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Ben-Gurion University
David Newman on JPost "An academic lynching" and the MESA letter to BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi

Editorial Note:

As expected, officials at Ben Gurion University have rushed to defend themselves from a report by the Council on Higher Education (CHE), which found profound flaws in the Department of Politics and Government.  Tomorrow, the Knesset Education committee convenes to discuss this report.

David Newman, the Dean of Faculty of Humanities and Social Science, acting on the premise that the best defense is offense, attacked the CHE in his Jerusalem Post column (below), calling the report an "academic lynching."   He accuses the Minister of Education Gideon Saar, the IAM and other "right-wing groups" of being part of the "lynch mob."
Prior to becoming Dean, Newman was the long-term chair of the Department of Politics and Government; in both of these capacities he has been responsible for hiring and promoting radical academics, But he vehemently denies that ideological factors play a role in staffing decisions either in the Department of Politics of the Department of Sociology.  If this is the case, how can he explain the high percentage of neo-Marxist, post-Zionist scholars in both departments who pioneered the idea that Israel is an apartheid state?   
Newman lists the many other functions that the Department of Politics performs including its European and African studies programs.  In reality, the European program has only one tenured faculty; the lone professor in the African program seems to specialize in "colonialism in Africa, "undoubtedly a good match for a department where many view Israel is a colonial state. 
Newman's arrogance in attempting to provide a misleading picture of the reality in BGU, is only matched by his ignorance about Middle East Studies Association (MESA). He notes that the "prestigious" association sent a letter to BGU president Rivka Carmi (see below).   Newman needs to know that  the highly politicized MESA is the epicenter of anti-Israel agitation passing as scholarship.  Funded by Arab money, many of its leading experts such as John Esposito, have demonized Israel while whitewashing Islamism.  To counter these trends, a group of scholars founded the Association for the Study of Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), which is fast becoming a standard- bearer of objective research in the field.

As for the MESA's letter, it express alarm at the alleged failure of BGU's to protect freedom of speech.  Among others, it notes that two students -  Ran Tzoref and Noa Slor, faced disciplinary actions for participating in a on- campus illegal and violent demonstrations during the Flotilla affair.  Ironically, Slor and Tzoref are teaching assistants of Professor Neve Gordon, chosen for their radical left-wing views.  So much for Newman's protestation that ideology does not play any role in hiring decisions.

Before boasting about MESA's support for his faculty, Newman should learn some facts about the organization that practically "wrote the book" on political uses of the academy. Martin Kramer's Ivory Towers on Sand, is a good idea for an assigned reading.

Jerusalem Post

An academic lynching
12/05/2011 22:43 

Whoever leaked the Committee for Higher Education report to the press clearly had a political agenda.

Talkbacks (26)
I have never had the occasion to meet Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, but he entered my life in two very different ways during this past week.

The first instance was when he attended the meeting of the Council for Higher Education for its much publicized debate about the professional reports relating to the country’s departments of political    science, following the recommendations of the international committee.

As faculty dean, and one of the two founders of the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University, I obviously had an interest in the outcome of the meeting. One of my responsibilities is to read the professional reports of all of the international committees – about five disciplines are chosen each year for review – and, together with my colleagues and university rector, to implement the recommendations and conclusions of these reports.

The second occasion was when Sa’ar visited the community of Meitar, north of Beersheba, to attend the opening of the new building of the national religious school, Hemdat, in which all four of my children were students at one point. I was almost a founder of this school, moving to this community just one year after the school had been founded, at a time when it operated out of an uninhabited house and before it had received formal recognition from the Ministry of Education.

A journalist present at the school dedication ceremony asked the minister why he was so intent on making political accusations against an academic department which was, according to the press, overloaded with left-wing opinions, but never made any similar statements about the right-wing nationalism which is often apparent in the national religious school system.

That would include the institutions that spawned Yigal Amir, such as the national religious school system or even Bar Ilan University, which has been accused by some academics of preventing the appointment or promotion of lecturers with left-wing views.

It was perhaps an inappropriate question at the dedication ceremony of a new school building, but the minister’s blatant political intervention of late in academia made it highly relevant.

Sa’ar, who by default is also the head of the Council for Higher Education, rarely attends the meetings of that body, but he made a point of doing so last Wednesday when the committee reports on the    departments of political science were being discussed. Then, he steered the discussion in the direction that he chose and then, as soon as the report on Ben-Gurion University was completed, got up and left.

It was clear to all those present that his presence at the meeting had been for the sole purpose of attacking political views with which he did not agree via the manipulation of so-called academic and professional guidelines.

Even more surprising in this particular incident is that almost no one, including the minister, had actually read the report. Instead, they relied on sensationalist headlines in the press which were based on leaked, partial copies of the report. Anyone actually taking the time to read the 20-page report will immediately see that there is no connection whatsoever between the political affiliations of some of the faculty members to the future functioning of the department.

The major criticism of the committee was that a department with so few full-time faculty (nine) should be fulfilling so many functions, including the teaching of the Europe Studies program (the Jean Monnet Chair in European Studies), the administration of the African Studies program, the teaching of the BA program to the air force pilots and the International MA program on the Politics of Conflict.

At the same time, with an annual recruitment of 150 undergraduate students along with growing numbers of research and postgraduate students, the committee recommended that the department receive at least three or four new fully tenured positions to cope with the workload; otherwise the functioning of the department would have to be reconsidered and it would probably have to close some programs due to lack of manpower.

Out of the 20 pages, about three sentences are devoted to accusations of political bias. After interviewing faculty and students and also perusing the course curricula, the committee concluded that there is an open and free exchange of ideas at the university, that alternative views between faculty and students are fully tolerated and that there is absolutely no evidence that the political views of individual faculty members are forced upon students or that their views influence the academic debate.

WHOEVER LEAKED the report to the press clearly had a political agenda. It is unheard of for such reports to be leaked or publicized before the CHE has an opportunity to discuss them. And the way in which it was leaked, partially and with false information and highlights, clearly was intended to create a hostile public atmosphere prior to the meeting of the CHE. The report will be the subject of a specially convened meeting of the Knesset Education Committee tomorrow – and it is clear that this has very little to do with education, but a great deal to do with politics.

The idea that universities appoint faculty according to their political opinions is the most ridiculous of all the accusations. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the appointment and promotion process (be it at Ben Gurion or Bar Ilan) will know that this is a tortuous process, demanding a thorough review of the candidate’s academic and professional competence, his research achievements, his publication record and letters and recommendations which are received from academic peers throughout the world.

The selection committees are composed of diverse faculty members, from different disciplines and with a variety of political views, none of which are ever brought to bear in the highly professional discussions and decisions.

Of course, right-wing groups such as Im Tirtzu, Academic Monitor and IsraCampus have had a field day. They argue that the reports published in the media have vindicated their arguments about political bias within the country’s universities and particularly the Sociology and Political Science Departments.

Their ongoing, well-funded war of attrition against freedom of debate and academic freedom is slowly destroying Israel’s democracy and leading academic friends around the world to think twice before developing research links with Israeli universities and academics. Academics who have refused up until now to be part of the boycott campaign are now turning against Israel because of the country’s growing international image as a place where people, and now entire departments, with the “wrong” political views are being silenced and threatened by the activities of these extremist right-wing groups.

One only has to see the letter sent to BGU by the president of the prestigious Middle East Studies Association this week to see the harm that is being caused to Israel’s universities as a result of such policies and political pressures.

The Minister of Education has walked into the trap which the right-wing groups laid for him. Unless, that is, he himself is an active supporter of these dangerous trends. His activities this past week would suggest that this may indeed be the case.

The writer is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.


Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Israel

November 28, 2011

Professor Rivka Carmi
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Dear Dr. Carmi:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our grave concern about an alarming pattern of restrictions on freedom of expression on the Ben Gurion University campus. Since our last letter to you of 27 August 2009, BGU students and faculty have been intimidated and punished for peacefully expressing themselves on matters of public concern. As a self-declared supporter of “critical thinking” and “alternate perspectives,” we call on you to live up to your commitment and to protect dissent and debate on your university campus, especially if university community members espouse political views different from your own. 
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to reports in Israeli newspapers and by the human rights organization the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a growing climate of restriction pervades Ben-Gurion University. In September 2010, a BGU disciplinary tribunal reprimanded students Ran Tzoref and Noa Salor, placing    them on probation for one semester for taking part in a protest over Israel’s    raid in May 2010 on the Gaza-bound flotilla. A third student, Tal Beharav, was brought up on disciplinary charges after he helped organize a demonstration in support of the janitorial staff at the university.

In late November 2010, BGU Dean of Students Ya’akov Afek barred leftist students from distributing a flyer on campus that criticized various Knesset bills. While other universities permitted the flyer, which featured a picture of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Afek said it constituted libel.

In January 2011, BGU went a step further by codifying the new restrictive practices. Despite the opposition of some faculty members, the BGU Senate changed the ethics code to prohibit lecturers from mentioning their university affiliation while speaking publicly and to regulate what professors    can say in the classroom. The new protocol states, “voicing a partisan stance during a class is strictly prohibited as it may unfairly and indiscernibly    influence the students attending the class. The university may regulate the lecturers’ partisan and religious remarks, despite the fact that they are part    of their civic liberties, in order to prevent teaching and research being used    for partisan purposes.”

In late June 2011, BGU went further still when it withheld half of Linguistics Professor Idan Landau’s salary for the period during which he was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces reserves in the    West Bank. Your administration argued that although Landau had made up the lost instructional time, half of his salary would still be deducted because he had been absent from his campus office during his imprisonment. Despite the swift opposition of hundreds of academics from Israel and abroad, including 90 BGU faculty members, university spokesman Amir Rozenblit justified the decision in bureaucratic terms, stating “employees are paid a salary for work. Since Dr. Landau was in detention, he was not at the disposal of his employer and is therefore not entitled to a salary for that period.”

BGU’s concerted attempts to police the behavior of its faculty and students gravely undermine the principle of academic freedom. Universities are only as good as the quality of free inquiry and productive debate they generate on their campuses. Ben Gurion University’s increasing administrative restrictions on its members violate the very principles that you have professed to support.

In your opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post on May 28, 2011, you wrote, “Universities are not about headlines. They are about the footnotes. They are about the slow, painstaking research that goes into the writing of a PhD dissertation or the publication of a scientific paper; about the open exchange of ideas that encourage serious scholarship and innovative thinking. Universities are about empowering students, encouraging them to experience the excitement of discovery and volunteering in the community.”

We call on you to match word and deed and promptly reverse the raft of prohibitions on freedom of expression for BGU faculty and students.

We look forward to your response.


Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

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