Ben Gurion University 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Gurion University)
Dozens of students and political leaders gathered outside the Council for Higher Education (CHE) in Jerusalem on Tuesday in a demonstration
against attempts to close Ben-Gurion University's political science
department. The future of the department could be decided later in the day when the council meets to reconsider
last month’s decision to shut down the program.
"This is political
persecution, a witch hunt that is the result of ongoing incitement from
extremist right-wing organizations," said Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, who attended the protest. "It is particularly
shameful that the government is supporting the suppression of academic
freedom. This is the first time since the establishment of the State
that they are closing a university department - a testimony to the ill
will of the current government."
The CHE had come to the
decision to close the department after the program had been criticized by the Zionist organization Im
Tirzu for being “unbalanced” and teaching only left-wing political approaches.
Im Tirtzu had specifically pointed fingers at members of the department’s
faculty for their political opinions and activities, which it says affects their
Horowitz also expressed support for the department directly, calling it "exemplary," and touting its "many achievements."
Haim Yaacobi, head of the political science department, told
The Jerusalem Post last week that he did not believe the CHE would go through
with closing the program, an opinion that most of his staff and faculty share.
He explained that he does not think the government could close an academic
department over “political interests.”
“Closing a department because of
political reasons is a very, very dangerous thing to do,” he
Ben-Gurion University’s Prof. Israel David of the industrial
engineering and management department, and Prof. Dan Censor of the electrical
and computer engineering department have openly criticized the department and
its administration over the past month.
Censor published a letter on the
Internet over the weekend where he wrote that the new faculty that the
department had brought in on the CHE’s first suggestions were just “more of the
same” and that because of this, no other, more appropriate faculty will want to
join the department, according to him.
“In my opinion, it follows that
the department must be closed down, and persons transferred to other
departments, according to their areas of activity,” he wrote.
don’t want to happen is for the CHE to drag their feet, and maybe say that
they’ll close it next year or leave the issue hanging,” David said. “That would
be the worst.”
Ronen Shoval, the head of Im Tirtzu, explained he is
waiting for the decision in the hope that “the CHE does its job as academic
investigator and does not surrender to the campaign of fear and threats that BGU
Shoval further explained that in his opinion, since the
department did not make the changes that the CHE demanded at first, he sees no
option other than to shut down the program.
“I think it’s very important
to have a political science program at BGU just like there is one at every
respected university. However, the university refused every opportunity to a
solution, lied to the CHE, and tried to trick and manipulate it,” he
“At this moment, it needs to close down and be reopened later, when
it is ready to incorporate pluralism and academic freedom into its curriculum,”
He also said that he holds Rivka Carmi, the president of
Ben-Gurion University, responsible for “tarnishing the name of the
“She needs to go home. She’s the president, she’s
responsible for not taking the CHE seriously. She basically has just been
laughing in its face,” he said.
Carmi told the Post
she hopes the meeting
will result in a solution that both sides agree to, “where the issue of closing
the department is off the table for good.”
“Closing the department is not
an option. If something like that happens, then this will mark the end of
academic freedom and democracy in Israel and will be detrimental to the status
of Israeli academia, and Israel in general, in the world,” she
Current students of the program are gathering today outside the
CHE’s offices in Jerusalem to show their support for Ben-Gurion
The department’s administration had told the Post
that if the decision to close the political science program is not canceled, the
university is prepared to take legal action against the CHE.