Editorial |

This Is Our Science Minister

It seems that there’s no bottom to what Israeli elected officials are prepared to do to get votes from the right-wing electorate

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Minister of Science and Space Ofir Akunis
Minister of Science and Space Ofir AkunisCredit: Marc Israel Sellem

It seems that there’s no bottom to what Israeli elected officials are prepared to do to get votes from the right-wing electorate. “We support the IDF – and we fight refusal!” boasted Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis after he blocked the appointment of Prof. Yael Amitai, one of Israel’s leading brain science researchers, to a German-Israeli scientific committee because in 2005 she signed a petition supporting soldiers who refused to serve beyond the Green Line.

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Akunis’ blatant McCarthyism could be the basis for a cartoon about the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is no clearer expression of the poor quality of the Israeli government than a science minister who boasts on social networks of being a thought policeman, and acting proud of having disqualified a top scientist from a position because of her political opinions.

“This is an embarrassing situation for the State of Israel,” said the Forum of University Heads, as it tried to explain to the prime minister what kind of damage Akunis was doing to science and to the status of Israeli academia in the world, including the potential loss of millions of euros to Israeli scientists. 

But the university heads had the wrong address. Netanyahu was the one who appointed Akunis. You have to be naïve to believe that he did it in the name of science or technology. Just as he appointed an avowed enemy of the courts to be justice minister and the former military censor as culture minister, or Ayoub Kara to be communications minister, Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister and Naftali Bennett, education minister.

They are there to leave scorched earth.

For a while now it’s been clear that Netanyahu’s Israel has adopted a new form of government that could almost be described as an anti-meritocracy. It’s a regime in which people are chosen or appointed based on their lack of abilities.

Akunis’ McCarthyism is second only to his hypocrisy: Only last week his party supported the legalization of ultra-Orthodox refusal to serve when it voted for a law that effectively regularizes their non-enlistment. “Minister Akunis blocks the appointment of a leftist woman because she signed a petition that supports refusal, but the Bibi government promotes ultra-Orthodox men who work tirelessly on behalf of refusal to serve as senior ministers,” said MK Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union, reminding us that this government has no problem with refusal, only with Amitai’s political views.

While Amitai felt it was important to declare that she does not support refusal to serve and even noted that her children had served in the army, this is irrelevant. She has a right to express her political opinions and disqualifying her is a badge of shame for Akunis and Netanyahu’s farcical government. Her appointment should be approved immediately.