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Israeli academics under attack


Concerted attacks from all sides on critical academics in Israel

JNews, 21 June, 2010

Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar plans sanctions against Israeli lecturers supporting boycott

Israel’s Education Minister Gideon Saar says he plans to examine in depth a report published by right-wing group ‘Im Tirtzu’ and presented to the Israeli Knesset, according to which Israeli academe is heavily influenced by ‘anti-Zionist and post-Zionist’ positions.

He says it is “unacceptable” for Israeli members of academe to call for an academic boycott: “I have already spoken about this to the chair of the Committee for Planning and Budgets in the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and I will also move on this with heads of institutions. This issue is on our agenda,” he said. Action on this matter is planned as early as this summer, according to The Ministry of Education.

In response, Haifa University Rector Prof. Yossi Ben Artzi said that the report ‘smells of McCarthyism’. He criticized the Minister’s statement and called him to ignore the report, adding that he hoped the Minister ‘understands how problematic the very act of monitoring and denouncing is’.

A Knesset debate was held on 16 June at the initiative of MK Uri Arieli of the far-right party the National Union, and MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz of the largest opposition party, Kadima, under the title of “Post-Zionist domination of Israeli Academe”. At the debate, Shamalov-Berkowitz said that Israeli academics were suffering from “an epidemic of Palestinomania” and that “this calls for immediate and painful treatment for us all, as soon as possible.”

Two headmasters asked to attend a Knesset debate on ‘The limits of freedom of expression in schools.’

Continuing its discussion on Israeli academia, the Knesset’s Education Committee was set to hold a debate today (Monday) on “the limits of freedom of expression in schools.”

Two high school headmasters have been asked to attend the debate, apparently because they are reported to have voiced criticism of government policies in their schools.

One is Zeev Dagani, headmaster of the leading school “Gymnasia Herzliya” in Tel Aviv, who reportedly criticized Minister Saar’s proposal to bring military officers to high schools to encourage recruitment to the IDF; the other is Ram Cohen, headmaster of Tel Aviv high school “Ironi Aleph,” who discussed the occupation of the Palestinian territories with his pupils.

In addition to this summons, Education Committee Chair, MK Zvulun Orlev, decided to add the issue of the influence of the Islamic Movement on Arab schools to the agenda.

Dagani, one of the two headmasters summonsed, has apparently decided not to attend the debate.

ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel) will also not attend in protest.

ACRI’s legal counsel, Dan Yakir, wrote that the decision to summons only Dagani and Cohen “awakens suspicions of attempted delegitimisation of particular political and social positions.” He added that adding of the issue of the Islamic Movement to the debate “only increases our suspicion that the committee meeting will be a platform for attacks against the Islamic movement and the headmasters – to be presented as ‘a single enemy’.”

Ram Cohen, the other headmaster, published an open letter regarding his summons. In it, he defends his criticism of the occupation of the Palestinians, saying: “A school principal should have a clear and unequivocal moral position about any subject and issue on the agenda of Israeli society. A principal is not an educational clerk.”

Israeli lecturer receives death threats

Professor Neve Gordon, head of the department for politics and governance at Ben Gurion University and a leading activist for Palestinian rights, has received a written death threat, signed “Im Tirtzu.”

The letter, sent by post to the university, reads “Gordon, you are a traitor! I will come to Ben Gurion [University] to kill you”.

Professor Gordon, who reported the threat to the police, responded to recent developments by asking: “Is Gideon Saar going to introduce regulations according to which anyone who supports an academic boycott will be barred from working in a public institution? These are things that were done in South Africa during Apartheid.”

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