Ben Gurion University
Ben Gurion University - Neve Gordon (Dept of Political
Science), who himself filed a fascist harassment SLAPP suit against
an Israeli professor to silence him because the latter had
criticized Gordon, now is suddenly concerned about freedom of speech
Such personal attacks are part of a much
broader assault on Israeli higher education and its professors. Two
recent incidents exemplify the protofascist logic that is being
deployed to undermine the pillars of academic freedom in Israel,
while also revealing that the assault on Israeli academe is being
backed by neoconservative forces in the United States....
Israeli academe, which was once considered a
bastion of free speech, has become the testing ground for the
success of the assault on liberal values. And although it is still
extremely difficult to hurt those who have managed to enter the
academic gates, those who have not yet passed the threshold are
clearly being monitored.
McCarthy In Israel
Written by Neve Gordon
Friday, 27 August 2010
On May 31, I joined some 50 students and faculty members who
gathered outside Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to demonstrate
against the Israeli military assault on the flotilla carrying
humanitarian aid toward Gaza. In response, the next day a few
hundred students marched toward the social-sciences building,
Israeli flags in hand. Amid the nationalist songs and pro-government
chants, there were also shouts demanding my resignation from the
One student even proceeded to create a Facebook group whose sole
goal is to have me sacked. So far over 2,100 people (many of them
nonstudents) have joined. In addition to death wishes and
declarations that I should be exiled, the site includes a call on
students to spy on me during class. "We believe," ends a message
written to the group, "that if we conduct serious and profound work,
we can, with the help of each and every one of you, gather enough
material to influence ... Neve Gordon's status at the university,
and maybe even bring about his dismissal."
Such personal attacks are part of a much broader assault on
Israeli higher education and its professors. Two recent incidents
exemplify the protofascist logic that is being deployed to undermine
the pillars of academic freedom in Israel, while also revealing that
the assault on Israeli academe is being backed by neoconservative
forces in the United States.
The first incident involves a report published by the
Institute for Zionist Strategies, in Israel, which analyzed
course syllabi in Israeli sociology departments and accused
professors of a "post-Zionist" bias. The institute defines
post-Zionism as "the pretense to undermine the foundations of the
Zionist ethos and an affinity with the radical leftist stream." In
addition to the usual Israeli leftist suspects, intellectuals like
Benedict Anderson and Eric Hobsbawm also figure in as post-Zionists
in the report.
The institute sent the report to the Israel Council for Higher
Education, which is the statutory body responsible for Israeli
universities, and the council, in turn, sent it to all of the
university presidents. Joseph Klafter, president of Tel-Aviv
asked several professors to hand over their syllabi for his
perusal, though he later
asserted that he had no intention of policing faculty members
and was appalled by the report.
A few days later, the
top headline of the Israeli daily Haaretz revealed that
another right-wing organization, Im Tirtzu (If You Will It), had
threatened Ben-Gurion University, where I am a professor and a
former chair of the government and politics department. Im Tirtzu
told the university's president, Rivka Carmi, that it would persuade
donors to place funds in escrow unless the university took steps "to
put an end to the anti-Zionist tilt" in its politics and government
department. The organization demanded a change "in the makeup of the
department's faculty and the content of its syllabi," giving the
president a month to meet its ultimatum. This time my head was not
the only one it wanted.
President Carmi immediately asserted that Im Tirtzu's demands
were a serious threat to academic freedom. However, Minister of
Education Gideon Sa'ar, who is also chairman of the Council for
Higher Education, restricted his
response to a cursory statement that any move aimed at harming
donations to universities must be stopped. Mr. Sa'ar's response was
disturbingly predictable. Only a few months earlier, he had spoken
at an Im Tirtzu gathering, following its publication of a report
about the so-called leftist slant of syllabi in Israeli
political-science departments. At the gathering, he asserted that
even though he had not read the report, its conclusions would be
taken very seriously.
Although the recent scuffle seems to be about academic freedom,
the assault on the Israeli academe is actually part of a much wider
offensive against liberal values. Numerous forces in Israel are
mobilizing in order to press forward an extreme-right political
They have chosen the universities as their prime target for two
main reasons. First, even though Israeli universities as
institutions have never condemned any government policy—not least
the restrictions on Palestinian universities' academic freedom—they
are home to many vocal critics of Israel's rights-abusive policies.
Those voices are considered traitorous and consequently in need of
being stifled. Joining such attacks are Americans like Alan M.
Dershowitz, who in a recent visit to Tel-Aviv University called for
the resignations of professors who supported the Palestinian call
for a boycott of Israeli goods and divestment from Israeli companies
until the country abides by international human-rights law. He named
Rachel Giora and Anat Matar, both tenured professors at Tel Aviv
University, as part of that group.
Second, all Israeli universities depend on public funds for about
90 percent of their budget. This has been identified as an Achilles
heel. The idea is to exploit the firm alliance those right-wing
organizations have with government members and provide the
ammunition necessary to make financial support for universities
conditional on the dissemination of nationalist thought and the
suppression of "subversive ideas." Thus, in the eyes of those
right-wing Israeli organizations, the universities are merely arms
of the government.
And, yet, Im Tirtzu and other such organizations would not have
been effective on their own; they depend on financial support from
backers in the United States. As it turns out, some of their
ideological allies are willing to dig deep into their pockets to
support the cause.
The Rev. John C. Hagee, the leader of Christians United for
Israel, has been Im Tirtzu's sugar daddy, and his ministries have
provided the organization with at least $100,000. After Im Tirtzu's
most recent attack, however, even Mr. Hagee concluded that it had
gone overboard and
decided to stop giving funds. The Hudson Institute, a
neoconservative think tank that helped shape the Bush
administration's Middle East policies, has
funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Institute for
Zionist Strategies over the past few years, and was practically its
only donor. For Christians United and the Hudson Institute, the
attack on academic freedom is clearly also a way of advancing much
The Hudson Institute, for example, has neo-imperialist objectives
in the Middle East, and a member of its Board of Trustees is in
attacking Iran. Christian United's eschatological position
(whereby the Second Coming is dependent on the gathering of all Jews
in Israel), includes support for such an attack. The scary
partnership between such Israeli and American organizations helps
reveal the true aims of this current assault on academic freedom: to
influence Israeli policy and eliminate the few liberal forces that
are still active in the country. The atmosphere within Israel is
conducive to such intervention.
Nonetheless, Im Tirtzu's latest threat backfired, as did that of
the Institute for Zionist Strategies' report; the assaults have been
foiled for now. The presidents of all the universities in Israel
condemned the reports and promised never to bow down to this version
Despite those declarations, the rightist organizations have
actually made considerable headway. Judging from comments on
numerous online news sites, the populist claim that the public's tax
money is being used to criticize Israel has convinced many readers
that the universities should be more closely monitored by the
government and that "dissident" professors must be fired. Moreover,
the fact that the structure of Israeli universities has changed
significantly over the past five years, and that now most of the
power lies in the hands of presidents rather than the faculty, will
no doubt be exploited to continue the assault on academic freedom.
Top university administrators are already stating that if the
Israeli Knesset approves a law against the Boycott, Divestment, and
Sanctions Movement for Palestine, the law will be
used to fire faculty members who support the movement.
More importantly, there is now the sense among many faculty
members that a thought police has been formed—and that many of its
officers are actually members of the academic community. The fact
that students are turning themselves into spies and that syllabi are
being collected sends a chilling message to faculty members across
the country. I, for one, have decided to include in my syllabi a
notice restricting the use of recording devices during class without
my prior consent. And many of my friends are now using Gmail instead
of the university e-mail accounts for fear that their correspondence
will in some way upset administrators.
Israeli academe, which was once considered a bastion of free
speech, has become the testing ground for the success of the assault
on liberal values. And although it is still extremely difficult to
hurt those who have managed to enter the academic gates, those who
have not yet passed the threshold are clearly being monitored.
I know of one case in which a young academic was not hired due to
his membership in Courage to Refuse, an organization of reserve
soldiers who refuse to do military duty in the West Bank. In a
Google and Facebook age, the thought police can easily disqualify a
candidate based on petitions signed and even online "friends" one
has. Israeli graduate students are following such developments, and
for them the message is clear.
While in politics nothing is predetermined, Israel is heading
down a slippery slope. Israeli academe is now an arena where some of
the most fundamental struggles of a society are being played out.
The problem is that instead of struggling over basic human rights,
we are now struggling over the right to struggle.
Neve Gordon is the author of
Israel's Occupation, for more information click here.
Neve's website is www.israelsoccupation.info.