ISRAEL - Right-wing group seeks sacking of left-wing lecturers

FROM IRISH TIMES 18 AUGUST 2010: Right-wing group seeks sacking of left-wing lecturers

MARK WEISS in Jerusalem

A RIGHT-WING pressure group is threatening to drive donors away from one of Israel’s top universities if the institution does not sack left-wing lecturers and alter its allegedly “anti-Zionist” curriculum.

The Im Tirzu advocacy group wrote a letter to Beersheba’s Ben- Gurion university threatening to pressurise donors to withdraw their money unless the “left-wing bias” among teaching staff was addressed and alterations made to the study programme within 30 days. It also said it would try to persuade potential political science students to boycott the university.

Im Tirzu was set up by right-wing students in 2006 and has campaigned to expose what it perceives as a left-wing bias in Israeli academia. Im Tirzu means, “if you will it”, and is a quotation from Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

A recent Im Tirzu report said that nine out of 11 academic staff members in the Ben-Gurion politics and government department are involved in “radical left” political activity, and that three out of six doctoral candidates signed a petition supporting a senior lecturer who backed an international academic boycott of Israel.

Israel’s education minister, Gidon Sa’ar, condemned the Im Tirzu campaign. “Regardless of the claims concerning pluralism in Israeli academia, I categorically reject any move which would harm donations to Israeli universities, or to condition such donations.”

Minister of minority affairs Avishai Braverman, who served as Ben-Gurion university president before entering politics, termed the Im Tirtzu move “borderline fascism”. “Academia is a stronghold of ideas and we need to defend it,” Mr Braverman said. “Academic freedom is such that it can’t be influenced by external sources. If there is a Zionist university, Ben- Gurion is it.”

Ben-Gurion university rejected the call to employ more right-wing staff members. “A demand to ‘balance’ the staff members’ political views is extremely reminiscent of McCarthyism and goes against the democratic principles on which the state of Israel was founded,” the university said.

Prof David Newman , the newly appointed dean of Ben-Gurion’s faculty of humanities and social sciences, who has led Israel’s efforts against the international academic boycott, termed the Im Tirzu campaign “a clear attempt to threaten the university in an era of diminishing financial resources”.

He described the accusations of left-wing bias as “very far from the truth”. Accusations from the right in Israel against alleged left-wing bias in Israeli universities are nothing new. Most academics identify with the progressive wing in Israeli politics, and this was one of the key arguments used by Israelis opposing the campaign abroad for a boycott of Israeli universities.