Op-Ed: MUST READ:Israel Academe Exposed
Ben Dror YeminiThe author is senior writer and member of the Executive Board of Israel's Maariv newspaper.
Israeli universities were not established with the sole purpose of promoting any Zionist vision of Israel. A call for an academic boycott against Israel or a call to dismiss professors from the left or from the right is unworthy of consideration. Yet when respected branches of Israeli academia allow themselves to be misused as tools of an anti-Zionist agenda and as de facto appendages of radical left-wing NGOs – it is imperative to make this known.
The problem arises when the right to publicize and criticize is met with a counter campaign designed to intimidate, expose, and condemn. That is what threatens both freedom of expression and proper public discourse.
A case in point: Here is the official description (http://law.huji.ac.il/merkazim.asp?cat=936&in=610) of a university course given at an Israeli university:
“The course will focus on the controlling techniques that were generated by the Israeli occupation in the territories. We will study the historic sources of these techniques and will attempt to place them within the colonialist context, especially that of the British and French.”
Sounds somewhat dubious, but nevertheless it is not a crime to teach about the “Israeli Occupation,” and it is even permissible to invent an artificial connection with Western colonization from previous centuries.
The course description continues as follows: “In addition to Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, attorney Michael Sfard will oversee the course as a guest lecturer and as legal advisor to the Yesh Din NGO – ‘Volunteers for Human Rights.’ Twice a month students will participate in activities within the framework of Yesh Din’s ‘Monitoring the Military Courts Project’ and with ‘Machsom Watch’s’ District Coordination and Liaison Aid Project.
“The students, working under the guidance and supervision of the above organizations, will document, advocate and confront the IDF Civil Administration authorities, while keeping a precise, daily record of their activities. Those activities will be overseen by attorney Yael Barda at the individual level and as a group. The students will receive transportation fare to places of activism, in addition to a stipend of NIS 1,450. At the end of the year, students will submit an article based upon their activities and experiences, relating to the theoretical content of the course. Some of the articles will be included in a booklet edited by Prof. Shenhav, Michael Sfard and Yael Barda, in cooperation with the above organizations.”
So is this an academic course or is it the deliberate brainwashing of students, conducted by three people who have never attempted to conceal their partisan political identities? Is this an academic seminar, or is it an activism training workshop run by radical left wing organizations? Should a university be permitted to engage in agitprop within the confines of a “course” that masquerades as an academic exercise? Should students publish their “course work” in a book written in cooperation with partisan political organizations?
We did not have to go to the university for answers to these questions, since from experience we know their kneejerk automatic answer will be: “Freedom of Expression”.
The syllabus for that course then gets even worse. It lists a series of articles that taken together could successfully serve as tools for an indoctrination camp, in a course that should be entitled, “Introduction to political brainwashing for the purpose of delegitimizing the State of Israel.”
There is also a film included in as educational material the syllabus: It is “The Specialist”, directed by one of the most lethal anti-Israel directors in the world, Eyal Sivan. The movie is supposedly based on Hannah Arendt’s, “The Banality of Evil” (http://www.tau.ac.il/~shura1/1/paper1.PDF). Nazism, according to Arendt, is the result of bureaucratic banality.
There is no need to create an explicit connection between Eichmann’s evil and Sivan’s take on Israel, and I have no idea whether or not one was pointed out to students in that course. However the analogy is obvious. Murderous Nazism and the Israeli Occupation have in common the same bureaucratic banality.
Pravda, back in the Dark Ages of the USSR, could learn a thing or two from this seminar. Of course the course instructors can also continue to profess innocence and respond, “Who? Us? Brainwashing? What are you talking about?!”
The film itself pretends to be a documentary. In actual fact, it turns out to be a work of fraud. Hillel Tryster (http://www.notes.co.il/eshed/32229.asp), who was the director of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, examined the film and concluded that it was a perverse fraud. It is a leading contender for championship in the Fabrication Industry.
In addition, the legal advisor to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University filed a complaint against the movie and its maker, claiming that many sections of the “documentary” film were forged (http://www.fpp.co.uk/Auschwitz/Eichmann/trialfilm_forgery.htm.)
Sivan’s manipulations are indeed worthy of study as a case point in the use of the cinema for brainwashing – but not as learning material in a seminar course in the School of Law. Such a course might work well as part of the list of school requirements at the Islamic University in Gaza, or in a Political Science course in Teheran. But this is a course taught in the School of Law at the Hebrew University.
It is doubtful whether one should even call this an academic course. It would be more accurate to define it as a left-wing political workshop, coupled with a propaganda movie that the same university filed a complaint against as being fraudulent. It is masquerading as an academic course.
In another course taught by Shenhav at Tel Aviv University, there are no less than 38 articles included in the course work that were published in the Marxist and blatantly anti-Zionist magazine, “Theory and Criticism.” Of course. Shenhav himself is editor of that magazine. Brainwashing? Of course not! They’ll call it “Critical Discourse.”
“Partnership” (a seminar for student activists) is another ambitious project of the Hebrew University. It is organized by dozens of NGOs, mostly from the radical Left. In it the “Nakba” is taught by an activist from the radical left organization, “Zochrot,” which advocates the Right of Return (for Palestinian Arabs to Israel) and the elimination of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Can such a concentrated exercise in blatantly anti-Zionist brainwashing be considered to be a bona fide academic course? And where is the Council for Higher Education? Where is the Minister of Education? And why do Israeli taxpayers have to fund such a “seminar”?
As revealed recently in an article by Yishai Friedman in the Makor Rishon newspaper, The New Israel Fund grants NIS 7,400 scholarships to students participating in the Fund’s political activities (http://rotter.net/forum/scoops1/22416.shtml ). This takes place at the Politics and Government course at Ben-Gurion University and counts as part of the students’ program of studies.
Does this collaboration with blatant political groups, including NGOs from the radical left, fall under the definition of “academic freedom of expression”? Is there any connection between this collaboration and the fact that the person who heads this class happens to be calling for an academic boycott against Israel? Is that what the heads of the academy intend when they publicize automatic support for any anti-Zionist masquerading as an academic? Or perhaps they intend to demand that discussion itself be subject to censorship?
The Legitimacy of De-Legitimization
Another thing needs to be stated: Despite the fact that Shenhav is very close to the Arab Balad Party - “The National Democratic Assembly” [before the elections he hosted MK Hanin Zuabi at a parlor meeting in his home (http://www.tajamoa.org/?mod=article&ID=834)], despite the fact that the other two collaborators in the above “seminar” are radical left-wing activists, despite the fact that the above seminar is molded according to their extremist views, and despite the fact that what we have here is nothing less than political preaching – the seminar is legitimate.
That is the meaning of academic freedom. Teaching needs to provoke, anger and deviate from the consensus.
Therefore there is no place for calling for the dismissal of those professors nor for an ultimatum to the university, demanding that it should mend its ways. Threats of boycotts are ugly and unnecessary, whether emanating from the left or the right.
But there is something else that is permitted: to publicize the existence of these courses, their contents, their motivations and political bias, and to publicize their use of brainwashing. It is perfectly acceptable to reveal the fact that, for some reason, under the umbrella of “academic freedom” there is not a chance in hell of finding an academic seminar that refers its students to “practicum” or internships with, for any rightwing NGOs, like “Arteret Kohanim”. Nor will any students publish a joint booklet in conjunction with groups like that.
It is also perfectly permissible to disclose that the vast majority of professors from the Political Science and Sociology Departments hold extremist anti-Zionist views. Anyone who claims otherwise really wants leftist academics to be allowed to do whatever they wish without criticism.
Yet at the same time anyone who so much as dares to think differently from the leftist Canon is not permitted to utter a word. It is prohibited to criticize, expose or refute. The reason for that is that the “sanctity of the academia” is reserved exclusively for the radical Left. Every word of criticism is met with screams about “McCarthyism”, “Fascism”, and other “isms” from the bla bla of the academic First Amendment.
In a forthcoming article, Prof. Amnon Rubenstein states that, according to the German Constitution, academic freedom of expression is a constitutional right as long as it does not (and that’s an important condition) undermine the constitutional foundation of the country. Thus, the restraint imposed upon the academia, within the context of their role in molding the minds of students, is even greater than that upon the rest of society. This is not a suggestion that we adopt the German model, but food for thought for the purpose of public debate, so essential in this matter.
Sociology in the Service of Demonization
In recent years, much data have been accumulated dealing with the anti-Zionist tilt in university courses and in “academic conferences” (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/529/615.html), conferences that often have nothing to do with academia and are sponsored by political groups. Here and there a few examples are publicized. But they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Dr, Hannan Moses conducted a research for the Institute for Zionist Strategy about the post-Zionist biases in the sociology departments (http://izs.org.il/documents/Post%20Zionism%20in%20the%20Academy-Draft.doc). The findings were unequivocal. Their report illuminates the Israeli sociological maze of darkness.
The IZS draft was sent to the Council for Higher Education and to close to 1,000 academics. Not to protest. Not to silence anyone. Only for the purpose of presenting findings and to receive feedback in preparation for the report’s final publication.
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles. Prof. Joseph Klafter, President of Tel Aviv University, asked to have a look at the report and check its claims. He asked to be shown the syllabi of certain courses. That was the beginning of the deafening national “Gevalt” Campaign.
How dare HE examine anything? He is just a university president! And once again, like in a Pavlovian reaction, the familiar chorus chants on: “Fascism!” “McCarthyism!”
The academic Thought Police adulates freedom, critique, defiance, and provocation – but all on one condition: that those things be the monopoly of the post-Zionists. And the Thought Police achieved its purpose: There will be no investigation of courses at Tel Aviv University.
Predictably, Haaretz newspaper is leading the campaign to silence the criticism of radical academics. In an editorial under the title, “Politruks in Academia” (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/politruks-in-academia-1.308486), the newspaper teamed up with the very same Yehoudah Shenhav, who of course was screeching “McCarthyism”! The same Shenhav is attempting to turn the academy into a branch of “Balad” and leads the seminar in brainwashing sponsored by the series of left-wing organizations noted above.
Interestingly enough, the only editorial in Israel that has explicitly preached against freedom of speech and against academic freedom appeared in that same Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1059719.html). It was when Israeli army colonel Pnina Baruch-Sharvit was supposed to give a course at the Tel Aviv University. Baruch-Sharvit served in the military attorney’s office and, as part of her job, she had to authorize certain military activities. The enlightened newspaper decided to accuse her of “war crimes” and rashly hurried to convict and defame her in the court of leftist journalism on its editorial and news pages.
Now this same champion of journalistic McCarthyism has the audacity to preach about academic freedom! The chutzpa!
A World Phenomenon
A study in the United States
(http://www.criticalreview.com/2004/pdfs/cardiff_klein.pdf ) reveals data indicating that political bias exists in every university. In certain departments, the Republican:Democratic ratio was 1:5, 1:10 or 1:20 in favor of the Democrat professors (left-wing in Israeli terminology). Except the difference between the US and Israel is immense. The Democrats in the US consist of 50% of the population, while the post-Zionists are only a tiny fraction in Israeli society. The problem isn’t the dovish bias or even the left-wing politics of many Israeli professors. The problem lies in the fact that their common denominator is much more ambitious: Denial of Israel’s right as a Jewish democratic state.
Those who research crimes committed against the natives in North America or Australia do not rule out the right of Americans and Australians to exist, nor do they demand the “Right of Return” for millions of outsiders.
This is not the case with Israel. Here we have political indoctrination that intentionally undermines the very existence of the state of Israel, at the same time masquerading as “academic freedom.”
Professors or Radical Left-Wing Activism?
Dr. Moses’s research points to Prof. Oren Yiftachel, one of the most prominent spokesmen for Post-Zionism and a role model for the others. In “academic” articles, Yiftachel rejects the definition of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. He has long labored at rearing a new generation of anti-Israel academics. Moses points out how Yiftachel’s students mimic what they learn from their guru:
“Indoctrination dominates these studies, including a consistent use of terminology and theories taken from the Post-Zionism ‘School’ and in particular from the teachings of Oren Yiftachel.
“The repeated conclusions reached in these papers all proclaim in a single voice: The Jewish-Zionist collective created a non-democratic system (Israel) in order to expand at the expense of the Palestinian People . . .the Zionist-National ethos represents the basis of the discrimination, disinheritance and exclusion of the Palestinian (sic) residents of Israel. The precondition for transforming the State of Israel into an enlightened and democratic state is to cancel its Jewish nature and to cancel the Zionism of the state, and adopt a liberal-civilian, multi-cultured and post-national ethos.”
Ok, so if this were but one ideological approach among many presented to students, so be it. But when all of Yiftachel’s students are themselves a generic clone of himself – this is not about critical or academic discourse. This is pure political propaganda.
Many of Yiftachel’s students are active in radical left-wing NGOs. The fact of the matter is that there is no separation between their political activities and their “academic” activities.
The result is truly frightening: A powerful campaign of indoctrination with one purpose: revoking the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their own country.
What they don’t Teach
Prof. Ephraim Ya’ar, who is not suspected of any right-wing inclinations and who is in fact highly critical of the Right, stated in an article he published recently in Haaretz (https://secure.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1176810.html ) that “academic freedom (in Israel) is being threatened by the radical Left.”
Ya’ar had no problem with what is taught in required classes. His problem was with what is not taught. He favors broad and critical dialogue. But some of his colleagues, it turns out, prefer an indoctrination dialogue.
The real problem is that materials from the ‘School’ of post-nationalism, post-colonization, or anti-Zionism are included in courses. The problem is that ONLY such anti-Israel materials are included, and there are very few dissenting alternatives in the study materials.
Many of the graduates of the anti-Zionist courses are totally unaware that over 50 million people have experienced the difficult process of forced transfer and population exchange in order to create new states and nations(http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archives/009518.shtml ); or that the Jewish Nakba was worse than that of the Palestinians. http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archive/2009/05/ben-dror-yemini-the-jewish-nakba-expulsi/ ); or that the “Venice Committee” (http://amnonrubinstein.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=546&Itemid=101 ), founded by the European Union, recognizes the legitimacy of laws that were intended, in certain places, to give preferences for the sake of preserving the positions of an ethnic majority or national ethnic character (Benefit Laws); or that the right of self-determination of the nations includes the Jewish nation, just like the Slovakians, Armenians, or Palestinians.
Academia does not have to serve as a mouthpiece for the Zionist vision. And even when parts of the academy become tools in the hands of the anti-Zionists and the radical leftist NGOs – there is still no place for censorship or banning.
Nevertheless it is necessary to expose, critique and demand open public discourse about this. The problem is that there are those out there who wish to silence and suppress anyone who wishes to engage in such public discourse.
The Vicious Cycle
Career advancement for many researchers is dependent upon publication in academic journals in the West, where some of those journals are explicitly anti-Zionist.
An academic’s chances are higher for publishing an anti-Zionist article. They are in vogue. The result of this is, as studies have shown, that post-Zionist academics tend to get far more exposure for their political writings.
But there is a dangerous vicious cycle here. Since promotion is dependent upon publication, the anti-Zionists benefit from an immense advantage. Anyone exposed to these “publications” knows that they boil down to a single article with endless generic mutations.
Their writing is uniform. As long as they use the tested codes and pet phrases - such as “ethnocracy,” Zionist colonialism, oppression, narrative, Nakba, “ethnic cleansing,” gaining control over territories, exclusion – their publication is assured. They quote one another, justify one another, and radicalize one another, while creating a sticky hotbed of anti-Israel “orthodoxy.” This is the uniformity of thinking for our Bolshevik crowd.
Prof. Shlomo Sand from Tel Aviv University published a book about the supposed fabricated invention of the Jewish People. According to the writer, the Jews of today are descendants of Turkic communities that converted to Judaism and have no connection to the Jews of the past. Hence Jews are at best religious tribes, not a nation. Serious academics – there are still some out there and they are still the majority – refute most of the claims in the book. This did not interfere with the book becoming a best-seller (outside of Israel).
There is nothing like an Israeli academic in the service of the anti-Zionist assault: there is no Jewish People, therefore they have no right to a state. The success of the book, lapped up around the world by haters of Israel, makes it an intellectual terrorist attack. No book refuting Sand’s nonsense, no matter how excellently researched and written, will be met with similar success.
The reason for this is that something is rotten. In academic life today, it is not only the quality of the publication that determines academic success. It is political orientation of the writer that is the ticket to success.
Orwell on the Silencing Orthodoxy
It must be stated clearly: the leading universities in Israel are not predominantly anti-Zionist. The majority of the professors carry out their jobs fairly, and most of the professors with extremist views do not impose their opinions upon their students. (Isracampus – we are not sure we agree with Yemini!)
The study by the IZS mentioned above is limited to the sociology departments alone, and finds them full of bias. The danger is not that someone exposed the bias in sociology departments, but in the kneejerk responses that prohibit such voicing of criticism.
The disease may well spread. Academic freedom in Israel is indeed in danger, but not because someone dares to expose the prevalent and somewhat crazed anti-Zionist biases in certain departments and schools.
George Orwell wrote: “Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.”
That is exactly what is happening today in parts of the Israeli academia. There is no “critical discourse” in academic life, as the pampered academic mandarins like to claim, only an “Orthodox discourse,” where that “orthodoxy” is leftist.
There is no need for banning people, for soliciting the university donors to stop donating, and there is no place for dismissing professors because of their politics. But for the sake of free academic expression, it is necessary to expose the ugly facts about parts of Israeli academia - for the sake preserving public discourse.
Before publication, I sent this blog item for comment to about 60 academics, almost all from the left although people who are not anti-Zionist. From close to 30 who have responded so far, only two claimed that the article was way off the mark. Many added intelligent comments and a few volunteered examples that reinforce the claims made.
One professor, who teaches in the social-economics field and whose research is but nature critical, sent me the syllabus of the course he teaches. There he instructs his students to read articles that disagree with himself – and not just in token dosage.
That is how it should be!
Most of the comments I received were taken into consideration and they appear in the present version. The final responsibility for the article, needless to say, is mine alone.