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Editorial Article

Hebrew University - The Leftwing McCarthyism of Prof. Itzhak Galnoor (Dept of Political Science)

by Prof. Steven Plaut,
University of Haifa

Itzhak Galnoor is a left-leaning (generally non-extremist) professor of political science at the Hebrew University, and he also has long been associated with the semi-Marxist “Van Leer Institute,” a think tank in Jerusalem. He has a PhD in political science from Syracuse University. For much of his career, Galnoor was a high official in Israel civil service, and from 1994–96 he served as Head of the Civil Service Commission. One of the things he did in this capacity was to introduce broad affirmative action preferences for Arabs and women in Israel’s civil service. He has also been an official in the Israel Science Foundation. Many of his publications concern civil service questions; some are about the history of Zionism.

Prof. Galnoor thinks Israeli academic freedom is being threatened by Israel’s non-leftists. In his view the ultimate manifestation of academic freedom is when far-leftist academics can build careers on political advocacy of extremist ideology without anyone being allowed to criticize them. In particular, Galnoor thinks that leftist academic extremists are entitled to unlimited freedom of speech, but watchdog monitoring groups like and should be prohibited from citing and documenting the public political activity of academic extremists in a critical manner. Galnoor insists that such monitoring groups are themselves “McCarthyist [sic].” He writes: “This is the first step to apparently “clean” the universities from academic saboteurs who are capable of treason. This is not very far from the blacklisting practices in the United States during the McCarthy era.”

Galnoor recently published a non-academic ideological article attacking the exercise of academic freedom by critics of leftists in Israel. The article now appears in a semi-academic journal called “Social Research.” That journal/magazine is published by the leftist “New School for Social Research” in New York. The magazine is ideologically driven and it openly advocates political positions, such as its issue denouncing the United States for incarcerating so many criminals, and it has run articles sympathetic to suicide bombers.

In the most recent issue of “Social Research,” Galnoor publishes an article entitled, “Academic Freedom under Duress: Israel.” In large part it is an ideological attack against the exercise of freedom of speech by critics of Israel’s tenured radicals and its far-leftist anti-Israel faculty members. Galnoor evidently thinks such people should be exempt from public and private criticism. Expressing criticism and denunciations of the anti-Israel political activities of such radicals is itself an intolerable assault against academic freedom, insists Galnoor in his article. Academic freedom should be defended for those who attack Israel and seek its destruction, but not for anyone criticizing such people or questioning their motives.

Galnoor’s article is devoted to “proving” two things: that “political intimidation originating from extreme nationalistic and religious groups aimed at silencing ‘nonloyal’ voices inside as well as outside the universities;” and that Israeli education is undergoing “commodification,” by which Galnoor seems to mean adopting some cost-benefits decision making in institutions of higher education, including some changes in management.

The article is 19 pages in its final published form in the journal. It begins by retelling the history of the development of institutions of higher education in Israel. But the main theme of the article is that non-leftists in Israel are terrorizing and suppressing academic freedom in Israel. Galnoor’s evidence? Well, it consists mainly of Galnoor’s mentioning the bomb that was left outside the home of far-leftist professor Ze’ev Sternhell, which injured the latter lightly. The Israeli Left has been banging away at that incident ever since it happened to prove how anti-democratic the Israeli Right and religious Jews are. The only problem is that there is not the slightest bit of evidence that a Rightist Jew, or for that matter any Jew at all, was behind the attack on Sternhell.

The ready willingness to jump to the conclusion that Jewish Rightists were behind the attack is illustration of Galnoor’s complete lack of serious argument in his article, and frankly is itself little more than leftist McCarthyism. If Sternhell is a leftist, it must be that the attack on him came from Jewish rightists, believes Galnoor. Just how Galnoor knows it was not an attack by Arab terrorists is unclear, since such terrorists had reasons to target Sternhell, the recipient of the Israel Prize just before the attack. But Galnoor is a master of the non sequitur and requires no evidence for his analysis. Galnoor writes: “No group took responsibly, but leaflets found on the scene indicated the right-wing ideology of those who did it.” Actually Rightwing political leaflets were found on bulletin boards in the neighborhood near the attack and these did not take credit for it. Galnoor adds: “The police issued a statement saying that they believed the attack was ideologically motivated.” Note the missing words “by Rightwing Jews” in the tendentious citation from the police.

From non sequitur, Galnoor proceeds to demonizing Israeli non-leftists in general. The attack on Sternhell proves that the Israeli Jewish Right has declared war on academic freedom and academic institutions, insists Galnoor. So what other evidence does he have of such a Rightist cabal? Well, a student magazine claimed to have found that 28% of the courses taught at the Hebrew University have anti-Israel content. Galnoor offers no evidence that this student claim is incorrect, although he clearly resents non-leftist students exercising THEIR academic freedom when they make such a claim. Who are they to have a point of view?

And then to drive his point home, he takes a few quotations from a web site that monitors and exposes Israel’s anti-Israel academics. Galnoor presents the existence of such web citations as proof that academic freedom is an endangered species in Israel. He denounces the web campus monitors, including Campus Watch in the United States.

Here are the three citations taken from the monitoring web site that Galnoor waves as stigmata, proving academic freedom is under attack by the Israeli Right:

*   Israeli university campuses may be more politicized and contain larger numbers of extremists than universities in other democratic countries, people working to support the enemies of their own country during a time of war.

*   Academic colleagues get used to it - yes, you are being watched. Those obscure articles in campus newspapers are now available on the Internet . . . your syllabi will be scrutinized, your websites will be visited late at night. . .

*   [D]uring the Intifada, professor [full name appeared in origin and deleted by author] from Ben-Gurion University illegally entered Ramallah to serve as human shield for wanted murderers and to show his solidarity with terrorism.

Now as it turns out, every single sentence in those three citations is factually correct. But Galnoor is part of a new movement in Israeli academia, one insisting that it is anti-democratic to cite verbatim what anti-Israel radical faculty members say or to cite news stories in the mainstream media about the public political activities of anti-Israel radical academics.

Galnoor also has a tantrum over accusations that some radical Israeli faculty members foment mutiny and insurrection among Israeli soldiers. But the role of hundreds of such faculty in promoting and celebrating refusal by soldiers to serve in the army out of political ideology is very well documented and familiar to all Israelis. Galnoor also gets indignant at claims that some Israeli leftist faculty collaborate with anti-Israel groups, and especially objects to the word “collaboration.” Yet scores of Israeli leftist faculty participate in anti-Israel activities around the world, including the movement to boycott and divest from Israel, and scores have openly called for Israel to be annihilated altogether. Anti-Israel radical faculty routinely write articles for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish web sites and magazines, and in a few cases have collaborated with Neo-Nazis and Holocaust Deniers. Just what does Galnoor find inaccurate in such characterizations?

Galnoor’s main objection? “’Collaborator with the enemy’ also was used against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was murdered by a fanatic in 1995.” So here Galnoor implies his agreement with the discredited leftist McCarthyist “theory” that Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated because non-leftists dared to exercise THEIR freedom of speech. Who is the real McCarthyist here?

Galnoor then dismisses the criticism of leftist anti-Israel academic extremists thus: “The irony is that all of this is done in the name of ‘free speech’ and such sites claim that democratic transparency and accountability are the goal of their efforts at exposure.” I am afraid I am unable to see any irony. If academic freedom protects the right of academic extremists to support terrorist atrocities and rocket attacks against Jews, why does it not also protect the right to criticize those who express such opinions?

Galnoor only sees political violence when it comes out of the political Right. The weekly leftist hooliganism and violence directed against soldiers and policemen in Bil’in and elsewhere in the West Bank, where some of the hooligans are themselves tenured academics, is just not on his radar screen. Neither are the statements by Israeli academics endorsing violence and terrorism. Galnoor mentions the grenade attack against the leftist non-academic Emil Grunzweig, but not the espionage activities by Israeli leftist extremists (one convicted spy now teaching at Israel’s Open University) nor the acts of law breaking and violence by leftist “protesters.”

Galnoor denounces politicians from the Israeli Right when they complain about the overwhelming hegemony of leftists in many Israeli university departments. Here is Galnoor: “Consequently, many of their leaders have a general negative disposition toward ‘professors’ (especially in the humanities and social sciences) when it comes to allocations from the state budget.” Now someone as devoted to diversity and academic freedom as Galnoor might have conceded that those politicians are indeed onto something. If diversity is something good, then why not ideological diversity? There are dozens of academic departments in Israel in which no non-leftists teach and in which no religious Jews teach. Since it is arguably the case that Galnoor’s most enduring achievement when he was head of the Israeli civil service was the wholesale implementation of “affirmative action” preferences for women and Arabs, why is he so opposed to a bit of affirmative action for non-leftists to achieve some ideological diversity in these university departments?

Besides battling against the “McCarthyism” of non-leftists who dare to criticize leftists, Galnoor’s other bogeyman in his article is “privatization” and “new forms of management” in Israeli universities. His concern is that Israeli taxpayers, who cover the lion’s share of the budgets of Israeli universities, may demand accountability and a say in what is being done with their money. But this section of his article need not concern us here and can be debunked elsewhere.

Galnoor sums up his case: “The emergence of threats to HE (higher education) coincided with the emergence of potential threats to Israeli democracy and they come from the same ‘extreme groups on the far right’—a combination of ultranationalist and ultramessianic groups.”

Let us translate this for you. Itzhak Galnoor is alarmed that the leftist hegemony over so many departments at Israeli universities is being publicized, scrutinized and challenged these days. Galnoor is himself anti-democratic, someone whose real fear is that non-leftists might actually come to enjoy freedom of speech in Israel and - Heavens to Betsy - perhaps even on Israeli campuses. Galnoor’s version of freedom of speech is where academic extremists build careers out of turning out anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate propaganda, but where no one should be allowed to criticize or denounce them for doing so, or even mention it.

Criticizing an anti-Israel hatemonger is itself the worst violation of democracy and academic freedom in Itzhak Galnoor’s Orwellian little world.


Postscript:  There is a chat list for Israeli academics in the social sciences called "Social Science List," run by the leftist Prof. David Faur-Levi,, an anti-democratic political science academic in the same department with Galnoor.  Faur-Levi ran Galnoor's article on his chat list but refused to run my commentary and response to Galnoor, printed above.  The Hebrew University's First Amendment strikes again.


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