Radical-left “Academic Inquisition?”
Readers of IAM are familiar with the continuing efforts of faculty members on the extreme left to advance radical anti-Zionist agendas in their classrooms and to muzzle responsible academic inquiry that challenges their views.
How deeply-rooted the problem is--and how damaging to the health of Israel’s academic community--is suggested in a document by Professor Niva Hativa, head of the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Tel Aviv University. Written as an internal memo which she circulated to the TAU faculty, the document was the subject of a brief article in Haaretz (November 11) and an extensive report and commentary the day before by Erez Tadmor in Maariv (November 10).
Drawing on end-of-semester comments submitted by students “on the teaching they receive,” Hativa describes a stifling atmosphere in which “students of lecturers with left-wing views...complain bitterly that they are extremely offended by the presentation of materials that oppose their views, but are fearful of expressing contrary viewpoints in class, lest it harm their grades.”
Tadmor’s commentary on Hativa’s memo is especially sobering. He characterizes the situation addressed by her as no less than an “academic inquisition,” imposed by senior radical-left faculty in the political science, history and sociology disciplines in Israel’s academic institutions who regard themselves as an “intellectual aristocracy,” whose mission is to rein in what they consider the anti-democratic, anti-pluralistic and intolerant tendencies of Israeli society.
This mind-set brooks no dissent. As implied by Professor Hativa, students in the classrooms of these instructors are subjected to a regimen of political correctness. Those who seek to question the propounded viewpoints open themselves to the charge of being fascist or anti-progressive.
There is a striking irony in the persistent accusations by members of the radical left elite that attempts to influence them to promote balance and objectivity represent attacks on academic freedom and freedom of expression. As Tadmor notes, the principles of democracy encompass not only “the right to criticize but [no less] the right to criticize the critics.” Students with centrist or right of center outlooks know that “there is no place in Israel with less pluralism or freedom of expression” than in the classrooms of these academics.
The price exacted by the insistence on ideological conformity is manifested most directly by the undergraduates in the various disciplines working towards their degrees and by graduate students and junior faculty members who confront rejection if they do not toe the conformist line. In a broader sense, it is the institutions of higher learning, the cause of academic freedom, and the vital interests of Israel that bear the brunt of this state of affairs.
An article on the Machlaka Rishona blog site provides an important complement to this summary. The Im Tirtzu organization has requested MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee to convene an urgent session of his committee to deal with “violations of academic freedom” in Israel’s universities. The request cites numerous examples of abuse, including the prevention of students from expressing pro-Zionist views and the belittling of those who seek to counter radical leftist positions by their instructors. It also singles out inflammatory material displayed in some faculty departments that clearly besmirch Israel, such as photos on faculty office walls from Yesh Gvul depicting Israeli “war crimes”(at Tel Aviv University), and (at Haifa University) a map of “Palestine before the Nakba.” As a further expression of its concern, Im Tirtzu calls to MK Orlev’s attention a study submitted to President Shimon Peres in 2008 indicating that almost 80% of research projects by political science faculties reflected anti-Zionist and anti (Israel) nationalist views.
One hopes that the Education Committee will respond affirmatively to Im Tirtzu’s request and that, in doing so, it will also look into the larger implications of this situation as expressed by Professor Hativa and Erez Tadmor.
Jack E. Friedman, Ph.D.