Prof. Oren Yiftachel: Your assistance is needed

The Israeli Council of Higher Education (CHE known also in Hebrew as MALAG) is on the verge of ordering the closure of the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University (BGU), Beersheba, Israel.

An important CHE meeting on this matter will take place on October 23rd. Hence, the many friends of the department, and of academic freedom and critical thought, feel that international pressure may save this very important department.  We are asking you to write and lobby on this matter, as detailed below.

Background: The Politics Dept. at BGU was founded some 12 years ago, and became home to some of the most progressive researchers, several of them dealing with space, planning and human rights.

During the last five years it became the subject of concerted attacks by nationalist organizations (led mainly by west bank settlers), such as “Im Tirtzu” and “Institute for Zionist Strategy” which began a public campaign of incitement and hatred, supported by large donations by the American Jewish and Christian Fundamentalist Right.   We have firm evidence for all this.

Two years ago the Israeli CHE, now under the rightwing minister of education Gidon Sa’ar, appointed an international evaluation committee for the department. The committee was stacked with conservatives and recommended a range of changes to make the department more mainstream, and improve its ‘political balance’.

As an aside let us remind you that many academic departments in Israel are homogenous, usually on the Zionist-conservatist side. But no official body raises with them the issue of ‘balance’. They are safe under the current hegemony.

Regarding the review process –  the Politics Department at BGU has actually implemented the committee recommendation, and received a good ‘bill of health’ from the international committee. Reacting to this, the Israeli Minister of Education recently decided to appoint another evaluation committee, who recommended to close the department!

Notably, this department is academically very solid, and leads all equivalent Israeli departments in publications, impact factors, student registration and grants.

Any thinking person can clearly see that the intervention is blatantly political. The government and its satellite nationalist organizations have made this department a test case in their quest to silence critical academics.  To this end, we should do all we can to save this department, and with it critical and free research, particularly as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Against the worrying scenario of a Mccarthyist purge, we would like to ask for your help. Israeli officials and professors are sensitive to their international image. Hence we ask you to express grave concern about the possible closure of the department. A particularly effective way may be writing directly to the members of the CHE listed above (under the “Act to Protect Academic Freedom in Israel” heading).  Most of them are professors and may be swayed by Israel’s international reputation and by the need to protect academic freedom.

Of course, you may also write to journalist, blogs, petitions, electronic media, to your politicians, your governments and to heads of Israeli universities with a clear message – closing an academic department through blatant political intervention will gravely stain Israel’s standing in the a academy, and hinder future contact and status with academics worldwide!

We appreciate your help very much!

Prof. Oren Yiftachel, on behalf of friends of the Politics and Government Department, Ben-Gurion University.

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6 comments

  1. Charles Burnett

    I am appalled that a well-respected academic department should be arbitrarily closed. The whole purpose of a department of political science is to educate young people in critical analysis, to prevent bias and prejudice, which is what this department has done. It is completely unfair that the department should itself be the victim of such bias.

    Professor Charles Burnett

  2. David van Wyk

    This attack on academic freedom is absolutely appalling.
    David van Wyk

  3. Menahem Fuchs

    Prof. Yiftachel, where can the public read the report of the committee which recommended the closure of the department? Furthermore, has the department issued a formal response to the findings and recommendations, addressing them individually?

  4. Academic freedom and critical thought are of course the lifeblood of a democratic society. They are also crucial to the efforts we are making in Europe to forestall an academic boycott of Israel. The threat to close a department, some of whose members are highly respected in international academic circles, is an act of total folly.

  5. Pingback: The full story behind the war against free speech in Israel’s universities | Independent Australian Jewish Voices

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