The Radical Left Invades Ben-Gurion University
Radical anti-Zionism is once again rearing its ugly head at Ben-Gurion University (BGU). This week, BGU professor and anti-Zionist academic Oren Yiftachel will be moderating an “open discussion on 50 years of Israeli occupation,” hosted by the BGU student faction of Breaking the Silence. The event will feature the CEOs of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem, two notoriously radical NGOs that habitually slander and delegitimize Israel all across the world.
Yiftachel’s embrace of these anti-Israel groups is merely another chapter in the long and troubling history of academic politicization at BGU, which culminated several years ago, when the Council of Higher Education heavily sanctioned BGU’s Department of Politics and Government for its overwhelming radical orientation.
In its examination of the university, the Council for Higher Education issued a clear edict that any attempt to politicize academia should be rejected — an edict that has been brazenly flouted by BGU academics.
Earlier this year, BGU’s Middle East Studies Department voted unanimously to award Breaking the Silence with the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding, and the accompanying NIS20,000 ($5,200) cash prize. The thought of dozens of academics unanimously agreeing on anything, let alone awarding a prize to perhaps the most controversial NGO in Israel, is laughable.
But at an institution at which academics like Yiftachel promote the boycott of Israel, accuse the IDF of murdering innocents and even dub Israel an apartheid state, presenting an award to Breaking the Silence is relatively mild.
In a July 2016 interview with the Jerusalem Post, BGU President Rivka Carmi addressed the claims that the university has become a hub for anti-Israel academics: “There is a hardcore segment of about 50 to 80 faculty members out of 880, less than 10 percent that have this more Left orientation, but they are very vocal and they are very active…[the university] doesn’t have a political stance but it is somehow being stained.”
One can only wonder how the university “is somehow being stained,” when the only voices being heard by the students are those of the “very vocal” anti-Israel professors.
Carmi’s shocking admission that nearly 10 percent of BGU’s faculty possess an anti-Israel leaning (when the number is likely much larger) is a disturbing indication of the state of the university, regardless of Carmi’s attempt to claim otherwise. The fact that Carmi could trivialize such a reality is perhaps even more disturbing.
The blatant politicization continuously occurring at BGU not only bolsters radical NGOs working against Israel from within, but harms the quality of academia. As in the past, today academic freedom is being used to mask a clear political agenda being propagated by a large number of professors at BGU.
The exchange of ideas and freedom of speech are crucial tenets to a thriving society and higher education, and political groups like Breaking the Silence should have the right to organize events on campus grounds. But this does not give BGU faculty the mandate to engage in anti-Israel propaganda to the point at which students hear nothing else. Presenting only one side of the debate is not academic freedom; it is forced indoctrination.
Last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett took a positive step when he appointed Professor Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s Code of Conduct, to a position with a mandate to make recommendations for a similar code of conduct to be implemented at academic institutions.
This decision is a clear indication of the severity of the problem, and is an important step forward in dissolving the anti-Israel groupthink that pervades many university departments, especially those in the social sciences
Such politicization is not worthy of those who call themselves academics, and it is certainly not worthy of the students who wish to receive a pluralistic higher education.
The author is the International Relations Coordinator for the Im Tirtzu movement.