Archives

October 5, 2012

EDITOR: The iconic case of the BGU Politics and Government  department – Israeli academic freedom is all a fiction

For the last few years, the Israeli right has been trying to get at some of the lecturers at Ben Gurion University, and especially, at Prof. Neve Gordon, one of the very few academics in Israel who have publicly supported the BDS actions against Israel, and has consistently supported the rights of the Palestinians under occupation. A number of other academics in the department are also liberals and and left-leaning, though none is either as adroit or as courageous as Prof. Gordon. Some of the American backers of the university, itself far from left-leaning, and headed by the Populist President Prof. Rivka Carmi, have demanded that the President of BGU removes forthwith the critical Prof. Gordon, in reaction to his public stance against the continued Israeli occupation. Prof Carmi was well prepared to do so, and has followed the legal procedures which would have brought this about, only to announce that, despite her wishes, this would not be possible, as there is no sufficient grounds for the removal of the said professor. Carmi was always careful to argue that she maintains academic freedom at BGU, but the various evidence below is pointing elsewhere. In the event, the right wing organisation Im Tirzu has done her work for her, submitting a report on the troublesome department, which was discussed at the Knesset and by the HEC (Higher Education Council) which has first suggested changes in the department, and has now decided to close it – a decision never taken before against any other department in Israel’s history.

Below are a number of articles from various perspectives. It is clear that this has become a test case for the Israeli academia. Very few if any Israeli academics have stood up and supported the department against this clearly politically-motivated step, proving again the deep complicity of most Israeli academics, their total and uncritical dependence on the state, and their inherent and uncritical support of its aggressive, immoral and illegal policies against Palestine and the Palestinians. That the department will be closed is now fait accompli, given the lack of collegial support from the rest of the academic community. Thus the punitive measure will join the very many undemocratic and illiberal new legislation passed by the current Israeli regime of the extreme right against all critics of its continued suppression of the Palestinians. The Israeli academia fails its major examination…

To sign the petition below, use the link:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/academics-to-gideon-saar/

To: Mr. Gideon Sa’ar, Israeli Minister of Education

Dear Gideon Sa’ar,

We are writing as academics to express our grave concern about the moves, initiated by Israel’s Council of Higher Education, to close down the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, by preventing it from registering students from the start of the next academic year.

This attack on the Department quite transparently has nothing to do with the quality of its staff, or of their teaching or research. It has everything to do with the fact that some of them have publicly taken brave and locally unpopular political positions.
The manoeuvres undertaken to try to bring this closure about already bring discredit on the governance of the Israeli higher education system. Should they be successful in closing the Department, it will be a permanent stain on the reputation of Israel’s universities.

As Professor Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University, has written, the politically motivated closure of the Department “will constitute a devastating blow to academic independence in Israel”.
We call upon the Council of Higher Education to reject the recommendation of its Sub-Committee.

Dr Robert Boyce, London School of Economics
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics

Below I have tried to put together the main stages of the developments at BGU, for those who would like to follow it methodically. More will be added over the coming days.

2012 APSA letter to Israeli Council of Higher Education: Committee on Professional Ethics, Rights and Freedoms American Political Science Association

POB 4037
Jabotinsky 43
Jerusalem, Israel
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, in the strongest possible terms, to protect academic freedom in Israeli higher education. We would not presume to know all the facts of the case. 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

EDITOR: Neve Gordon’s original article in LA Times:

Boycott Israel: LA Times

An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it’s the only way to save his country.

August 20, 2009|Neve Gordon | Neve Gordon is the author of “Israel’s Occupation” and teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis — even peaceniks — aren’t signing on. A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, “on the ground,” the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

EDITOR: Neve Gordon in the Guardian, arguing for a boycott of Israel, in August 2009:

Time to boycott Israel: Guardian

For the sake of our children, I am convinced that an international boycott is the only way to save Israel from itself

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawnfrom Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokeswoman, an actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis – even peaceniks – aren’t signing on. A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of antisemitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organisations, unions and citizens to suspend co-operation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews – whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel – are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbours do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a binational democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest could return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, “on the ground,” the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality. Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics is moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words andcondemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organisations from all over the world formulated the 10-point campaign meant to pressure Israel in a “gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity”. For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians – my two boys included – does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

EDITOR: Rivka Carmi reaction to Neve Gordon’s article in the LA Times:

Neve Gordon’s divisive Op-Ed: LATimes

Ben-Gurion University’s president responds to one of her professor’s call for a boycott of Israel.

September 01, 2009|Rivka Carmi | Rivka Carmi is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

As president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, I have always remained open and impartial to the wide diversity of opinions within our academic faculty and their right to free speech, no matter how controversial their views or writings may be.

However, I strongly believe a call for a worldwide boycott of Israel written by a Ben-Gurion University faculty member, Neve Gordon, that appeared in The Times oversteps the boundaries of academic freedom — because it has nothing to do with it.

Academic freedom exists to ensure that there is an unfettered and free discussion of ideas relating to research and teaching and to provide a forum for the debate of complicated ideas that may challenge accepted norms. Gordon, however, used his pulpit as a university faculty member to advocate a personal opinion, which is really demagoguery cloaked in academic theory.

Gordon argues that Israel is an “apartheid” state and that “a boycott would save Israel from itself.” But the empirical facts show that it would destroy the very fabric of the society that he claims to want to protect. Instead of investing in activities that promote coexistence, this “call for a boycott” is already being used to isolate Israel.

This is particularly pernicious for our university, a proudly Zionist institution that embodies the dream of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to bring development and prosperity to all the residents of the Negev region. This work — which includes community outreach and scientific innovation in Israel and around the world carried out by nearly 25,000 students, faculty and staff — is being threatened by the egregious remarks of one person, under the guise of academic freedom.

A number of online campaigns have been launched calling for donors and other supporters of the university to “boycott BGU.” We have heard the calls by those who demand that the university ignore Israeli law and fire Gordon, a tenured faculty member, on the basis of his statements. And we are also under attack by others who champion Gordon on the basis of freedom of speech.

Like it or not, Gordon cannot be readily dismissed. The law in Israel is very clear, and the university is a law-abiding institution.

At the same time, by calling on other entities, including academic institutions, to boycott Israel — and effectively, to boycott his own university — Gordon has forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting, with his colleagues in Israel and around the world. After his very public, personal soul-searching in his Op-Ed article, leading to his extreme description of Israel as an “apartheid” state, how can he, in good faith, create the collaborative atmosphere necessary for true academic research and teaching?

The primary effect of Gordon’s Israel-bashing will be to detract from the work of his university. I am a doctor; my professional career has focused on preventing hereditary genetic diseases in the Bedouin Arab community. Today, the laboratory that I founded at Ben-Gurion University is working with Bedouin, Palestinian and Jordanian doctors and researchers to improve the health of Arab children across the region. This is but one of the many Israeli-Arab collaborations — in fields that range from developing advanced water technologies to solar energy, environmental conservation and emergency medicine — that will be compromised here if “collective punishment” for Gordon’s actions or for my opposition to his views is imposed on BGU.

EDITOR: In the New York Review of Books, a group of American academics has reacted to her harsh and unjustified reaction to Neve Gordon’s original argumnet in LA Times:

Dear President Carmi:

We write to express our concern over your response to the recent Los Angeles Times Op-Ed (“Boycott Israel,” August 20, 2009) by Dr. Neve Gordon, senior lecturer and chair of the Government and Politics Department at Ben-Gurion University. In his article, Gordon described Israel as an apartheid state and called for an international boycott of his country.

In your public statements responding to Gordon—notably your own Op-Ed in theLos Angeles Times, “Neve Gordon’s Divisive Op-Ed,” September 1, 2009)—you declare that although Israeli law prohibits you from dismissing him, he “has forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting, with his colleagues in Israel and around the world.”

In your article you claim to distinguish academic freedom, which “exists to ensure that there is an unfettered and free discussion of ideas relating to research and teaching and to provide a forum for the debate of complicated ideas that may challenge accepted norms,” from Neve Gordon’s use of “his pulpit as a university faculty member to advocate a personal opinion” that you dismiss as “demagoguery cloaked in academic theory.” But the whole point of academic freedom—and indeed tenure—is to protect scholars’ rights to express their opinions, by definition “personal,” however controversial these may be.

No doubt you too are expressing a personal opinion when you denounce Dr. Gordon and warn that he “has forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting.” Even without a direct threat of dismissal, such an extreme condemnation emanating from the head of a university carries special weight. Israel’s academic institutions are a legitimate source of great pride to the country and carry considerable international prestige.

Moreover, Israeli universities are among the few academic institutions in the Middle East committed to academic freedom, and that is in large part why they are so successful and carry such weight. They can and should serve as a model for the region and the world. As the president of such an institution, you bear a special responsibility: to protect and defend the autonomy and freedom of expression of your colleagues, even—especially—when you find them offensive.

Instead, you have conveyed to the faculty of Ben-Gurion University that their careers may be imperiled if they express a view with which you happen to disagree. Such statements by a university president will inevitably have a chilling effect on the climate of open inquiry and unrestricted debate—at a time when Israel needs such debate and discussion more than ever.

Some of us disagree with Dr. Gordon’s views, and none of us advocates a boycott of Israel. But we believe that he was entirely within his rights to offer his opinions. We urge you to make publicly explicit that you will oppose any move to punish or censor him for his controversial political opinions.

Jonathan Cole, Columbia University; Harvey Cox, Harvard University; Tony Judt, New York University; Stanley Katz, Princeton University; John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago; Everett Mendelsohn, Harvard University;Richard Samuels, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Avi Shlaim, University of Oxford; Fritz Stern, Columbia University; Stephen Walt, Harvard University (affiliations for identification purposes only)

Should Neve Gordon Be Punished?InTheseTimes

An Israeli professor’s support for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement sparks controversy.

BY RALPH SELIGER

Gordon’s bold and very public call for an international boycott against Israel has triggered a degree of pushback from Israelis and others.

On August 20, in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Neve Gordon, an Israeli professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba (and a contributor to In These Times), announced his support for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement (BDS) as “the only way that Israel can be saved from itself,” by forcing an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories beyond the pre-June 1967 borders of Israel.

Unlike some in this movement, Dr. Gordon is a firm advocate of separate states for Israel and the Palestinians, believing that a single state encompassing both peoples is a recipe for ongoing conflict and the domination of one people by the other. When asked in 2003 about the possibility of a one-state solution, I witnessed Gordon spread his arms wide while saying, “We are living in a one-state solution.”

Gordon’s bold and very public call for an international boycott against Israel has triggered a degree of pushback from Israelis and others.

On August 27, Prof. Virginia Aksan, president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, wrote an appeal to Dr. Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University, protesting the university’s alleged effort to dismiss Dr. Gordon from his dual roles as a senior lecturer of politics and as chair of BGU’s department of government and politics.

On September 2, The Jewish Forward reported that the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev–a U.S.-based organization that raises funds for BGU–had called for “disciplinary action” against the outspoken lecturer. The American organization expressed alarm at evidence of damage to its fundraising efforts for the university. BGU President Carmi is quoted as saying that the university is “considering options,” but denied that his tenured teaching position would be revoked; she also confirmed this denial in an email to In These Times.

Faye Bittker, BGU’s director of public and media relations, said in an e-mail to In These Times:

The university … NEVER EVER threatened him with dismissal … as a tenured faculty member, his job is protected by law. … However, the University feels that a call for a boycott is not an issue of freedom of speech. t is the equivalent of screaming fire in a crowded theater as an academic boycott undercuts every single value that the University stands for, and were such a boycott to succeed, it would cause great damage to both the University and to the State of Israel.

Moreover, the University feels strongly that if Neve really believes in such a boycott, he cannot fulfill his responsibilities as the chairman of the department … and as such should resign. Common sense says that someone who believes in the boycott will find it hard to advance the interests of the different research centers in his department… How can he help faculty members plan international conferences or otherwise encourage students and researchers to apply for international grants and fellowships?

The Forward reports that Isaac Nevo, a senior lecturer in philosophy at BGU, organized a letter signed by 48 faculty that demanded Gordon not be sanctioned for his views. And a Hebrew University law professor, Alon Harel, initiated a petition signed by 180 academics from all over Israel, similarly opposed to punishing Gordon. Interestingly, both Nevo and Harel oppose BDS.

Nevo expressed his belief that Gordon’s department chairmanship is “not covered by academic freedom,” and suggested that Gordon “may consider” resigning from his administrative position. But Gordon told The Forward that he sees his stepping down now as an impossibility because it would be regarded as punishment for his views. Nevertheless, he has admitted to “a contradiction” in performing his duties as chair since he now views visits by foreign academics to Israel as “extremely problematic” unless their visit helps highlight what he sees as the injustices of the Israeli occupation.

Gordon has not responded to queries from this writer.

EDITOR: Tod Gitlin has also reacted to the events, few days ago:

Israeli Universities and American Freedoms: Chronicle of Higher Education

September 30, 2012, 11:01 pm

By Todd Gitlin
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).

EDITOR: The following piece is a rather colourful interview, in the Haaretz magazine tradition, but some facts are also established here.

Juggling act: Haaretz

Prof. Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University, is a renowned geneticist who has made promotion of women in academia a priority. But she has often been sidetracked by right-wing charges that BGU is excessively leftist. Meanwhile, left-wingers accuse her of silencing opposition.

By Doron Halutz | Mar.01, 2012 | 1:00 PM |  1

Carmi - Yanai Yechiel - March 2, 2012

Prof. Rivka Carmi. Photo by Yanai YechielThe German ambassador was already on the way as Prof. Rivka Carmi concluded her speech to the management forum of Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva. Just as Carmi, the university’s president, was about to head back to her spacious office, someone with an iPad approached her, asking whether she had seen the local television item about the university’s examinations procedure. She hadn’t. He played it for her: a group of students grumbling about the university’s attitude, with one of them declaring, “If it’s up to me − don’t study at BGU.”

“We have to send someone to give an interview in response,” Carmi said. Back in her office, she was more specific. “I want to be interviewed today,” she snapped into the phone.

“A few students in the department of electrical engineering have complaints about the teachers and about the examinations procedure,” she explained. “It’s part of a long process that is bogged down in the senate. The students are impatient. They want the problems to be solved instantly and have launched a vicious campaign. The truth is that there are problems, but we are working on it overtime.”

It sounds routine, but Carmi is not one to ignore the media, not even a local TV channel. She canceled all her appointments for the rest of the day, but it was too late to cancel the meeting with the German ambassador. They talked about Deutsche Telekom laboratories in the Negev and about academic cooperation. He addressed her as “Miss President”; she told him her father was born in Germany. After exactly half an hour, Carmi took her leave of the envoy and returned to the distinctly undiplomatic action on campus.

Rivka Carmi as a child.
Rivka Carmi as a child.

With a journalist in the room, Carmi avoids naming names. “That idiot − you know who I mean, yes, the one with the ponytail,” she says to her interlocutor on the phone in a conversation about the root of the problem. When the rector comes to see her she explains again, “It’s a militant group, a handful, who are dictating the agenda.” She describes someone as “impotent.”

“This story has gone on for a few years,” she says. “There is apparently a basic lack of trust within the system. We have to come up with an answer, so I am going to give an interview. And I want to meet with the class committee.”

An hour later, she is in the studio of the campus television station, located in the building of the Faculty of Health Sciences. “You don’t have to say ‘I am your president,’” the university’s marketing adviser says after the first take. Carmi tries to restrain herself, but looks like she is on the verge of exploding.

Back in the office, the class committee enters. “Thank you for coming. I wanted to say that behavior in a dispute also has its rules,” she lectures the combative students. “What would you do in our place?” they ask, after informing her that in some courses the failure rate is 90 percent and the teachers are incommunicative. “That’s a good question,” Carmi replies, but ends the meeting without answering it.

Turn left right here

Carmi, an acclaimed geneticist and the first woman to head a research university in Israel, has had to douse quite a few fires in the past two years. The angry students are actually a relatively easy case. Since her appointment as president she has had to rebuff criticism, most of it politically colored, from outside the university as well. She is attacked from the right for not doing anything about the fact that her university has become a hotbed of radical-left activity. And she is assailed from the left for not supporting faculty members who are under attack and for imposing an atmosphere of silencing opposition.
“If you have to talk about freedom of expression, it means there is a problem to begin with,” a lecturer at the university says. “You don’t talk about breathing air, because it’s taken for granted.”

The watershed was probably an article published in the Los Angeles Times in August 2009 by Prof. Neve Gordon of the university’s Department of Politics and Government. Gordon described Israel as an apartheid state and called on foreign governments and organizations to exert “massive international pressure” on the country. The article, titled “Boycott Israel,” made waves and focused attention on the Department of Politics and Government. Since then, the university has been subjected to microscopic examination by right-wing politicians and organizations, including particularly close surveillance by Im Tirtzu − an organization that “works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel,” according to its website. These groups pounce on every controversial statement by a faculty member suspected of “leftist tendencies.”

To read the rest of this interview go the end of the blog:

Click here to continue reading “October 5, 2012″ »

Permalink Print