A Lesson in Politics
By Kalman Liebskind
Ben Gurion University is in stress. The recent reports published by the “Im Tirtzu” student movement about the Post-Zionist political control dominating important parts of the university have had their effect and impact. They have managed to attach labels to the university’s name in the world with which it is uncomfortable. In the (leftist) Israeli media, in which “Im Tirtzu” was denounced as “censors,” the university enjoyed seeing itself defended by journalists. But it turns out that “Im Tirtzu” managed to get out its message in dialogue with the wider public, talking to them over the heads of the official commentators on the TV news shows.
The vast majority of citizens, those who serve and whose children serve in the Israel Defense Forces, have no affinity for faculty members calling for worldwide boycotts of Israel, who denounce Israeli soldiers, and who call on their own students to refuse to serve in the army.
An official statement issued last week by the country’s Council on Higher Education (the public body that overseas Israeli universities and colleges) was yet another slap in the face for large swaths of Israeli academia. The Council proclaimed: “Situations must be prevented where students or faculty members face rejection, silencing, penalization or discrimination because of their personal views or characteristics, including their political opinions.” (The Council included the harassment of pro-Zionist and IDF soldier-students by faculty members, ed.)
The donors to Ben Gurion University also saw the reports and started asking questions. Many of these people, who live abroad and send their generous contributions to the institution of higher learning that bears the name of David Ben Gurion, had not been aware of the atmosphere of political extremism that dominates large parts of the university.
The university learned that it is possible to peddle clichés about academic freedom from Beer Sheva to as-far-away-as Paris, but ultimately the facts take charge. When large numbers of faculty members from the extremist Left sign their names to petitions publicly denouncing Israeli soldiers, it is hard to keep the facts hidden. And it is precisely at that point, where all excuses are exhausted, that the falsehoods begin.
Ben Gurion University, like the other schools, operates a network of overseas emissaries and representatives all over the world. These people are responsible for developing connections with donors. And when the donors start asking questions, these serve as the official front line troops of the University.
One such representative of Ben Gurion University is Elise Donat She lives in Geneva and the BGU official web site lists her as its representative to French-speaking parts of Europe. Following the publication of the findings of “Im Tirtzu,” members of the Friends of Ben Gurion University in France demanded an explanation from the officials of Ben Gurion University. The “Friends” operate a fund that channels many millions to the university and Donat was sent by the university to calm the Fund’s donors down. The donors told her that they had learned that in the BGU Politics Department, 8 out of the 11 members of the faculty were Post-Zionists or radical leftists.
Donat did everything she could to reassure them. Including lying. The letter she sent them is a masterpiece of disinformation, an Israeli Bluff. “As you well know,” writes Donat in her letter - translated here from the French, “The Radical Right has a very large representation in the Israeli government and on the Council of Higher Education.”
The Council on Higher Education, for those who are not familiar with it, is a professional academic body composed of 16 professors from academic institutions, two representatives of the general public, and the chairperson of the national students union. Politicians have no say at all there and cannot enter the Council. But that did not prevent Donat from selling her snake oil to the donors about how Shas and Israel Beiteinu (Lieberman’s party) themselves -- no less than they!! -- had grabbed control of the Council.
Donat then challenges those donors who had complained that in the BGU Department of Politics there are many anti-Israel faculty members. That claim is utterly false, Donat writes them. There is only one radical anti-Israel extremist there, Prof. Neve Gordon. Donat then decides to take the argument further, well beyond the boundaries of intentional misinformation. In the politics department, she writes, “There are professors from the radical Right wing like Renee Poznanski, David Newman, and Dani Filc”. Now just in case there are any out there who do not know who these three are, they are all far-leftists who signed those petitions proclaiming, “We support and appreciate our students who are refusing to serve as soldiers in the conquered territories.”
Actually, the above-mentioned Filc is Chairman of the extremist Far-Leftist Organization “Physicians for Human Rights”. Donat was convinced that she had managed to convince the donors to BGU that the University is in fact the bastion of “Im Tirtzu.” She concludes her letter thus: “As can be seen, in this department (Politics) there reigns pluralism of opinion and diversity of views.” One line before the end, this representative of the University adds that Prof. David Newman,* the same one who signed that petition mentioned above, is not only a right-winger but someone “notorious for expressing extremist right-wing opinions.” (!!!!!)
Ben Gurion University sent us the following response: “Donat is on a private vacation in India until February 24 and so we cannot reach her to clarify the matter.”
(Posted by permission of the author. Thanks to Steven Plaut for his translation which also appeared in the Jewish Press blog).