‘Like a rose among the thorns...’

It is one thing to use a bully pulpit such as a newspaper column to hold forth on one’s favorite issues, but quite another to use it to harangue and besmirch people one happens to dislike.

By MICHAEL GROSS
May 25, 2015 21:53
4 minute read.
Ben Gurion University

Ben Gurion University. (photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)

David Newman’s meandering, vindictive and constrained prose are not my cup of tea at the best of times, but when he takes the time to do damage to my name and reputation (“The good, the bad and the ugly,” The Jerusalem Post, May 19) I feel that I should set the record straight.

It is one thing to use a bully pulpit such as a newspaper column to hold forth on one’s favorite issues, but quite another to use it to harangue, mischaracterize and besmirch people one happens to dislike. Newman clearly dislikes criticism, and I, in my capacity as a member of the board of governors of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, have had ample cause to criticize the Social Sciences Faculty, of which Newman is the dean, over the past decade.

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Above and beyond Newman’s lazy characterization pigeonholing me as a disinterested non-citizen, one wonders what would happen if his faculty were to receive an endowment from an overseas donor. Is he advocating that non-Israelis be barred from making donations to BGU? Is he aware of how many non-Israelis sit on the board of governors? Is he aware of the long associations many governors have had with the university, many of which in fact precede his employment there? My connection with the university dates from the 1960s. I was personally urged by a far more impressive David, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to help efforts to develop the Negev in all ways possible, especially the university which bears his name.

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It takes a special blend of cowardice and small-mindedness to attack my most recent interaction with the university, without even calling me out by name. One who pays attention to Newman’s articles will know that his favorite bugbear is the lack of funding that is set aside for social sciences. Self-righteous and sanctimonious grandstanding over any putative donations that come from “undesirable” sources only goes to show the paucity of imagination he has when it comes to writing about any of the actual pressing political and social issues this country faces.

Just consider that for a moment: the State of Israel has gone through a bitter and divisive election and a drawn-out coalition-building process, and a leading professor of a top university has seen fit to use his first column after the government was sworn in not to discuss electoral reform, or to suggest what the new government’s first priorities should be, but rather to indulge in a personal vendetta.

It was especially fascinating to see how a professor of political science will go to such lengths to justify censorship and limit free speech (or at least, my free speech), all of course in the service of so-called “enlightened values.”

The fact that Im Tirtzu can run a program with an unimpeachable line-up of speakers including Guy Bechor, Caroline Glick and Ben-Dror Yemini goes to show the shortcomings of Newman’s faculty. Any other political science program would go out of its way to organize such a program of esteemed personages and public figures. At the very least it would support such an initiative, instead of demeaning the efforts of Im Tirtzu, who exemplify the very best in innovation, hard work and national solidarity.

In fact, the disrespect directed to all parties in Newman’s article, from his university colleagues to Amos Oz, is palpable. Oz is cast by Newman as a relic to be wheeled out for the punters.

Most of all, it is deeply ironic, not to say immensely hypocritical, that Newman can suggest that my criticism of the social sciences faculty is destabilizing. The fact that the Council of Higher Education saw fit to heavily sanction the faculty, in a move that would ordinarily induce a resignation from its leader, only goes to show the value Newman places on personal integrity.

My support for the State of Israel has never wavered and is well known. Our history and destiny demand that we act for the betterment and the advancement of this country. My family has been and continues to be indelibly part of that mission. One hopes that the ivory towers open their windows to let the light into the dark corners where the cobwebs of intellectual dishonesty abound.

The author has been a member of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s board of governors for over 40 years.


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