Dozens protest pending closure of BGU department

Demonstrators gather in J'lem as council readies to review its decision to shut down Negev school's "left-wing" political program.

Ben Gurion University 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of Ben Gurion University)
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 demonstrationagainst 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 teaching.
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 said.
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.
“What I 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 is conducting.”
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 said.
“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,” Shoval added.
He also said that he holds Rivka Carmi, the president of Ben-Gurion University, responsible for “tarnishing the name of the institution.”
“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 said.
Current students of the program are gathering today outside the CHE’s offices in Jerusalem to show their support for Ben-Gurion University.
The department’s administration had told the Post last week that if the decision to close the political science program is not canceled, the university is prepared to take legal action against the CHE.