Israeli academia is in an uproar. And this is a good thing. Last week, the
Zionist student movement Im Tirtzu opened a rather modest campaign against Ben-
Gurion University’s Politics and Government Department.
And the howls of
protest stretched from the Negev to the border with Lebanon.
Im Tirtzu is
a grass-roots initiative of university students.
Over the past few years
it has managed to amass a modest budget funded by Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists
here and in the US.
One of Im Tirtzu’s central goals is to engender an
atmosphere of academic freedom and intellectual pluralism on university
campuses. Over the past generation or so, those campuses, and particularly the
humanities and social sciences faculties, have become hotbeds of anti- Zionist
activism and intellectual terror. Stories of professorial intimidation of and
discrimination against Zionist students are widespread, as are instances of
outright indoctrination in the classrooms.
As Ma’ariv’s Ben Dror Yemini
reported this week, at Hebrew University’s law school, Prof. Yehuda Shenhav
teaches a class called “Bureaucracy, Governance and Human Rights.” In the course
of their studies, the students are expected to participate in the work of
anti-Zionist organizations including Machsom Watch and Yesh Din. At the end of
the year, the participants – who will be paid NIS 1,450 for their activism – are
expected to write an article describing their experiences which will be turned
into a booklet edited by Shenhav and anti-Zionist activists Michael Sfard and
Yael Barda and published by their anti-Zionist NGOs.
The situation at
Ben-Gurion University’s Politics and Government Department is particularly
distressing. It is headed by Dr. Neve Gordon, an anti-Zionist activist who has
written that Israel is a “proto-fascist state,” has castigated it as an
“apartheid state” and has signed petitions calling for international academic,
scientific, economic and cultural boycotts of the country.
complaints from students, Im Tirtzu undertook an examination of the Politics and
Government Department faculty. It discovered that among the department’s 11
tenured instructors, nine are involved in extreme leftist political activity.
Led by Gordon, six of the 11 signed a letter supporting soldiers who refuse to
serve in the IDF.
Both of the department’s research fellows are notorious
among their students for their anti-Zionist views. Eight of the department’s 19
adjunct lecturers publicly espouse radical leftist views. Three of the
department’s six doctoral candidates have signed letters in support of Gordon’s
calls for international boycotts.
AS EREZ Tadmor, Im Tirtzu’s research
director, noted in a television interview last week, these views represent the
politics of but a smattering of the public. And yet, they are the predominant
view of the department. In a place where the most radical, dogmatic views –
views that reject the state’s very right to exist – predominate, it is
impossible to imagine that the average student feels comfortable exploring and
researching other thought streams. Consequently, it is reasonable to fear that
far from educating students, the department engages in wholesale indoctrination
Indeed, as Makor Rishon’s Yishai Friedman reported last
Friday, the department pays them and gives them academic credit for
participation in radical leftist NGOs. As Friedman exposed, students who
volunteer at post-Zionist NGOs funded by the New Israel Fund receive academic
credit for their efforts and the NIF provides them with generous NIS 7,400
scholarships for their activism.
Several of the department’s faculty
members serve or have served in leadership positions in these groups. For
instance, Gordon served as the head of NIF-funded Physicians for Human Rights,
which supported the false claim that the IDF massacred Palestinians in the
battle at the Jenin refugee camp in 2002. The scholarship program is funded
through the NIF’s Shatil group’s Everett Social Justice Fellowship
Last month, Im Tirtzu sent a letter to Ben-Gurion University
president Rivka Karmi asking her to take action to correct the atmosphere of
intellectual terror in the department.
It asked that she inform the
group, within a month, of the actions she had taken in this regard.
then gave her an ultimatum. If she refused to respond to its query, “we will be
forced to utilize our freedom of speech and protest and use all legal means to
inform the current and future student body, and especially those who support
Ben-Gurion University in Israel and abroad, about the severity of the situation
and the administration’s prolonged refusal to contend with the situation which
has allowed it to reach the current level of severity. We will also recommend
that political science students not study at Ben-Gurion
Additionally we will request that the university’s donors
place their contributions in an escrow account overseen by an attorney. The
funds will be released to the university after it has substantively proven that
the department’s bias and distortion, expressed by the faculty and course
syllabi, have been corrected.”
Predictably, Karmi never acknowledged Im
Tirtzu’s letter. And so when the month ended last week, the group embarked on a
worldwide public relations campaign against the department. The campaign, which
was widely covered by the media (and evoked the predictable condemnation of
Haaretz), has led to a storm of criticism by professors at Ben-Gurion and their
comrades throughout the country. Predictably, they have castigated Im Tirtzu as
a McCarthyist group, a fascist group, an extremist group and a farright group
that is seeking to silence dissent and destroy the principle of academic
So too, many professors who have spoken on the issue have argued
that Im Tirtzu has no right to be heard. For instance, in a television
appearance last week, Prof. Yossi Yonah from Ben-Gurion appeared on Erev Hadash
with Tadmor. There he said, “I reject the authority, the legitimacy of a group
like this to come and investigate my behavior as a member of the
These assertions are completely ridiculous. First of all,
academic freedom is not threatened. What Im Tirtzu and other organizations like
the Institute for Zionist Strategies have criticized is the fact that
ideological uniformity in academic departments is not conducive to academic
NO ONE is criticizing professors’ right to engage in academic
study. Im Tirtzu and other groups object first to the fact that much of what is
presented as academic work is nothing but polemical dogma, unsupported by
empirical or theoretical research.
Second they object to the fact that
the views of the radical Left, which represents almost no one here, receives the
majority of teaching and research positions at Ben-Gurion University’s Politics
and Government Department.
Karmi has condemned Im Tirtzu and its campaign
as McCarthyist and an attempt to silence opposing voices. While these assertions
are par for the course for university heads who behave as though they have a
divine right to unlimited taxpayer and donor funds, they are utterly
In acting as it has, Im Tirtzu has simply pointed out the obvious.
No one is under any obligation to fund institutions that advance causes opposite
to those they believe in. No one is required to study in a department that seeks
to indoctrinate rather than educate. And both donors and students have a right
to know what it is they are supporting.
Beyond that, the truth is that
initiatives like Im Tirtzu’s seek to expand rather than contract academic
freedom. It is inarguable that academic freedom flourishes in environments where
all dissenting views are given fair representation.
important than the ultimate consequences of Im Tirtzu’s campaign is what both
the initiative and the Left’s response to it tell us about the direction Israeli
society is taking.
The Left’s hysterical response tells us that it – and
particularly the academic Left – is incapable of withstanding even the slightest
criticism. Yonah’s insistence that the likes of Tadmor have no right to
criticize academics exposes a deep and abiding contempt for the public harbored
by our publicly funded professors. From a budgetary perspective, Im Tirtzu lacks
even a small percentage of the funds available to anti-Zionist NGOs like
Physicians for Human Rights, which enjoys seemingly bottomless financial support
from the EU and the NIF.
And yet, despite their unrivaled access to
funds, their nearly complete control over the country’s universities, the often
knee-jerk media support for their campaigns against Israel and their ability to
spend sabbaticals abroad conferring with their Israel-bashing colleagues in
places like Berkeley, for our radical academics, Im Tirtzu’s initiative to
expose their hostility to the state that supports them evokes group hysteria. In
response they call for Bolshevik-style rejection of the public’s right to notice
their behavior, let alone criticize it.
Despite its modest budget, Im
Tirtzu’s message is getting across. And not for the first time. In the spring
the group launched a wildly successful public awareness campaign about the NIF.
The group released a report detailing the central role NIF-sponsored groups
played in assisting the Goldstone Commission in preparing its libelous report
accusing Israel of committing war crimes in Operation Cast Lead.
Tirtzu’s repeated success tells us is that something exciting is happening
today. After a generation of meekly accepting the Left’s domination of the
public discourse – in the media, in academia, in the legal system and in popular
culture – the public has finally had enough. Young people like Tadmor and Im
Tirtzu’s leader Ronen Shoval are finally standing up to their authority. And
because they reflect the values and views of the overwhelming majority of the
public, their message is getting through.
For the first time in a
generation, the Left is on the defensive. Rather than dominating the airwaves
with its allegations of Israeli and Zionist racism and criminality, it is forced
to defend its right to block out all dissenting voices from the national
There is much reason for concern about prospects for the future.
With military threats to the country multiplying by the day and with the
political campaign to delegitimize it escalating, Israel is under assault as
never before. And yet, what the success of groups like Im Tirtzu shows is that,
by and large, the public remains strong, vibrant, defiant and courageous. As our
enemies grow stronger, the public is rising to meet and defeat