Thursday, January 16, 2014

Real Academic Freedom

Ariel Rubinstein published, after attending as a particpant a Tel Aviv University conference "Knowledge in this Era: Historical Perspectives, Contemporary Challenges and the Future of Higher Education...ostensibly devoted to the subject of knowledge and academic freedom", ---

an op-ed.  

He saw how a 

"conference was organized by lecturers who are proud of their struggle against 'the Zionist project,' and consider research institutes a legitimate base for action."

His "political views are labeled leftist" but he feels 

"obliged to discuss my experiences at the event precisely because of my views, and precisely because I have come out previously against other nonacademic activity that took place within the realm of academia."

He notes that the announcement for the conference contained this: “Recently a series of events and processes … have been mounting up into what appears to be a crisis in Israeli academia: from widespread budget cuts to a weakening of the authority of the Council for Higher Education (the process of establishing the university in Ariel is a paradigmatic example [my emphasis])” and is puzzled:

A paradigmatic example of what? Of the weakening of the CHE's authority, it would seem. But just a few sentences later, the text criticizes that body for overreaching in terms of its authority, complaining of “government interference in academic affairs, including attempts to shut down entire departments or to have faculty members dismissed.” So does the CHE have too much or too little authority?"...The establishment of a "university" in Ariel has practically nothing to do with any harm that's being done to the system of higher education in general. The authors of the online declaration link the two because they are captive to the “corrupting occupation” paradigm, which doesn’t always apply.

And then this:

The occupation is bad because it’s an occupation; settlement is bad because it uproots another people from its homeland and the Jewish people from its moral core. The occupation is not bad because it leads to economic ruin (perhaps the opposite is true); the occupation is not bad because the money is going to the settlements instead of certain neighborhoods (it wouldn’t necessarily have gone to the neighborhoods anyway); nor is it bad because it makes Israeli society less democratic (indeed, in many ways, the Israel of 2014 is more democratic than the Israel of 1964). But none of that can be reconciled with the conference organizers' apocalyptic world-view.

It also bothers him that

The poster for the recent conference was emblazoned with the logo of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Israel, which was listed as a partner. For goodness sake: What is the German government doing as a partner in a controversial academic conference in Israel? If it’s okay for the German government, then why can’t the Israeli government be a partner in a conference on “Judea and Samaria Studies”? Another partner in the conference was the Heinrich Boll Foundation, which is proudly aligned with the German Green Party. If a German political party is a legitimate partner, why can’t an archaeology department join forces with the City of David (Ir David) Foundation? And why shouldn’t a genetics department accept right-wing millionaires as partners in the quest for the Jewish gene? 

He zeroes in:

The muddling of academia with that which is not part of academia is not unique to people fighting against “the Zionist regime.” For example, TAU's Steinmetz Center for Peace Research chose the German Green Party as a partner in marking “Twenty Years Since the Oslo Accords.” For its part, sometimes with the university, the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel actively promotes plans to change the country’s system of government, such as raising the vote threshold for the Knesset to 4 percent. As part of these activities, professors seem to reach out to politicians more than politicians are trying to stick their hands into academia. But when lecturers uses the halls of academia to promote an ideological agenda, students ought to be outraged, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the taxpaying public is tempted to intervene...I am opposed to Israeli government policy in many areas. But I appreciate the fact that, at the end of the day, all of the country's governments have done an outstanding job of preserving academic freedom in Israel...There are some who would complain about fragility, and end up shattering the glass.

Left is not liberal.  Nor humanist.  Nor progressive.  Not at all necessarily.

It is a political and ideological outlook that is equal to and sometimes worse than any other outlook.

And more often than not, quite hypocritical.


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