Academic freedom is an essential component of the mission of the academy. Scholars should be able to hold political positions without fearing repression. This is precisely the principle that guided Im Tirtzu’s recent efforts to fight the silencing of Zionist opinions in Israeli academia. Unfortunately, these efforts were met with misinformation, McCarthyism and outright lies. As is often the case when Zionism is attacked, the victims have been portrayed as aggressors while the aggressors were portrayed as victims.
Several months ago, at the request of the Knesset Education Committee, Im Tirtzu published a report revealing frightening information about academia. The report recorded testimonies from students who complained about a strong anti-Zionist bias in universities. Those students also testified about instances in which professors used intimidation and threats to silence Zionist views. Im Tirtzu demanded action be taken to defend the freedom of speech of Zionist students.
As Im Tirtzu demanded the right to free speech for all, the post-Zionist sectors of the academic world accused it of denying their free speech. However, freedom of speech does not include freedom to silence other opinions. In an effort to silence Im Tirtzu, its opponents accused it of McCarthyism and thought policing.
In reality, the whole purpose of Im Tirtzu’s efforts was to remove thought policing from Israel’s academic world.
Im Tirtzu is not the only organization to have dealt with this issue. Over the past few years, Israel Academia Monitor has monitored the anti-Zionist behavior of Israeli academia, building a database of testimonies on-line. NGO Monitor researched the dependency of academics on foreign donors who often hold anti-Israel views.
Most recently, the Institute for Zionist Strategies published a report on post-Zionism in academia that confirmed Im Tirtzu’s findings.
The reaction to all of those reports was identical. Academia didn’t deny the findings. Rather, it focused on accusing these groups of intimidating professors who hold different views.
Of course, the only intimidation practiced was the publication of wellresearched facts that post-Zionist academics did not want published. If those facts were questionable, those who disagree with them could openly rebut them.
Instead, they tried to intimidate the authors of those reports by claiming that their factual reports were a form of intimidation.
LAST WEEK, the story developed further. According to Im Tirtzu’s research, Ben-Gurion University’s Political Science Department is not only homogeneously anti-Zionist, it is also the source of the silencing of Zionist students. As such, Im Tirtzu found it fair to inform donors to the university.
Donors to Israeli universities often find their donation to be an act of Zionism. Helping academic institutions in Israel helps Zionism. Im Tirtzu believed many of those donors would be shocked and dismayed at the findings published in the report. They would feel their donations have become counterproductive. It is the right of those donors to be informed of the situation in the university; a donor is allowed to know where his money goes. Therefore, Im Tirtzu was ready to inform those donors of its findings.
However, in a gesture of goodwill toward Ben-Gurion University, Im
Tirtzu sent it a letter giving it a 30-day warning while asking it to
use this time to change its policies and remove the need for contacting
The university used this gesture of goodwill against Im Tirtzu, accusing
it of threatening it with an ultimatum.
The university, using the media as its proxy, accused Im Tirtzu of
threatening it to ensure all donations were stopped unless it “fired
A quick look at the actual letter showed no such threat.
First, Im Tirtzu does not have any unnatural power over donors – all it
“threatened” to do was to share well-researched information which would
enable donors to make an informed decision about their donations.
Second, Im Tirtzu never asked that the university fire anyone. Im Tirtzu
believes in freedom of speech. All it asked is that a solution be found
to the extreme bias found in this department, where only post-Zionist
opinions are presented. For example, modifying the syllabi to ensure
students are at least informed of a spectrum of opinions would have been
an appropriate response.
Third, Im Tirtzu is not a right-wing organization fighting against the
Left. Any effort to portray us as such is ridiculous. Im Tirtzu is
supported by MKs from Labor, Kadima and the Likud. Our fight is not a
fight for the Right but a fight for Zionism.
Post-Zionists like to misrepresent us, making it easier to polarize the
public against us. However, their efforts will not work because the
facts are against them. Im Tirtzu is a Zionist organization, period.
Many friends of Im Tirtzu, including Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar,
have expressed reservations with its campaign. These reservations are
legitimate. However, while it is fair to disagree with and even
criticize Im Tirtzu, it is unfair to delegitimize it, especially when
using lies to do so. All Im Tirtzu did was tell the university that it
will use its right of free speech to inform donors of its findings.
This is a legitimate action.
We at Im Tirtzu will continue to fight for the right of every student to
speak freely. We will continue to fight for academic freedom which
represents all points of view – including the Zionist ones.
We yearn for the day when Israel will be an even more Jewish and
democratic state – the day on which the misinformation of the
post-Zionists will disappear and give way to a truly free public
discourse with no intimidation.
The writer is overseas communications
coordinator of Im Tirtzu. He blogs at www.danillouz.com.