I’m all in favor of applying the ethical code written by Prof. Asa Kasher. I too sat in lectures at Tel Aviv University’s Gilman Building and listened to political preaching from different professors. Often, there was something slightly amusing or thought-provoking about it; most of the time, it was exhausting and a waste of precious time. But if we want to prevent professors in the academia from dealing with political issues in their lectures, this should be prevented in all public educational institutions funded by the state.
It’s no secret, and I’m certain there is not a single decent person in the Right who would dare argue against the fact right-wing political discourse and preaching are openly taking place in all religious and ultra-Orthodox educational institutions in Israel.
Let’s put the Haredi sector aside for minute, as Israeli society has already lost hope long ago and has given up on demanding that this sector honor basic civil duties. It’s pretty clear the goal of the rightist-religious political leadership these days is to silence anyone who thinks differently. Not only are the heads of high school yeshivot and hesder yeshivot routinely dealing with controversial political issues on the state’s agenda, but they are also sending their students, day and night, to political rallies and protests.
Whoever denies there are clear biases towards the right in yeshiva educational institutions and in religious girls’ high schools, as part of the lessons and sermons of the yeshiva heads and teachers, is either playing dumb or knowingly lying.
So if we want an ethical code that bars educators from expressing political views as part of Israel’s public educational institutions, it should be barred in all systems: Elementary schools and high schools, high school yeshivot and religious girls’ high schools, hesder yeshivot and even in the kollels for married yeshiva students (which, as we know, are funded by the state).
Such a solution, of course, will never cross the minds of the defenders of the integrity of the common student’s spirit. After all, can we separate Torah studies in a yeshiva, for example, from the need to protect the alleged halachic ruling that forbids us to give back territories from the Land of Israel? That is unthinkable!
Well, this doesn’t apply only to yeshivot: The intellectual life of the academia requires expressions of diverse views, even if it means voicing a controversial political opinion as part of chemistry classes, and all the more so in humanities and social sciences. Just like the Halacha is the heart and soul of the religious and Haredi yeshiva, freedom of opinion and the ability to openly express opinions, both in and outside of class, are the heart and soul of the academia in a democratic regime.
The heads of the yeshivot and religious girls’ high schools and pre-military yeshivot will continue, therefore, to preach their right-wing opinions to their students. These systems, as we know, have already produced two glorious Yigals: Yigal Amir and Rabbi Yigal Levinstein. On the other side, other universities, each with its own intellectual makeup, will keep voicing different opinion, both left-wing and right-wing.
The democratic society’s strength and intellectual discourse stem from our ability to tolerate different political and social opinions, and the academic arena is one of the most important arenas for this occurrence. It’s not always pleasant for everyone, but those who want to prevent this discourse should prevent it in their own institutions as well. The attempt to only silence the university systems, most of which have a secular—although not necessarily left-wing—nature, means that the right-wing and religious educational systems will be the only ones with the right to express free opinions. All the others will keep their mouths shut.
Dov Elbaum is a writer, television host and senior educator at BINA—The Jewish Movement for Social Change.