I am still reeling from the shock of reading a recent article about what is happening in higher education, or in other words, at Israel's universities. Just one day after Tel Aviv University authorized a ceremony marking Nakba Day (or Day of Catastrophe – as many Arabs refer to the day Israel was established), I began to understand what is really happening in our universities – by way of an in-depth, well supported, 10-page article written by Prof. Ziva Shamir. Shamir is known as one of the country's foremost experts on our national poet - Hayim Nahman Bialik.
In this article, printed in the journal "New Directions" (Volume 26, June 2012, Zionist Federation Publishing, Hebrew), Shamir explains to readers what is happening in higher education. Upon reading her article, one can understand why Israeli students are now commemorating Nakba Day. After all, Israel's rich culture is being wiped from memory at Tel Aviv University and other universities.
In the literature department, for example, according to the most up-to-date student course catalog, there is not a single class dedicated to the works of Bialik, or other celebrated Israeli writers like Natan Alterman or Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Shai Agnon). On the other hand, Shamir writes, "there are courses dedicated to literature on the occupation, to refusing [military orders], gender and other topics in which the lecturers first insert the arrow, and only then, with a steady hand, draw bulls-eye around it."
Prof. Shamir is not a political activist, and her name has never appeared, as far as I can recall, among the signatures on various petitions – be it from the Left or the Right. But she sees the politicization happening within the universities, especially at Tel Aviv University where she taught for 40 years. She laments the fact that instead of teaching Bialik, a course called "the female author as a high-class prostitute, literature as a pimp" is offered. And this course has become a highly respected academic subject (!) Shamir notes. Fashion and politics have taken hold of the curriculum.
She warns against politicization becoming the dominant power: expressions of politicization, she stresses, turn academic instruction into nothing less than uncontrollable and unrestrained brainwashing and indoctrination.
Pulling from her own experience, she maintains that there are quite a few "crusader" lecturers who try to convert their students to their "religion." The days during which teachers understood that they can't turn their classrooms into branches of their political parties are long gone. Teachers no longer feel the need to avoid troublesome political dictates that promote discrimination and segregation. Shamir also calls for an examination of the academic establishment – she urges the establishment of a committee, comprising jurists, philosophers, linguists and researchers – but without politicians – that would formulate the essential distinction between research and political propaganda.
We must eradicate the improper practice, which has spread among quite a few faculty members, of turning classrooms and university offices into branches of the political parties whose flag they wave, while making undue use of the university's mail services, internet services and telephones.
Shamir also calls on universities to impose the following prohibition, which should go without saying but is not implemented: university staff will be barred from preaching their personal political views from the professor's podium. A faculty member's political agenda has no more weight than that of a passerby on the street. Fearlessly, Shamir calls for the immediate dismissal of lecturers who promote boycotting Israeli academic institutions: "they themselves can have the honor of teaching abroad," she says. She further calls on the top academic echelon to take action.
Shamir's article, which relies on facts as well as Shamir's own practical life experiences, is a warning bell. The Council for Higher Education should hear the bell and wake up. In my opinion, Shamir's charges are harsh, but true. The Council for Higher Education, and its chairman Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, cannot maintain indifference in the face of such accusations. Without fearing what others may say, they must reach tough conclusions. This is not about limiting academic freedom, not by a long shot. Politicization, according Shamir's indictment, is the most dangerous weapon in the battle for academic freedom.