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Drive to eradicate dissent threatens Ben Gurion University

This posting has 9 items:
1) Petition for Academic Freedom ;
2) Ha’aretz: Left-leaning Israeli university department again threatened with closure;
3) Prof. Oren Yiftachel:  Your assistance is needed;
4) Rivka Carmi: Protest letter from the President;
5) Noam Sheizaf: State council seeks to shut down ‘leftist’ department at BGU ;
6) Matthew Kalman: Fate of Controversial Political-Science Department in Israel May Be Decided Soon;
7) Todd Gitlin: Israeli Universities and American Freedoms;
8 ) APSA: Letter from American Political Science Association;
9) Michael Walzer: Protest letter;

An appeal to academics to sign a petition to protect academic freedom at Ben Gurion University
PROTECT ACADEMIC FREEDOM
To sign this petition, click the headline above

We, faculty members of academic institutions worldwide, express our deepest concern regarding the latest events vis-à-vis the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, including the decision of the Evaluation Committee of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) to close the department to student registration, the practical implication of which is the department’s closure. We feel that academic freedom in Israel’s higher education system is under severe attack, and that the closure of this department is the first case, but certainly not the last – unless this current trend is stopped.

This small department at Ben Gurion University has become a target of ultra right-wing groups such as “Im Tirtzu”, due to the personal political opinions of some of the department’s members. The distinguished CHE Evaluation Committee recently proposed a series of changes to the department, primarily to strengthen the core areas of Political Science within the curriculum and to encourage the recruitment of new staff in these areas. Already within the original report of the Committee Prof. Galia Golan, who wrote the report’s “minority opinion,” expressed her concern with regard to the report’s demand for “balance”, as it may harm the academic freedom of the faculty members. Nevertheless, the department has gone to great lengths to meet the Committee’s requirements. Following the changes made by the department, the Committee expressed its satisfaction at the changes and even proposed that, in light of these changes, the subject of closing down the department’s registration should be removed from the agenda.

It is therefore extremely surprising that the CHE’s Subcommittee for Quality Assurance is now recommending that new steps be taken that will lead to the effective closure of the department. This latest proposal implies that the goal – to close the department – was marked in advance, without regard to any academic problems; the means of so doing were determined later-on.

As far as we know, there exists no precedence for the CHE’s closing of an academic department. Rigorous assessment of the current situation reveals that there is no real basis for taking such a step in the case of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University.

We call on the Council for Higher Education to reject the proposals of the Subcommittee for Quality Assurance, and to provide the department with the appropriate means to continue in its growth and development.



Left-leaning Israeli university department again threatened with closure

Council of Higher Education recommends shutting down Ben-Gurion University’s politics and government department.
By Talila Nesher, Ha’aretz

September 11, 2012

A subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education has recommended shutting down Ben-Gurion University’s politics and government department, in defiance of a professional opinion submitted by an international assessment panel.

The Subcommittee for Ensuring Quality, which submitted its recommendation last week, said that students shouldn’t be allowed to enroll in the department next September, and the education council should decide whether to reopen enrollment the following year based on the report of a monitoring committee to be established for this purpose. This proposal still requires approval by the full council.

But internal correspondence among the subcommittee members, which has been obtained by Haaretz, reveals that they knew this proposal contradicted the recommendations of the international assessment panel on which it was supposed to be based.

The subcommittee initially proposed closing the department, including hiring more faculty and expanding course offerings in core fields. To comply with these suggestions, the university hired three new faculty members and altered its curriculum. The assessors were then asked to evaluate its efforts.

Their conclusions, which Haaretz has obtained in Hebrew translation, began by congratulating the department for hiring three new faculty members in the fields of comparative politics, quantitative methods and political theory, as well as its plans to hire a fourth new faculty member in the coming year.

However, the document continued, to enable these young researchers to fill the department’s gaps properly, the department must ensure that they are given the time, resources and guidance needed to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals and get books published by university presses, as well as to carry out the department’s commitment to build a pluralistic curriculum.

In addition, it said, the department should increase the diversity of future faculty hires, with regard to both their working methods and their theoretical orientation.

Nothing in this document, which was supposed to be the basis for the subcommittee’s decision, recommends closing the department. But that is what the panel decided to do.

Ben-Gurion University said the changes it has made fulfilled the assessors’ demands and even earned their praise.



Your assistance is needed

By Prof. Oren Yiftachel, isacademyunderattack
September 18, 2012

The Israeli Council of Higher Education (CHE known also in Hebrew as MALAG) is on the verge of ordering the closure of the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University (BGU), Beersheba, Israel.

An important CHE meeting on this matter will take place on October 23rd. Hence, the many friends of the department, and of academic freedom and critical thought, feel that international pressure may save this very important department. We are asking you to write and lobby on this matter, as detailed below.

Background: The Politics Dept. at BGU was founded some 12 years ago, and became home to some of the most progressive researchers, several of them dealing with space, planning and human rights.

During the last five years it became the subject of concerted attacks by nationalist organizations (led mainly by west bank settlers), such as “Im Tirtzu” and “Institute for Zionist Strategy” which began a public campaign of incitement and hatred, supported by large donations by the American Jewish and Christian Fundamentalist Right. We have firm evidence for all this.

Two years ago the Israeli CHE, now under the rightwing minister of education Gidon Sa’ar, appointed an international evaluation committee for the department. The committee was stacked with conservatives and recommended a range of changes to make the department more mainstream, and improve its ‘political balance’.

As an aside let us remind you that many academic departments in Israel are homogenous, usually on the Zionist-conservatist side. But no official body raises with them the issue of ‘balance’. They are safe under the current hegemony.

Regarding the review process – the Politics Department at BGU has actually implemented the committee recommendation, and received a good ‘bill of health’ from the international committee. Reacting to this, the Israeli Minister of Education recently decided to appoint another evaluation committee, who recommended to close the department!

Notably, this department is academically very solid, and leads all equivalent Israeli departments in publications, impact factors, student registration and grants.

Any thinking person can clearly see that the intervention is blatantly political. The government and its satellite nationalist organizations have made this department a test case in their quest to silence critical academics. To this end, we should do all we can to save this department, and with it critical and free research, particularly as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Against the worrying scenario of a Mccarthyist purge, we would like to ask for your help. Israeli officials and professors are sensitive to their international image. Hence we ask you to express grave concern about the possible closure of the department. A particularly effective way may be writing directly to the members of the CHE listed above (under the “Act to Protect Academic Freedom in Israel” heading). Most of them are professors and may be swayed by Israel’s international reputation and by the need to protect academic freedom.

Of course, you may also write to journalist, blogs, petitions, electronic media, to your politicians, your governments and to heads of Israeli universities with a clear message –closing an academic department through blatant political intervention will gravely stain Israel’s standing in the a academy, and hinder future contact and status with academics worldwide!

We appreciate your help very much!

Prof. Oren Yiftachel, on behalf of friends of the Politics and Government Department, Ben-Gurion University.



Letter from President of Ben Gurion University of the Negev

September 19, 2012

Dear Fellow Members of the Israeli Academic and Research Community,

I am writing you in my capacity as the President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and as the head of the Israeli University Presidents’ Forum. Something unprecedented has recently occurred in Israeli academia. For the first time, the Council of Higher Education’s sub-committee for overseeing and evaluating teaching quality has recommended that a department—in this case the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University—not be allowed to open student registration for the 2013-14 academic year. For all intents and purposes, this is a decision to close down a university department in Israel.

This extreme decision was reached not due to any unusual incident or a severe act, or because demands made by the Council of Higher Education were not met. Thus, the following description should worry everyone who cares about Israeli academia.

Over a year ago, the Council of Higher Education appointed an international evaluation committee that was responsible for assessing political science departments in Israel. As you know, these kinds of evaluations are routine, and the Council of Higher Education carries out these assessments on a regular basis in order to evaluate academic departments in all universities. The aforementioned report included criticism of all the political science departments in Israel.

As part of its work, the evaluation committee recommended in the report submitted to the Council of Higher Education that the Department of Politics and Government implement a series of changes. The most significant recommendations involved increasing the number of faculty members in the department and expanding its curriculum so as to cover more core courses within the discipline.

Responding to these recommendations, the university, in close cooperation with the department, the Council of Higher Education, and two members of the international evaluation committee who had been appointed by the Council of Higher Education to oversee the next stages of the process, hired three new faculty members and updated the department’s curriculum. These changes, which were made in record time, were consistent with the recommendations of the Council of Higher Education’s evaluation committee and elicited a positive written response from the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

In light of these developments, we were astonished to discover that the Council of Higher Education’s sub-committee discussed the same issue once again and published a new decision, extreme in it severity, which is totally at odds with the evaluation written by the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the process.

Just as had happened with the first professional report over a year ago, the sub-committee’s decision was also leaked to the press even before the university’s top administrators had been apprised of the meeting’s results. I am sure you remember the public discussion and the accusations waged against the university as a result of that initial leak to the press. We are currently experiencing the repercussions of the second leak. As people deeply committed to academic freedom, we have been watching the Council of Higher Education’s recent move with dread and apprehension, but we are also determined to fight this resolution. The sub-committee’s decision was reached without any factual base to back it up; it is unreasonable and disproportional, and, most importantly, it does not in ny way reflect the opinion of the international committee which oversaw the process. We therefore wonder what is actually behind this decision.

This struggle is not only about Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but rather it is a struggle of the entire Israeli academic community. Just the routine leaking to the press of ostensibly academic decisions serves as a warning sign. The approval of this decision by the Council of Higher Education [expected in October] will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel.

At a time when we are witnessing increasing threats to Israeli academia from abroad and from within, I ask for your help and support in warding off these dangerous developments that are unfolding before our eyes.

Sincerely,
Prof. Rivka Carmi
President



State council seeks to shut down ‘leftist’ department at BGU

By Noam Sheizaf, +972,
September 24, 2012

In an unprecedented move, the Council for Higher Education will vote on shutting down the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, which has been the target of right-wing propaganda for the last several years.

A major political battle is taking place this autumn within Israeli academia: the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE), a government-appointed body charged with the supervision and financing of universities and colleges in Israel, is attempting to shut down the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University (BGU). In recent years, the Department of Politics and Governments has been labeled by right-wing organizations as “the most leftist in Israel,” and leading academics have been subject to boycott call and demands not to renew their contracts. Yet, never before has the fate of the entire department been threatened.

Earlier this month, a sub-committee for quality control, which was appointed by the Israeli Council for Higher Education, recommended that the Department of Politics and Government at BGU be prevented from registering new students in the coming academic year, due to the failure to implement a report regarding “professional failures” in the department, issued last year. The recommendation, which effectively means closing down the department, will be voted on by the CHE on October 23rd.

Both the original report and the recent decision not to allow the Department of Politics and Government to register new students were leaked to the press before they were made known to Ben-Gurion University.

The attempt to shut down the BGU department cannot be separated from the government’s recent decision to turn a college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel into Israel’s eighth university. After packing the Israeli courts with right-wing judges and weakening the independent media, Netanyahu’s government is now attempting to politicize academia and silence dissenting voices. As a result, the nature of the public debate in Israel is rapidly changing.

In a public letter to all members of the Israeli academic and research community, Prof. Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University stated:

The sub-committee’s decision was reached without any factual base to back it up; it is unreasonable and disproportional and most notably, it does not in any way reflect the opinion of the international committee which oversaw the process. We therefore wonder what is actually behind this decision.

Ironically, Professor Carmi has been known for years as a leading voice in criticizing the Israeli academics at her university who have expressed radical left-wing positions. But the attack on the university was so brutal and extreme, that it left the president no choice but to lead the campaign against it, several sources involved in the affair told me.

A few years back, right-wing organizations began campaigning against “leftist” professors and academics. Three organizations – Im Tirzu, Academia Monitor and Isra-Campus – came up with a list of 1,000 faculty members suspected of left-wing bias or “anti-Zionism.”

Im Tirzu, the most well-known of the three organizations, and the one to enjoy the support of prominent Likud members and ministers, has put a special emphasis on Ben-Gurion University. Three years ago, Im Tirzu threatened President Carmi “to scare off donors” if the university did not get rid of its left-wing faculty members. Later, the group distributed posters suggesting that faculty members in the Department of Politics and Government supported the 2001 lynch of two IDF soldiers in Ramallah – a blood libel without a shred of evidence behind it.

One of Im Tirzu’s prominent supporters is Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar (Likud). During his time in office, Sa’ar attended the Im Tirzu 2010 national convention, in which he promised “to act against professors who call for an academic boycott on Israel.” Saar also promised “to study” the findings of a shady report by Im Tirzu which pretended to measure “the anti-Zionist bias” in political science departments in Israel. “I congratulate you and your work,” Saar told the Im Tirzu convention in 2010, according to a report in Haaretz.

In his capacity as Minister of Education, Sa’ar also heads the Israeli Council for Higher Education.

______________

The Council for Higher Education’s mandate forbids it from interfering with the actual material taught in universities and colleges. Therefore, a few years ago, an “impartial” international committee was formed to examine the political science departments in Israel. Pretty early on, leading members of the committee felt that something was wrong with the entire process. Prof. Ian Lustick, a political scientist from University of Pennsylvania, was removed from the committee; as a result, Prof. Robert Shapiro of Columbia University resigned from his position as the committee’s chair. Among those left was Prof. Avraham Diskin, who has authored articles praising the work of Im Tirzu.

The remaining members in the special committee produced an unprecedented report, which called to examine the entire existence of the Department for Politics and Government at BGU. The main point of attack had to do with the inter-disciplinary nature of the academic work at BGU, which until then had earned praise and was considered the trademark of this department (+972 was the first to obtain and publish the report in its entirely; you can read it here). One committee member, Prof. Galia Golan, refused to sign the report, claiming it was politically motivated. Instead, Golan wrote a minority opinion, in which she stated that the demand “for a balance (of views) in the classroom… runs directly counter to the principle of academic freedom.”

Still, Ben-Gurion University felt that it had to comply with the report, and changes were made in the department in order to put more emphasis on traditional political science research. As a result, two international evaluators appointed by the CHE to oversee the process congratulated the department for working to “fill its deficit.”

Despite all of that, the letter by the international observers was followed by a recommendation by a sub-committee within the Council for Higher Education to shut down the department. Just like the government vote that established the first Israeli university in occupied territory, the October vote on the fate of the department for politics and government will be a turning point for the Israeli academia, after which nothing may look the same.

Despite the bureaucratic tones behind much of the proceedings involving the Department for Politics and Government at BGU, there is no doubt in my mind that the prime motivation behind the attack on the department and the university are political. Several sources I have spoken to – even those who last year saw the criticism as “a professional dispute” and not a political one – hold the same opinion. As Prof. Carmi noted, the attack is not aimed only against this department or against this university. The main function of the Council for Higher Education is to provide budgets for universities. In an era of budget cuts, who will want to further annoy this government-appointed council? What will become of professors and researchers who hold left-wing or critical options, and whose contracts are up for renewal or evaluation? Will Im Tirzu now become the standard-bearer in academic discourse?

Even if the effort to shut down the department of politics and government fails, the “cooling effect” on the political conversation by such acts is already tangible, and the marginalization of dissenting voices in Israel is a fact of life.



Fate of Controversial Political-Science Department in Israel May Be Decided Soon

Ben-Gurion U. of the Negev has tried to remedy shortcomings identified in its political-science department, but it is under increasing pressure to shut the department down.

By Matthew Kalman, Chronicle of Higher Education
September 30, 2012

Jerusalem-—A simmering debate over the fate of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has roiled Israeli academe and prompted cries by scholars both here and in the United States that academic freedom is under assault by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The long-running dispute over the department may come to a head soon when a resolution to close it will be discussed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education, a government body that accredits and oversees colleges in Israel. On October 23, the council will consider a controversial recommendation from its Subcommittee for Quality Assurance to halt student registration at the department, effectively shutting it down, unless it undertakes more changes. The proposal has ignited accusations that the move is motivated more by politics than pedagogy.

“This struggle is not only about Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but rather it is a struggle of the entire Israeli academic community,” Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion, wrote in a letter to the heads of Israeli universities. “The approval of this decision by the Council for Higher Education will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel.”

Dr. Carmi is pressing for a swift rejection of the “extreme” proposal to help dissolve a cloud of uncertainty that has hovered over the department for nearly a year.

Ben-Gurion’s troubles in the matter began in November 2010 with the council’s appointment of an international committee to evaluate political-science and international-relations departments at eight colleges in Israel, as part of the organization’s periodic review procedures. The committee, chaired by Thomas Risse, a professor at the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science at the Free University of Berlin, reported in its assessment that the departments generally “are doing very well.”

But the committee expressed grave misgivings about the standards of teaching at Ben-Gurion, saying it was “concerned that the study of politics as a scientific discipline may be impeded by such strong emphasis on political activism.” The committee found the department “weak in its core discipline of political science in terms of number of faculty, curriculum, and research,” criticized the university’s library resources and its research record, and recommended “major changes toward strengthening its disciplinary and methodological core through both hiring more faculty and altering its study programs.”

“If these changes are nevertheless not implemented, the majority of the committee believes that, as a last resort, Ben-Gurion University should consider closing the department of politics and government,” the committee stated.

Department faculty members have been criticized for their left-wing views. In 2009, right-wing groups called for the dismissal of Neve Gordon, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion, when he announced his support for a boycott of Israeli institutions over Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.

Despite its reservations, the university began making the proposed changes to strengthen the department, in consultation with the council and two members of the international committee—Mr. Risse and Ellen M. Immergut, a professor of social sciences at Humboldt-University in Berlin. It updated the department curriculum, expanded the variety of courses, and hired three new faculty members. In July, Mr. Risse and Ms. Immergut applauded the new appointments, expressing hope that the faculty would assist “the department’s commitment to building a pluralistic curriculum” while still urging it to “increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments.”

Meanwhile, the membership of the Council for Higher Education had been replaced, introducing new candidates appointed by the education minister, Gideon Sa’ar, who had publicly criticized the department at Ben-Gurion after a political-activist group issued a report accusing the department of having a “post-Zionist” bias.

Shortcomings Still Seen
The council’s subcommittee welcomed the changes at Ben-Gurion but noted that none of the new faculty endorsed a “positivist approach” and determined that the department teaching was still dominated by too much critical theory. It recommended appointing a monitoring committee that would report back by December. Meanwhile, the subcommittee said, registration for the 2013-14 academic year should be suspended.

Dr. Carmi, of Ben-Gurion, described the recommendation as “totally at odds with the evaluation written by the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the process.”

Indeed, Mr. Risse and Ms. Immergut strongly objected to the subcommittee’s recommendations, noting they had “not been consulted” about the appointment of a new monitoring committee or the proposal to suspend student registration. They pointedly requested to be consulted about future developments and wondered aloud whether their future services would be required at all. “Does the Sub-Committee’s recommendation imply that our task is finished or shall we continue?” they asked.

Mr. Risse and Ms. Immergut also reminded the subcommittee that other universities whose departments needed improving were not being pursued with the same vigor. In a similar report on the political-science department at Bar-Ilan University, they had voiced “substantial” criticism and “many concerns” but that university had failed to respond to “our comments to their strategic plan from May 2012.”

From its inception, the council’s process has been suspected of political bias. Robert Y. Shapiro, a professor of political science at Columbia University, resigned as chairman of the international committee after Ian Lustick, a political-science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was removed for unexplained reasons.

Galia Golan-Gild, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, another committee member, issued a minority report demurring from several of the committee’s conclusions and challenging the demand for a “balance” of views in the classroom as “directly counter to the principle of academic freedom.”

“I felt that some of the committee members, with specific political opinions, were trying to find fault with the place,” Ms. Golan said. “I felt that things were not being conducted fairly.”

Moshe Maor, a political-science professor at Hebrew University who was recently appointed to the Subcommittee for Quality Assurance, said the decision to reinforce the closure sanction was made “because the original threat by the international committee didn’t help.”

“We don’t want to close the department; we want to improve it,” Mr. Maor told The Chronicle. “We have a completely professional academic problem, which is embedded in a political context because the department in question is at the center of the political debate in Israel because of the political opinions of its members. But I am forbidden to deal with the political context. I have to follow only professional considerations.”

But David Newman, dean of social sciences at Ben-Gurion who was the first chair of the department in 1998, said the council procedure was flawed. “What has happened has discredited the Council for Higher Education in the eyes of a large percentage of Israel’s scientific community.”



Israeli Universities and American Freedoms

By Todd Gitlin, Chronicle of Higher Education,
September 30, 2012,

Why should Americans care about political interference in the universities of a far-off country? Because the far-off country is Israel, one of our closest allies, a nation that features intimately in our own political life; and because Israel’s domestic affairs have a way of morphing into subjects of America’s never-ending culture wars. So it is of considerable importance that as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, turns up the volume on claims that Israel is at risk from barbarians, his government persists in illicitly expanding its powers and eroding liberties.

In July, Israeli universities were shaken when a college located in the West Bank, Ariel University Center, was declared by Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar to be worthy of the status of an Israeli university and of being supported as such—although Israel’s seven university leaders (along with the Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel’s statutory Council for Higher Education) opposed that decision, and under international law the university is not located in the territory of Israel. Such is the stranglehold that West Bank settlers have on Netanyahu’s government.

Sa’ar’s steamroller is busy. He heads Israel’s Council for Higher Education, which routinely reviews academic departments. Toward that end the council named a committee to review international and political-science programs. One member of the panel—the only one who studies Israel professionally—was a University of Pennsylvania political-science professor, Ian Lustick. In October 2011, Lustick told me, he learned he had been tossed off the committee by the council’s higher-ups, whereupon the chairman of the review committee, Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University political scientist, resigned in protest.

Subsequently, a panel subcommittee recommended certain improvements in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s political-science department—improvements that were matters of curriculum and scope. The department proceeded to make the recommended changes—“in record time,” according to the university president, Rivka Carmi, in an open letter dated September 19, 2012. This, she writes, “elicited a positive written response from the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.” Then something “unprecedented” happened: “We were astonished to discover that the Council for Higher Education’s subcommittee discussed the same issue once again and published a new decision, extreme in its severity, which is totally at odds with the evaluation written by the two international members who had been appointed to oversee the process.”

The new decision was that no students were to be admitted for the 2013-14 academic year. “This extreme decision was reached not due to any unusual incident or a severe act,” Carmi wrote, “or because demands made by the Council for Higher Education were not met.”

Although Carmi has frequently expressed political disagreement with the political scientists on her campus, she knows that the principle of academic freedom is at stake. She wrote in no uncertain terms:

For all intents and purposes, this is a decision to close down a university department in Israel. … The subcommittee’s decision was reached without any factual base to back it up; it is unreasonable and disproportional, and, most importantly, it does not in any way reflect the opinion of the international committee which oversaw the process. We therefore wonder what is actually behind this decision. This struggle is not only about Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but rather it is a struggle of the entire Israeli academic community. … The approval of this decision by the Council for Higher Education [expected in October] will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel.

Neve Gordon, a Ben-Gurion University political-science professor, told me that no academic department had ever been shut down by the Council for Higher Education during the 64-year history of the state of Israel. Shutting down a department permits the summary firing of tenured professors.

Netanyahu’s Likud party and its nationalist ally, Yisrael Beiteinu, have been cracking down on dissenters for months. It would seem that cowing the academy is one of their objectives. Of the current academic situation in Israel, Lustick told me, “there’s a real witch-hunt.” These are the tactics of a government that throttles liberties and punishes opponents. Such developments, if they took place in Egypt or Russia, would constitute plain human-rights violations and would—I hope, at any rate—elicit protests from the State Department. Not only the State Department but all lovers of freedom should be heard from now.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. He is author, with Liel Leibovitz, of The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election (Simon & Schuster, 2010).



Letter from American Political Science Association

To: Israeli Council of Higher Education
POB 4037
Jabotinsky 43
Jerusalem, Israel

October 01, 2012

Dear Members of the Israeli Council on Higher Education,

We write to you on behalf of more than 15,000 US and international members of the American Political Science Association, a scholarly association that represents professors and students of political science worldwide, including faculty and students in Israel. The Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights and Freedoms is concerned with any challenges to academic freedom experienced by political scientists acting in their professional capacity.

It is with great concern that we enquire about recent reports on the Council’s sub-committee overseeing evaluation and teaching quality’s proposal to effectively close the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Those reports, amplified by the open letter by BGU President Rivka Carmi to the higher education community, raise troubling questions about the decision of the Council’s sub-committee and its commitment to academic freedom.

We understand that the Council’s sub-committee overseeing evaluation and teaching quality recommended on 5 September 2012 that the Department of Politics at Ben Gurion not be allowed to open student registration for the 2013-2014 academic year. We also understand that this followed a review, commissioned by the subcommittee, by an international evaluation committee that recommended a series of changes at the department – recommendations which the university implemented and for which members of the international review committee commended the university. Moreover, we are aware that many in the academic community are concerned that the recommendation to end enrollment is tied to disagreements with the political orientations or activities of individual faculty members at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. The apparent discrepancy between the implementation of recommendations of the review committee, and the subcommittee’s severe decision to end enrollment thus raises grave concerns about the actual reasons for such a departmental closure.

Against this backdrop, we ask for further information and urge you, n the strongest possible terms, to protect academic freedom in Israeli higher education. We would not presume to know all the facts of thecase. Our concern is that no action be taken which is either directly or inadvertently an assault on the ability of members of our profession to practice intellectual honesty or that would compromise the freedom of their inquiry and teaching. Academic freedom is the foundation of our scholarly endeavors and even the appearance of such an affront would have detrimental consequences for the pursuit of understanding and knowledge, and for the reputation of Israeli higher education.

Yours truly,
Yvette Alex-Assensoh
Chair, Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights and Freedoms
American Political Science Association



Letter from Michael Walzer
October 2, 2012

To Gidon Saar, Minister of Education, State of Israel
Dr. Shimshon Shoshany, Council for Higher Education

Dear Mr. Saar and Dr. Shoshany,

I am writing to urge you to reconsider and revoke the Council for Higher Education’s decision to bar new students from enrolling in Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government—a decision, in effect, to close the department. There doesn’t seem to be any plausible academic reason for the decision, which is not consistent with the reports of your own committee of international experts or with the reputation of the department and the publication record of its members. Political science, despite its name, is not an objective discipline. There is no way of writing about politics that doesn’t “lean” in one direction or another. The critical perspective of the Ben-Gurion department isn’t unique to it; there are many departments of politics and government in Europe and the United States with a similar perspective.

The closing of the department looks like a political purge by a government that doesn’t understand what universities are for. It has already called forth significant international criticism—for the obvious reason that academic freedom is a universal interest and a universal value. I join these other critics, and I assure you that there will be many more of us.

The decision is not only morally culpable; it is also, if I may say so, politically foolish. The academic world is not, despite some alarmist reports, hostile to Israel, but there is hostility in some parts of it, and your decision, if it isn’t revoked, will make the work of those of us who defend Israel in the American academy much harder than it needs to be.

Sincerely,

Michael Walzer
Professor (emeritus) of Social Science
Institute for Advanced Study
School of Social Science

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