Israeli college campus (illustrative)
Israeli college campus (illustrative)Hadas Parush/Flash90

On Wednesday a special discussion took place in the Knesset's Education Committee regarding the politicization of academic institutions in Israel.

MK Ariel Kallner (Likud) said that he himself encountered serious politicization. "Extremely serious things are being done. Instead of the academy being a place for clarifying opinions and hearing all sides out of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, intellectual terrorism is being carried out and there is silencing others’ opinions."

"This is carried out by threats from lecturers towards students, threats that they will not receive a scholarship or that they will not be able to attend their lectures. This is about using the university's resources such as the existence of one-sided conferences," Kallner said.

He expressed concern regarding all the heads of the major universities releasing a statement criticizing the legal reforms.

"What should a junior faculty member who wants to advance think? He will express a position in favor of the reform, or at best he will remain silent or at worst he will also sign a vow that he does not believe in so that he can advance? What will a student do who knows that his grade depends on a lecturer who teaches in a trendsetting manner? These are extremely serious situations. They praise democracy with their mouths and they fight for it with the most dictatorial measures," he said.

"I have received dozens of inquiries from students, lecturers and junior faculty. People tell me that they experience an atmosphere of fear and silence. That is why we held the first discussion on this issue and will continue to fight. There will be a public discussion here and the resources that the state has given will not be used to force positions," he added.

Shai Rosengarten, National Campus Coordinator of the Im Tirtzu Movement, led the discussion alongside Kallner.

"We do not and will not have any problem with expressing positions in the academy, there is a place to express all legitimate opinions within the framework of the law,” Rosengarten said. “Vibrant student activity is a welcome thing. Unfortunately, we see cases of abuse of authority. It is clear to us that not all lecturers behave this way, the academia is important to us, and we love it. The result of taking the unilateral position is a situation where students and junior faculty members are afraid to speak, afraid to express their opinion.”

Rosengarten continued: “The incident of the lecturer Professor Benny Trakhtenbrot who threatened me personally and cursed my mother... a lecturer who felt he had the legitimacy from the academy, he feels he has a supportive environment, to threaten and tell us not to attend classes or receive scholarships. I have never encountered this in my life. We received dozens of letters from the university but not a single comment on this. In addition, a lecturer in Hebrew where there is a sign saying no entry to activists of Im Tirtzu, saying ‘We warned him’ is not enough.”

He explained, “We see one-sided conferences, using university resources to send out mailing lists against the reform and call for participation in protests it. It's a shame and disgrace.”

“We call for balanced lesson plans, for and against the reform, as part of a fruitful academic discourse,” Rosengarten. “We call for a ban on the use of public resources and public publications of the universities for conferences and marches against the reform.”