MKs Feud over Ben Gurion U's Leftism

Education Committee debates report that criticizes BGU's ultra-leftist Political Science Department.

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Gil Ronen,

Arab students at Ben Gurion U
Arab students at Ben Gurion U
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Knesset's Education Committee witnessed an exchange of verbal fire Wednesday between nationalists and leftists, as it discussed a report criticizing Ben Gurion University's Political Science and International Relations departments, known as bastions of radical leftism.

The report was commissioned by the Israeli Council for Higher Education (ICHE), and drawn up by a committee chaired by Thomas Risse, a professor at the Otto Surh Institute for Political Science at the Free University of Berlin. The committee recommended improvements in political science and international relations departments throughout Israel's colleges and universities, but its most critical comments were directed at Ben-Gurion U.

Regarding the Negev university, the committee was "concerned that the study of politics as a scientific discipline may be impeded by such strong emphasis on political activism" and found the department "weak in its core discipline of political science in terms of number of faculty, curriculum, and research."

The committee recommended instituting "major changes" toward strengthening the department's disciplinary and methodological core through both hiring more faculty and altering its study programs. "If these changes are nevertheless not implemented," the report concluded, "the majority of the committee believes that, as a last resort, Ben-Gurion University should consider closing the Department of Politics and Government." 

ICHE Director Moshe Vigdor told the Knesset committee that the ICHE "expects the university to carry out the changes regarding academic aspects in accordance with the recommendations, so that things will begin to be implemented in the 2012-13 academic year."

MK Alex Miller called for financial sanctions to be used against institutes that ignore the ICHE's recommendations.

Leftist MKs' main contention was that the Knesset's Education Committee was not the proper place for holding a discussion of the ICHE committee's findings. MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said that the debate was part of an "ongoing campaign to destroy democracy."

"After the laws for intimidating and silencing the media, the courts and the social NGOs, it is academia's turn to be burned at the stake."

MK Shlomo Mola (Kadima) said that "The department's character is being assassinated just like the [Law] department at Bar Ilan [University] because of the despicable murder of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin." Yigal Amir, convicted of Rabin's assassination, studied law at Bar Ilan.

National Union Chairman MK Yaakov Katz said that if Ben Gurion University continues to do as it pleases and ignores the committee's recommendations, it will have no Jewish students left on campus. He turned to MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am Ta'al) and told him – "We are the only democratic country in the region. In another country, if you spoke as you just spoke, your head would be chopped off."