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Education Minister Naftali Bennett. No need to provide professors with a weapon
Photo: Motti Kimchi
Ben-Dror Yemini
Ethical code for professors won’t solve the problem
Op-ed: The problem is not academics expressing their political opinion; the problem is that it’s always the same opinion. So instead of silencing people, critical thinking should be allowed through a diverse and wide presentation of approaches.
It was a workshop led by a Tel Aviv University professor affiliated with the Joint Arab List. The workshop, which was held in cooperation with radical left-wing organizations, included practical work guided by the organizations’ activists with the purpose of publishing “a book together with the organizations.” In return, the students received a modest scholarship funded by those organizations. Was it an academic trick or propaganda?

 

 

And when professors express their opinion on the “Zionist project,” which looks like Islamic Movement propaganda material—is that permitted or forbidden? “The Left’s hilltop youth,” Prof. Ariel Rubinstein, who is not affiliated with the Right, once wrote about some of these lecturers. And what about when the head of the Eli pre-army academy, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, speaks ill of homosexuals and women’s military service? After all, most left-wing people were in favor of taking measures against him for this chauvinistic and homophobic preaching.

 

Should rules of ethics be applied in the public educational system in general, and in the academic in particular, to prevent political shows of this kind? I believe that when a university or yeshiva course turns into an incubator for spreading the ideas of a racist organization like Lehava, for example, it’s not academic freedom—it’s brainwashing and preaching racism.

 

Lecturers should be allowed to voice outrageous theories, as long as there is no brainwashing and as long as opposing opinions are presented too (Photo: Shutterstock)
Lecturers should be allowed to voice outrageous theories, as long as there is no brainwashing and as long as opposing opinions are presented too (Photo: Shutterstock)

 

The problem is that too many professors are finding it difficult to understand that anti-Zionism belongs to the racism department too. They use the stage, the occasion and the academic immunity to spread propaganda against the actual Zionist idea. They are not the majority in academic institutions, but in certain departments, in the fields of humanities and social sciences, they are not a very small minority either. Their influence is bad and perceivable.

 

Prof. Ephraim Yaar checked the syllabus of an introduction course, which should have reflected—more than other courses—a wide spectrum of opinions. Yaar, who is not affiliated with the Right either, was shocked at what he found. “There is an unfair use of authority here in a bid to inspire one-dimensional thinking,” he wrote.

 

It’s a known phenomenon: Certain departments are turning into an exclusive club, which only takes in members from the radical left. The academic staff at the Department for Middle East studies at Ben-Gurion University, for example, decided to grant an award to a radical left-wing organization. Let’s just assume that it was a legitimate move. But when it turns out that the decision was made unanimously, that’s already proof of academic bolshevism, which is the complete opposite of open and critical thinking.

 

Nevertheless, I doubt lecturers can be forbidden to express political opinions. Even angels will find it difficult to separate between the expression of a political opinion and a research statement on matters related to Israel, Judaism, Zionism and nationality. The problem is not in the actual expression of an opinion. The problem is that it’s the same opinion.

 

The mission, therefore, is not to silence people. The mission is to allow critical thinking through a diverse and wide presentation of approaches. The Zionist enterprise can be criticized. Outrageous theories should be voiced as well, as long as there is no brainwashing and as long as opposing opinions are presented too.

 

There is a difference between academic and historical criticism and the fact that certain courses are turned into a propaganda branch of radical left-wing groups. And there is a huge difference between the demand for “openness, freedom of speech and criticism” and the fact that in certain departments there is a one and only voice, or almost a one and only voice—the voice of the radical left.

 

The professors who are the subject of these rules of ethics have already announced that they will disregard them. They also know that no one will try to enforce these rules, because they will enlist the entire academic world to an anti-Israel boycott. There is no need to provide them with a weapon. The big change should take place in the lecturers’ admission committees, because ideological nepotism is destroying the academia. It’s hard, but a way must be found to do it—not in order to silence people, but on the contrary, in order to widen the variety of approaches.

 

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