U.S. 'Inspiration' for Israeli Academic Ethics Code Condemns It as Threat to Israel's Democracy

AAUP, whose ethics guidelines were used as inspiration by Bennett and Kasher, calls Israel to reject proposed university code of ethics 'in no uncertain terms'

Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Emil Salman

The American Association of University Professors, whose ethics code Education Minister Naftali Bennett cited in defending the one written by Prof. Asa Kasher for Israeli universities, issued a harsh condemnation of the Israeli code on Monday.

According to the joint statement by the AAUP and the American Federation of Teachers, “The ‘code of ethics’ that the government of Israel is considering for the country’s academic institutions is a threat not only to academic freedom in Israel, but to Israel’s standing as a democracy. We join with colleagues in Israel’s Association of University Heads, and with the National Union of Israeli Students, in condemning it.”

Bennett and Kasher had relied on AAUP’s ethics code to create legitimacy for the code written by Kasher. 

The education minister even tweeted a citation from the American declaration, to the effect that “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject."

AAUP, however, supports political activism by faculty outside the classroom as well as discussion of controversial material inside it, so long as it fosters “genuine debate and learning that is germane to the subject matter of a course.”

“No educator – at any academic level, anywhere in the world – should be told by outside forces what to say or how to think. Such a proposal is the antithesis of critical thinking and democratic principles,” the statement said in condemnation of Bennett and Kasher’s ethics code.

"We call on Israel’s government to reject this proposal by Minister of Education Naftali Bennett in no uncertain terms," it continued. "Israel’s universities must remain havens of intellectual curiosity and serious study, with no attempt by the state to monitor or restrict faculty political positions or their ability to freely instruct students in their respective areas of expertise.” The statement was signed by the presidents of the two organizations, Rudy Fichtenbaum and Randi Weingarten.

Unlike AAUP’s code of ethics, the document written by Kasher defines political activity as any activity that includes direct support for a viewpoint in a familiar public dispute, or opposition to it. It says that members of the academic faculty must teach strictly in accordance with the syllabus and are forbidden to deviate from it significantly for the purpose of political activity or similar preaching. According to Kasher's recommendations, such an action is liable to be seen as abuse of power in an authority-based relationship.

Aside from content, Dr. Guy Luria of the Israel Democracy Institute pointed out another difference between the American and Israeli ethics codes: “While the American association is a voluntary organization (a workers’ organization) that operates in order to impose rules of ethics on itself and on its members, Kasher acted on behalf of the government to propose rules of ethics for the academic world. That is a difference between rules of ethics that are created and imposed internally by those who will be affected by the rules – as is usually the case with rules of ethics – and rules of ethics that are created and imposed by an external factor, which are in effect regulation.”

JTA contributed to this story.