Sunday, October 25, 2009

Academic Freedom Means Free Discussion

I received Professor Itzhak Galnoor's article "Academic Freedom Under Political Duress: Israel" published in "Social Research", Issue: Volume 76, Number 2 / Summer 2009, Pages: 541 - 560, Special Issue: Special Issue: Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times, Part I, Published Online: 27 August 2009.

The Abstract:

Political duress within the academic community is a strong sense that there is a threat of external interference with core academic values and freedoms - free inquiry, free speech institutional autonomy and personal safety. After a short introduction to the background of Israeli higher education, this article focuses on two current threats: first, political intimidation originating from extreme nationalistic and religious groups aimed at silencing "nonloyal" voices inside and outside the Universities (for example, the pipe bomb that exploded on September 25, 2008, at the gate of Professor Ze'ev Sternhel's house, wounding him slightly, or the threats on the web site); second, a process of "commodification" - political and administrative pressures and the enforcement of a "management" and privatization policies (for example, budget cuts forcing internal institutional changes, shifts of resources, and competition). These steps have been accompanied by antiintellectualism under the slogan of the "democratization of higher education." Academic freedom is under duress in Israel because of the combination of these two attitudes and policies aimed at "taming" higher education.

Professor Steven Plaut took it on (here).

More criticism here and there's an interesting parallel subject here.

I also commented on the article within the Political Science Department list which is on the Social Science List of the Hebrew University.

So far, 10 days later, it has not been distributed.

I wonder why.

Anyway, in the interests of academic freedom, here are my observations as sent in:-

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Yisrael Medad
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 2009 20:23:29 +0200
Subject: Re: [Social Science- IL]: FW: מאמרי על השכלה גבוהה בישראל
To: Itzhak Galnoor

Since the article is in English, I will make my short comments in that language.

1. From an historic retrospective, I am surprised that Prof. Galnoor did not provide more information on the chronicles of the tension between the Hebrew University and its critics from the nationalist camp of Zionism. A most famous incident was the demonstration against the platform provided Norman Bentwich on February 10, 1932 when he was invited to talk on “Jerusalem, the City of Peace” as his inaugural lecture as a newly appointed academic staff member. Bentwich, who had
just been kicked out of the Mandatory administration as the attorney-general due to Arab pressure against Jewish officials, following the weak legal response to the 1929 riots, was seen as another attempt by the University’s head, JL Magnes, to fortify the Brit Shalom element within the faculty. A stink bomb was released and some arrests were made. (see: Nonnan and Helen Bentwich, Mandate Memories, 1918-1948, p.150; Shindler, Colin. The Triumph of Military Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right, p. 156).

The negotiations Magnes conducted with the Mufti (see: Cohen, Naomi, The Year after the Riots: American Responses to the Palestinian Crisis of 1929-30) as well as the mission of A.E. Simon to Germany on Magnes behalf for adult education were a clear pattern of political machinations and a clear ideological inclination and the University was considered almost from its beginning as a bastion for the pacifist, Central European approach to a Jewish presence in Eretz-Yisrael (background: Chen Merchaviah, Sefer Betar, Vol. I; S. Hattis, The Bi-National Idea in Palestine in Mandatory Times).

2. Besides the Min Hayesod episode and the powerful support provided by Hebrew University staff for opposition forces to Ben-Gurion mentioned, I am again surprised that Dr. Yoram Hazony’s story of the Hebrew U. and the establishment of Israel (in his The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul) is not mentioned nor the academic problems faced by Yosef Klausner in his non-appointments, evidence of
duress I would maintain from the Left. as well as other lecturers. Not even a footnote (see: Heyd, Michael, L’Université hébraïque de Jérusalem à travers ses acteurs: La première génération de professeurs, 1925–1948). Is duress only a right-wing/nationalist instrument?

3. But my main problem is one of definitions.

A) Is “political duress” correctly but “a strong sense of a threat of external interference with core academic values”? (p. 541) Could not there exist an internal phenomenon?

B) Are calls for the dismissal of academics for their opinions truly predicated on a “deep loathing for the whole [the whole?] idea of free thinking? (p. 549)

C) Is there really “a general negative disposition to professors” by the leaders of right-wing parties? (p. 549) Or, are professors respected (Chug HaProfessorim; BZ Netanyahu; et al.) by the right while these same professors are derided by their left-wing colleagues and left-wing political leaders? Is it all black and white?

If a professor expresses sympathy for Arab terrorists, even suggesting targets for them so as to better promote their political agenda (and I am specifically referring to an op-ed published in Haaretz on May 11, 2001, which was perceived as justifying Arab terror calling on Arabs to murder Jews and encouraging them to place explosive charges but only on the eastern side of the Green Line which contained these words: "There is no doubt regarding the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. If the Palestinians had a bit of sense, they would concentrate their struggle against the settlements.[...] They would similarly refrain from placing explosive charges on the western side of the Green Line."), is that an academic value that need be protected?

The article is an opening for a debate and I am sure other points will be discussed.

Yisrael Medad

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

David Faur-Levy, who runs the Israel Social Science chat list, is a leftwing fascist who censors what can appear on the list based on whether he agrees with the opinions being expressed. He sits in the same department with Galnoor and is censoring attempts at rebutting Galnoor on the list he controls.