Universities rage after new ethics code adopted

'This ethical code is a form of political censorship that tramples the most basic elements of academic freedom.'

Tzvi Lev ,

Hebrew University on Mount Scopus
Hebrew University on Mount Scopus
Hadas Parush/Flash 90

The representatives of Israel's universities blasted the Council of Higher Education after it adopted a new ethical code that bars lecturers from supporting anti-Israel boycotts.

In a sharply worded statement, the university presidents said that the law muzzled free speech and was a threat to Israel's democracy.

"The Council of Higher Education's decision continues the unfortunate approach in which the ethics code is a political censorship that tramples on the most basic principles of academic freedom and free research, and is intended to silence people," said a statement by the Association of University Heads.

"We are already seeing a dangerous deterioration on the brink of freedom of expression and academic freedom, as is customary in primitive countries and not in a country that claims to be a democracy."

Israel's Council of Higher Education, which oversees all Israeli colleges and universities, decided on Sunday to adopt a new ethical code that was formulated by Israel Prize Laureate, Philosophy Professor Asa Kasher, who also wrote the IDF Code of Ethics.. The new code forbids universities from discriminating against students based on their ethnicity, gender, race, or political opinions, and bans lecturers from supporting boycotts of Israel.

A part of the code had drawn the wrath of Israel's universities for prohibiting professors from “wrongly taking advantage of the teaching platform to systematically and improperly exhort a political position that clearly exceeds what is required by the teaching of the course in its broader context within its field".

In acknowledgment of the controversial nature of the aforementioned clause, the Council of Higher Education will not require universities to punish lecturers running afoul of the statute.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett dismissed the criticism, pointing out that the universities themselves had voted for the ethics code in a meeting last week. "The response of the heads of the universities is puzzling. It seems that they did not bother to read the document that was approved," tweeted Bennett.

"What is particularly surprising is that the document was approved on Tuesday unanimously by everyone, including the representatives of the universities themselves," Bennett continued, adding that "instead of hollow slogans, I would like to hear one substantive argument. The document strengthens freedom of expression and prevents discrimination on the basis of opinions."