnapped teenagers were found, Kedar was asked how Hamas could be deterred. He replied that “terrorists such as those who kidnapped and murdered these children would only be deterred if they knew that their sister or mother would be raped in retaliation if they were caught.”

The conspiracy theory touted by Kedar about Rabin’s murder is not the expression of an opinion but an alternative, groundless description of reality, voiced by a teacher and academic researcher speaking in public by dint of his scientific authority, which is ratified by the academic institution which employs him. Despite this, the battle against fake news or conspiracy theories should not be waged through disciplinary committees or courts. His students, readers and followers should wonder about his grasp of reality.

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

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