Ben-Gurion University on Tuesday released the contents of a letter in which
right-wing student group Im Tirtzu threatened to try and convince donors to stop
contributing to the university unless university president Rivka Karmi showed
she was taking concrete actions to remedy what they perceive as a leftwing bias
in the university’s Politics and Government Department.
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sparked a storm of public and media responses surrounding the issue of academic
freedom and financial boycotts of universities.
Education Minister Gideon
Sa’ar categorically rejected any attempts to block or condition donations to
Israeli universities, while a former BGU president, Minority Affairs Minister
Avishay Braverman, warned that threats like Im Tirtzu’s were leading the country
into a period of McCarthyism that threatened Israel democracy.
letter, which was sent to Karmi a month ago, stipulates that unless she met
their demands within a month, Im Tirtzu would, “Use all the legal means at our
disposal to bring to the attention of the present and future student body and
especially to the university’s supporters in Israel and abroad, the severity of
the situation and the ongoing disregard by university management that allowed
things to arrive at their current state.
“We will request that all the
donors submit their contributions to a trust fund managed by a lawyer, to be
released to the university after it is factually proved that the bias that
exists in the department, as expressed in the faculty make-up and the syllabus
content, is remedied,” added the letter.
Im Tirtzu director Ronen Shoval
told The Jerusalem Post
said that the group’s research had found that BGU’s
Politics and Government Department stood out from all the other political
science departments in the country as being the most left-wing.
said that the group had received complaints from students that their instructors
were only exposing them to extreme Left positions and that efforts by students
to balance the dialogue were rebuked by the faculty.
“The department has
11 faculty members, of whom nine are involved in political activities that
present extreme leftist positions,” said Shoval.
“Six out of the 11
faculty members have signed a petition calling on soldiers to refuse to serve in
the West Bank. Two research fellows are known to have anti- Zionist beliefs.
Eight out of 19 external lecturers express radical leftist positions and our
research shows that there is a sharp slant in the program’s syllabus, which is
characterized by its anti-nationalist and anti-Zionist content,” he
“Heading the department is Dr. Neve Gordon, who has repeatedly
called for an international academic, cultural and economic boycott of
“Our aim isn’t to harm the university and we are not against
We simply believe that the views should be balanced.
It’s all a question of measure. Just like there can’t be 100 percent males in
the workplace. It can’t be that only one side is heard in the
We are willing to acknowledge that anti-Zionist sentiments are
present in the university, but refuse to accept that it should be forced down
the students’ throats,” said Shoval.
“We are in contact with some of
BGU’s donors and we know they are concerned about the situation. Since we don’t
want to harm the university’s funding, we are offering an alternative for
concerned donors. Instead of sending the money directly to the university, they
can contribute the money to a trust fund and we’ll make sure it is only donated
after we see that a real and honest effort to correct the situation is under
When asked about the identity of the lawyer who would manage the
trust fund and on the criteria for transferring the money, Shoval said that they
had yet to decide on a lawyer and that the criteria would be drawn up with the
When asked whether he thought Neve Gordon should be
fired, Shoval said that he expected a person who called for a boycott of his own
university, to show integrity and resign.
Shoval characterized Im Tirtzu
as a non-partisan NGO.
“Most of our work involves volunteering on
campuses. We are not linked to any political party but we are passionately
Zionist. Our views represent the center, but they are adamant.”
that Im Tirtzu’s activities were funded by private contributions from Israel and
In response to Im Tirtzu’s letter, BGU released a statement
saying that the university was not in the habit of conducting regular
examinations of its faculty’s political views.
“Demands that we do so or
demands that we ‘balance’ faculty members according to political views, reek of
McCarthyism and stand in direct opposition to the democratic values Israel is
based on,” read the statement.
“Members of the aforementioned
organization refuse to let facts get in their way. They themselves represent an
extreme political position, attacking and demonizing anyone whose opinions are
unacceptable to them… “Just as university president, Professor Rivka Karmi,
sharply condemned elements calling for a boycott of Israel, so does the
university sharply condemn any element that calls for a boycott of universities,
because of this or that opinion of a faculty member,” read the
Karmi told the Post that the Council for Higher Education
regularly examined all of the university’s curricula and that it was the only
body she was required to answer to.
“They present us with comments and
recommendations and we analyze them and make adjustments accordingly. I don’t
owe explanations to extremist political organizations who are trying to promote
an agenda,” she said.
Karmi said she knew and trusted that the donors
were intelligent enough and cared enough about the university, to see Im
Tirtzu’s threat for what it was and continue to give generously to the
“Many of our donors live in the United States and know where
initiatives like Im Tirtzu’s can take us. The donors are very important to us.
They are the ones who enable our vision to become a reality, the same vision
that was inspired by prime minister David Ben-Gurion himself.”
who stood at the head of BGU for 16 years, condemned Im Tirtzu’s attacks against
“Ben-Gurion University is a symbol of modern Zionism. Harming the
university is harming Zionism itself and a crossing of red lines. While it may
look innocent, what these people are doing now is characteristic of dark
regimes,” said Braverman.
“I know the faculty at BGU; 95% of them have
opinions that place them as center-right or center-left. Another 5% hold extreme
views in either direction,” he continued.
“The majority of the faculty
members are people who live and breathe Zionism. They came out to the desert to
help build a university from all over Israel and all over the
There may be individuals who abuse their position and call for
boycotts on Israel, and the president [Karmi] knows my opinions about that, but
any attempt to harm academic freedom should be snuffed out immediately,” said