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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to the defense of Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch on Sunday, speaking out against those seeking to prevent her from taking up a teaching position at Tel Aviv University when she finishes her IDF career in the coming weeks.
The prime minister blasted the "self-righteous hypocrites" at the university who "presume to preach morality" without first learning the facts of a case.
He added that a university that rejected someone on the basis of their service in the IDF did not deserve to receive state funding.
The appointment of Sharvit-Baruch, the IDF's top international law expert, to the teaching post met with protest from a handful of lecturers and Haaretz over the weekend, who accused her of approving the killing of hundreds of civilians during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Sharvit-Baruch's detractors, principally Prof. Chaim Ganz of the university's Minerva Center for Human Rights, apparently based their stance on a Haaretz report over the weekend that took issue with her interpretation of humanitarian law as it related to the fight against Hamas.
Ganz sent a letter to the law school's dean, Prof. Hanoch Dagan, claiming "Sharvit-Baruch's interpretation of the law... allowed the army to act in ways that constitute potential war crimes" and that Sharvit-Baruch herself "harms Israel's values system."
Haaretz quoted another university lecturer, Dr. Anat Matar, as saying she "was shocked to learn that half of the second-year law students will learn the foundations of law from someone who helped justify the killing of civilians, including hundreds of children."
In its Friday editorial, the paper opined that Sharvit-Baruch had sanctioned "the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, many of them children, women and elderly people, during the three weeks of the war."
The paper even claimed her predecessor at the head of the army's International Law Division, Col. (res.) Daniel Reisner, had criticized her enabling of the military's "trigger-happiness" during the war.
The response to the assault on Sharvit-Baruch was quick in coming.
"I was cheated outright by Haaretz," Reisner told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "In an hourlong interview, I told them the opposite of what they wrote. [Sharvit-Baruch] was my deputy for 15 years. She's an incredible lawyer and a friend. Many of her interpretations actually continued my own legal developments. I have considered suing the newspaper for libel."
According to Reisner, the newspaper even rejected his on-line talkback on the paper's Hebrew Web site, in which he denied he had criticized Sharvit-Baruch.
Olmert, who spoke on the issue at Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, delivered an outright threat to the publicly-funded school, saying, "Any university that lends its hand to disqualifying lecturers on the basis of such claims, without inquiring into the matter and without anybody being able to establish such claims except on the basis that someone served in the IDF during wartime, is an institution that is not worthy of the support of the government of Israel. If such an institution should act this way - and I am certain that Tel Aviv University does not intend to do so - it would be unworthy of the support of the State of Israel [for] its ongoing activities."
The university was quick to note that it did not acquiesce to the complaints against Sharvit-Baruch, with one university official saying they believed it was Haaretz that had lent needless significance to a "non-event."
"Only a single law professor protested [Sharvit-Baruch's] appointment, and he retracted his protest soon after, saying the law faculty is not a courtroom," read a statement from the university management.
"At no point did the faculty even consider cancelling Pnina Sharvit-Baruch's appointment," Dagan, the law school dean, wrote to Defense Minister Ehud Barak last week in response to the minister's query.
A university representative said the institution does not cancel appointments over disagreements in legal interpretation. "Pluralism is the life-breath of Tel Aviv University," the representative said.
Haaretz magazine editor Nir Becher said "Haaretz stands completely behind the published article. The statements made by attorney Reisner were quoted accurately. As to Reisner's retroactive interpretations of his published statements, those are his responsibility alone."