ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN ISRAEL'S UNIVERSITIES DURING THE OSLO DECADE: 1993-2003
by Professor Arieh Zaritsky
"Academic Freedom" and "Truth" are the most important aspects of life in higher learning institutions, where civilization is preserved and progresses. Indeed, I cherish these values and exercised them during the first 20 years of service at Ben-Gurion University.
Then, when the Oslo era hit us, all this has changed completely. Many of us, who opposed the so-called "Oslo-PiPi" (Peace Process), were too naïve to realize what was going on, but reality slowly sobered us up. It was recognized that betraying one's truth was apparently the easiest way to be promoted, particularly in Faculties where issues are least rigorous such as Humanities and Social Sciences.
As a member of the Natural Sciences Faculty, I was not aware of this issue until the "Merry Days" of Oslo, when the Bolshevik mood prevailing in the so-called Humanities Faculty has penetrated the exact sciences (Natural, Engineering and Medical). My attention was captured when I realized that major essential assets and interests for the survival of Israel were 'sold away' by colleagues, perhaps for gaining some temporary and questionable personal "Fame and Fortune" among our worst enemies abroad.
I have been disillusioned, disappointed, and frustrated. A small part of what I've learnt during this last decade is being exposed now. The time will come when more will be told. In fact, a long article about this that I composed was not published in "NATIV" bimonthly because the Editor (Arieh Stav) was warned by his lawyer that those mentioned might sue him, the periodical and the author. Amnon Lord, who delivered a lecture this morning here, knows what I mean. This is an attempt to compose a small part without mentioning names, all of whom are 'registered' in my files.
A typical example of my point is that of a Professor of Geography who heads "The Negev Institute for Regional Development." Remember the plan designed by the Rabin government to deliver to the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over a 5 km stretch surrounding a highway between Gaza and Hevron? It was obvious to us that the plan would mean that Israel would not be able to sustain the Negev (mind you, over 50% of Israel's area). It was not included in the 1947 UN plan and is still being claimed by the Egyptians. That is why my late Genetics teacher in The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who fought in the Negev as a Pal'Mach'nik during the Independence War, distinguished professor Yair Parag Z"L, published numerous articles in daily newspapers and directed letters to that Geographer and others, warning against that plan and asking for their explanations and responses - all in vain! Similar letters by Dr. Ron Breiman (IB"LA) were never answered. Merely by his silence, rather than helping develop the Negev, as this professor claims to do, he helped split it in two. Hasn't he been one of those who established the "Negev Party," which thanks G-d, lost in the elections of 1999?
Another of these establishing that party is a historian specializing in the Israeli Socialist movements. This one refused to offer a teaching job to one of the most talented and wise political scientists that I know, Dr. Ra'aya Epstein of Yerucham, after he investigated her political views. Offering a job to Dr. Uri Milstein, the world-famous historian specializing in Israel's wars, is unheard of - particularly because he was, like myself, raised in the Socialistic movement, so he 'betrayed' it, in their view. Rather, this clique has appointed several of the most infamous Post-Zionist historians and political scientists to the 'Oslo-oriented' newly-established Department of "Politics and Governance" at BGU.
Is anybody surprised to hear, lo and behold, that these two 'Humanitarians' (the geographer and the historian) became presidents of two colleges under the auspices of BGU?
Another post-Zionist who chaired the geography department refused to serve in the so-called "occupied territories," two other 'Humanists' (chairing other departments there) blame Prime Minister Sharon for murder and advocate around the world that he be jailed, and a famous writer incited to kill the settlers even before Oslo's inauguration.
One yarmulke-wearer is always a good cover for extreme leftists as an argument that they are not discriminatory. Such a professor here was recruited from the North American Peace Now movement to compare the responsibility of Jewish mothers who expose their kids to dangers in the "occupied territories" to that of Arab mothers who send theirs to become homicide bombers.
This line of thought culminated in several senior Faculty members initiating and signing a petition to boycott the Israeli Academia. Have we ever heard of such a mental disease, of people who boycott themselves? Why do they remain among the boycotted Academia? On the other hand, have we ever heard of an organization who continues to feed those who boycott it?
There are more, many more, such Auto-Anti-Semites at BGU - the system is rotten from its top.
Couldn't one argue, however, that all my examples prove the existence of absolute "Freedom of Speech" at BGU? Why not compare me to the Biblical Bil'am, who was supposed to curse Israel but was rather led to bless it? Well, this would have been so if we (the many who opposed Oslo) were given the same chance. However, despite the fact that over 90 senior Faculty of BGU are members of PSI (Professors for a Strong Israel Organization), we were not allowed to introduce into the campus any of our lecturers with opposing views.
Numerous political conferences (financed by the governmental Misrad Ha'Hasbarah) were organized and conducted on campus in an academic disguise praising the Peace Process and its anticipated 'fruits', brainwashing students and Faculty. When, on the other hand, we wished to organize a balanced conference to discuss the book of Arieh Stav (entitled "Ha'Shalom - Arab Cartoons"), for example, we were told by the then Deputy-President (now, Israeli ambassador to the UK) that "no politics will prevail on campus while I am in office." We had to host Arieh and other distinguished lecturers such as Professor Moshe Sharon at a hall in an obscure community club somewhere in town while the infamous men, Drs. Ron Pundak and Yair Hirshfeld, and Sophian Abu-Zaidah, as well as the infamous women, Dr. Naomi Chazan, Shulamit Aloni and Hannan Ashrawi, were given a free podium at BGU's various so-called 'Humanity' and 'Social' Sciences departments. Even the President of the Zionist of America Organization, Mr. Morton Klein, was not officially invited to BGU when he visited Be'er-Sheva.
Is it strange or unexpected, after all the above, that a student was punished by BGU's Discipline Committee for flying the Israeli flag on campus opposite a group of Arab students (across the fence) who had raised the flag of the so-called "Palestine Liberation Organization" on their Land Day (Yom Ha'Adama) several years ago?
These are just 'the tip of the iceberg' of what was going on at BGU in general during the Oslo Decade. Now, let me tell you a couple of stories about my personal experience.
As many of you know, soon after the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House's green lawn, I established an electronic mail list, to quickly spread announcements about petitions, demonstrations and other activities of the so-called National Camp. One day in 1999, I was called to the office of my dean (Natural Sciences, remember), in the presence of my department chairman, to warn me not to use my email address at BGU for this purpose. I obviously refused to comply, but tricked them into telling me that BGU received a letter from the office of the Prime Minister, then Ehud Barak, who was annoyed by my activity. At the same time, there was wide activity by other Faculty exploiting the same means (email) to support Barak's policies.
The same email list was apparently effective. Would these people have bothered themselves chasing me otherwise? It was SO effective, that the "Acting Committee" of BGU discussed the issue of "how to stop Zaritsky." The reason they left me alone? They said, "Leave Zaritsky - he is Ready To Fight." The obvious implication should be learnt by all who refrain from fighting because they are afraid of inconvenience.
Another example on record: an official campus security person approached me in June 2002 and asked me (strictly, though politely) to remove postings from my office door because "some people complain." My response was (strictly and politely as well) negative, of course. I asked for an official letter from the General Manager of BGU, who had sent him. And I suggested that he stroll through the corridors of the Humanities Faculty, demanding that the people there remove postings. Again, the lesson is that it pays to be assertive in such cases!
It may be best to end my brief lecture on this subject by citing two who are not considered "extreme right," to say the least, one from Academia, the other from the Media.
1. The Knesset's "Education, Culture and Sport Committee" was urgently called by Meretz MK Zehava Gal'on on May 15, 2002, to discuss "The Blow to Academic Freedom in Israel," struck by 43 professors petitioning against the invitation of Dr. Yossi Beillin to Lecture at BGU. This whole issue is interesting and deserves a lecture by itself, but here is what Dr. Yuval Steinitz (MK and Chairman of Foreign Affair and Defense Committee) said at this meeting (my translation):
"As one who graduated at the Philosophy Department in Tel-Aviv University, it is obvious to me that if the Oslo process had been tried and failed several years earlier, and consequently my transformation from 'Peace Now' to the Right and the Likud had happened while I studied for my Ph.D., I would very likely never had been recruited as a lecturer in an Israeli University because the hostile prevailing atmosphere that de-legitimized the Right. The recommendations and the whole surrounding atmosphere is very powerful, hence raised my chances to be awarded the prestigious Allon Fellowship. The chances to be recommended by people like Assa Kasher, for example, would have been dramatically reduced. There was a professor at TAU that was motivated to help my academic career."
I can only paraphrase, after observing the so-called Academic Freedom here, "I would still have been looking for a job in Israeli Academia if 'The Oslo Experiment' had been implemented and failed several years earlier, when I was a young, non-tenured lecturer."
2. The media person is an honest Leftist journalist, Ben-D'ror Yemini. This is from his article in Ma'ariv, July 23, 2002 (translated by me): "It is popular among certain circles to compare Israel to the Nazis. If you belong to those who perform such horrendous comparisons, you are considered among the progressive and enlightened forces. The major protest would be one protesting against the protest on simply expressing these things. In an Orwellian conversion, of the Political Correct (PC) inventors, the criticism against comparison is persecution while the attempt to shut the criticism up is Freedom of Speech."
This last citation can be useful as a reminder to the protest of the "nice guys" against the protest of the 43 BGU professors against Beillin's lecture there. Thank you.
Arieh Zaritsky is Professor in the Department of Life Sciences at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er-Sheva. His research interests are in bacterial physiology (cell division, aging, chromosome and plasmids segregation, growth and morphogenesis) and mosquito biocontrol. His website address is http://www.bgu.ac.il/life/zaritsky.html.
This essay is based on a talk delivered at a conference entitled The Oslo Decade in Review in Jerusalem, September 10, 2003. The conference was sponsored by the Root and Branch Association.