Teaching staff members also took part in the illegal protest held on the outskirts of campus two days earlier. Some of them have been calling for a boycott on Israel and characterizing it as an “apartheid state” – a term that has been well-perceived in the global anti-Israel market.
The true role played by Ben-Gurion University in Israeli academia’s overall anti-Zionist activity does not justify the reputation it built in this area. However, in recent years the university assumed the role of village fool in the academic arena, characterized by ridiculous displays of the abovementioned type.
However, it is not one professor or another who are responsible for Ben-Gurion University being perceived as second only to the Palestinian Birzeit University in respect to anti-Israeli sentiments. Such phenomena do not grow in a vacuum.
Let’s take the boycott motive for example. Upon taking office, a senior university official submitted to an interview where he pledged to take part in leftist student protests yet shun rightist ones. In the same interview, the official explained that one should join a boycott on global universities “should a substantial crime take place there.” Earlier, in January 2005, a boycott was organized against a guest lecture by Professor Yaakov Bergman, for “fear of his influence on young minds.” This year, ahead of the board of trustees’ session, a donor was boycotted (in writing!) and the same happened to a university professor.
Artistic freedom?And what about the Nazi circus discussed at the opening of this piece? Not too long ago, the university dismissed a member of the appointments committee for speaking out against the candidacy of an Israeli lecturer who lives in the US. This candidate organized a military insubordination campaign and compared IDF commanders and soldiers to the Nazis. The university’s official spokesman said that “a member of the appointments committee cannot take non-academic factors into consideration” – a response that infuriated online readers (“And what if it was Dr. Mengele?”)
Outside the university senate building we have a large poster bearing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s image, graced with a large “catastrophe” caption.” Anyone can come and see the display, which originally was meant to glorify Prime Minister Ben-Gurion. The protest expressed by about 90% of those signing the exhibit’s guestbook have not impressed university officials, who responded by saying this is “artistic freedom.”
The management of my university would do well to stop ridiculing itself and making people fed up with it, and instead contemplate the complex meaning of terms such as “academic freedom,” “freedom of speech,” “artistic freedom,” and “artistic considerations” vis-à-vis its own simplistic perception.
The mathematics department includes a serving professor whose son died a hero’s death during Operation Cast Lead, while defending the rocket-battered university. Would it be too much to ask university officials to consider, alongside the glorious academic freedom for lecturers to openly curse the IDF, the bereaved professor’s freedom not to hear his colleagues say that his son was a “Nazi criminal?”
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Israel David is a mathematics and operations research professor at Ben-Gurion University