Israel's parliamentary Education Committee considers limiting academic freedoms

Tuesday, 11 May, 2010 - 16:20
London, UK
ACRI, Knesset

The Education Committee of the Israeli Knesset is considering oversight mechanisms to prevent alleged ‘anti-Zionist or subversive’ activities in academic institutions.

Its meeting on 28 April 2010 was devoted to a discussion of the “Exclusion of Zionist positions in Israeli Academe”.

Ronen Shoval, director, and five other representatives of right wing student group Im Tirtzu – the Second Zionist Revolution – were invited to make lengthy presentations to the Committee, based on research they had done.

They claimed that the majority of materials used in Political Science departments of Israeli universities about nationalism or Zionism were “anti-Zionist or post Zionist.” They did not identify the expert who had led the studies, the methodology, or the working definition of “anti-Zionist” or “post-Zionist”.”

They added that many Arab and Jewish anti-Zionist student groups and members of staff are allowed to organise freely on campus.

When asked by the Committee for recommendations, they called for the establishment of a supervisory committee or for regulation of the academic institutions.

The executive director of the Israel Council for Higher Education (CHE), Moshe Vigdor, also present at the Committee Meeting, voiced criticism of this approach and responded to Im Tirtzu’s proposals by suggesting ironically that a regulatory committee be set up “in the style of an Un-American Activities Committee.” Education Committee Chair MK Orlev reportedly responded that “the minutes of the meeting do not understand jokes.”

Two members of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) were also invited to the meeting but were not informed of its agenda or participants. They submitted a general statement in support of academic freedom ahead of the meeting.

At the meeting, ACRI members were not asked or permitted to speak and their submission was declared ‘irrelevant’ to the discussion. They left the meeting in protest.

An Education Committee press release issued later stated that “the Israel Council for Higher Education (CHE) must not ignore exploitation of academic freedoms for the purpose of anti-Zionist subversive activities and incitement against the state.”

Academic freedom does not include incitement or subversion, and if there is evidence for it as we have heard today, we must not ignore it”, said the Education Committee Chair MK Zvulun Orlev.

The Committee asked Im Tirtzu to submit a written report to the CHE and to the committee within two weeks, and requested that the CHE “hold a further discussion of the findings within three months and report to the Committee on its planned response.”

In response, ACRI has sent a letter to the Committee’s Chair, protesting at the exclusion of their submission and warning against interference with the autonomy and independence of academic institutions. The Education Committee, stressed the letter, has no legal authority under Israeli law to enforce regulation on academic institutions, and neither does the CHE.

Especially at this time, when challenges to academic freedom and freedom of expression are increasing, we would expect academic institutions to be the first to protect such freedoms.”

This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source

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