The Israeli government is its own worst enemy

July 8, 2010
Richard Kuper

Why Israeli academia will be boycotted

Education Minister Sa’ar’s recent initiatives are a sign of the Israeli government’s increasing self-seclusion inside a bunker of delusions, as it distances itself from considerations guided by historical, political and social wisdom. His recent statements befit benighted regimes that have lost connection to the world, like Iran and other totalitarian states.

Moshe Shoked, professor emeritus of anthropology at Tel Aviv University
30 June 2010

See also the Haaretz report Education Minister defends decision to penalize Israel professors who back boycott, 8 July 2010

In the past two years I have been invited to take part in many conferences hosted by the American Anthropological Association. The topic of discussion at these forums has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I agreed to take on a thankless task not as a spokesman for Israel’s education ministers or as a mouthpiece of the right or left. I appeared before an academic audience not noted for its sympathetic views on Israeli policy. This group is more inclined to support the Palestinians, albeit with the belief that neither side holds a monopoly on truth and justice.

I tried to place this awful conflict in the context of two truths, with two claims that contradict each other in terms of historical facts and painful memories, between two national movements that have lost all sense of proportion while striving for a settlement that does not provide either side with complete justice.

Alas, I have no plans to accept similar invitations in the future. In the past year, I have lost the conviction that I can truthfully speak for the current Israeli government’s suicidal behavior. The recent statements by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who vowed to deal with university lecturers and professors who condemn Israel and support a boycott of Israeli universities, reflect the deep abyss the current government has led us down.

I tend to believe that it is only a matter of time before this country’s academic institutions are boycotted, regardless of the wishes of the education minister and other champions of Israeli patriotism. They will be boycotted not because of the handful of Israeli professors who have unabashedly supported such a step, but because Israel is under a global microscope that perhaps unfairly discriminates against it compared with other countries that act unjustly, even violently, toward their minorities and neighbors.

For better or worse, Israel does not enjoy the same luxury as countries like Russia and China, which do not rely on the support of Europe and the United States. Indeed, a look through this microscope reveals the foolishness of Israel’s weak-kneed leadership.

The education minister’s remarks are a sign of the Israeli government’s increasing self-seclusion inside a bunker of delusions, as it distances itself from considerations guided by historical, political and social wisdom. His statements befit benighted regimes that have lost connection to the world, like Iran and other totalitarian states. Israeli academia is losing its international standing on its own account. The brightest students, the hopes of a young generation in academia, prefer to stay abroad.

As early as the 1980s, when I researched yordim – Israeli emigrants – in the United States, I concluded that the overwhelming majority of them will not return. The book in which I included my findings was not translated into Hebrew because at the time it contradicted the dominant ideology. Sa’ar and the rest of this bizarre government of ours would prefer to hunker down and cling to the belief that the entire world is against us and we are in the right.

We have become numb to these eye-popping facts: Operation Cast Lead did not bring back Gilad Shalit, nor did it topple the Hamas government. Instead, it sowed destruction in Gaza and undercut our global standing. Our pathetic cries against the Goldstone report did not help, either. The takeover of the pathetic flotilla once again lined up the world against us. Ultimately we opened the Gaza border crossings.

More than anything, Sa’ar’s recent initiatives will help worsen the brain drain and the university boycott that awaits us. The despair that a vital sector of Israeli society, including academia, finds itself in needs to get the education minister to consider a renewed way of thinking that does not rely on a mob like that represented by right-wing Zionist movement Im Tirtzu. This brings to mind the moving call by late Labor MK Yizhak Ben-Aharon, who urged for “courage to make gains before calamity strikes.” There is no need to silence “treacherous” professors, for the calamity has already struck.

haaretz.comEducation Minister defends decision to penalize Israel professors who back boycott

After petitioned over matter by hundreds of academics, Sa’ar says: Supporters of boycott are harming academic freedom.

By Or Kashti and Haaretz Service, 8 July 2010


“The only people harming academic freedom in Israel are the lecturers who call for a boycott of Israel,” Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Radio on Thursday.

Sa’ar’s words came in response to a petition signed by 542 Israeli professors and academics calling on Sa’ar to not to carry through on his stated intention to take action against professors who support an academic boycott of Israel.

“If the higher education system in Israel wants to maintain a high quality it must also include opinions that are not acceptable to everyone, social and political criticism, and critical and even controversial research and instruction,” the petition states.
Gideon Sa’ar

Sa’ar said on Thursday that he would not backtrack on his plans and called the petition “hysterical” and “an attempt to silence contrary opinions.”

The petitioners are “harming the institutions for which they teach and are funded by the citizens of Israel,” Sa’ar said. “The question here is if there are absolutely no limits. Let’s get rid of the double standards. Can everything be placed under the cover of academic freedom, including murder incitement?”

Petitioners include Haifa University rector Prof. Yossi Ben Artzi, Israel Prize laureates professors Benjamin Isaac and Yehoshua Kolodny, and former education minister Prof. Yuli Tamir, who is now president of Shenkar College of Engineering and Design.

The petition was initiated by the Forum for the Protection of Public Education.

Haaretz reported a few weeks ago that Sa’ar vowed to punish Israeli professors who back an academic boycott of Israel.

“When an Israeli academic preaches for academic boycott he crosses a red line,” Sa’ar said at the time, adding that he discussed taking measures – mainly disciplinary – against these professors with the head of the Higher Education Council’s Planning and Budgeting Committee.

Sa’ar added that he would also discuss such measures with the heads of the academic institutions directly.

The petition states: “We have different and varied opinions about solving the difficult problems facing Israel, but there is one thing we are agreed on – freedom of expression and academic freedom are the very lifeblood of the academic system.”

“Israeli academia will suffer great damage if politicians dictate to it what is right and wrong to say, think, research and teach, and force it to adopt that kind of criteria for admitting, promoting or rejecting researchers and professors. Your statement about intending to use your authority to act against professors who support an academic boycott of Israel are causing just such damage,” it says.

The petition also makes reference to the education minister’s support of the recently distributed Im Tirzu movement report that claims political science teachings at Israeli universities are tainted with a “post-Zionist bias.”

These reports, purporting to be scientific, have been distributed by “people pretending to care about Zionist values, but who are advancing under this guise a culture of gagging and intimidation on campuses,” the petition says.

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