A dangerous and extreme ultimatum. This is how Israeli academia views the "threat letter" sent by rightist group "Im Tirtzu" to Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi claiming that donations and students will be steered away from the institution unless more right-wing staff is added to the faculty and the curricula changed.
New Israel Fund President Prof. Naomi Hazan said to Ynet, "These threats are not new. They represent only part of the very worrisome process of de-democratization of Israel, which is being orchestrated by extreme right-wing organizations."
Officials at Beersheba's university were unfazed. "I know most of the benefactors," said Ben-Gurion's Executive Committee chairman, Yair Green. "This letter is a desperate attempt that will not succeed in bringing harm to the university, which is the embodiment of the Zionist enterprise according to Ben-Gurion's vision."
Green added, "Most of the benefactors are aware of the opinions of the faculty members and believe in the university's method, despite the letter."
He added that the university has no intention of deferring to the threats made by Im Tirtzu. "Since when does an academic institution capitulate to an extremist and insane ultimatum from a movement like this one? Their headline resulted only in more headlines and damage. Many of our donations come from people in the US, some of whom hold beliefs that do not conform to those of the faculty members. This does not prevent them from donating," Green said.
Despite extensive press coverage of the harshly-worded letter, it seems as though the movement's members have not received much support from the right wing.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's office stated that, "Regardless of the claims relating to pluralism within Israeli academia and other issues, Education Minister and Chairman of the Committee for Higher Education Gideon Sa'ar discounts any move that is liable to harm donations to universities in Israel and their conditions."
Minister Avishay Braverman, the former president of the university, flatly rejected Im Tirzu's demand. "There is no institute in Israel more Zionist than this university. This demand reflects a complete misunderstanding of the principles on which academia is based," Braverman said.
He also noted that faculty members at the university are in no way employed on the basis of their political opinions.
Ben-Gurion University. 'Most Zionist in all of country' (Photo: Yakov Saar, GPO)
"There was one lecturer (at the university), and three or four country-wide that used their positions to call for a boycott of Israel. They indeed crossed a line, and severe sanctions must be imposed from within the academic institution. There are always outliers of this kind, but academia is built on the freedom to express any idea," said the minister.
Braverman also expressed concern that the letter would unjustly damage the university's reputation.
"Donors may read these things and begin to think that perhaps this institution really does go against Zionism. Donors have already contacted me asking what the meaning of all this is. What is written here receives headlines in the US as well," said Braverman.
"No university in Israel needs to prove its faculty's love of the homeland, certainly not to a political body that is trying to pass off a false and manipulative 'research' document in order to publicly advertise itself."
Boaz Filer contributed to this article