IAM received an email exchange between a donor to University of Haifa and Mr. Amos Shapira, its President, complaining about the anti-Semitic cartoon by Professor Micah Leshem. Mr, Shapira responded that Leshem's activity, however odious, is part of his protected academic freedom.
We wish to point out that Mr. Shapira, like many in the Israeli academy, has an improper understanding of academic freedom.
In both public and private institutions, academic freedom is balanced by academic duties of faculty; in public universities supported by tax payers, the need for accountability is considerable.
Last year, IAM commissioned Professor Ofira Seliktar to produce a study Academic Freedom in Israel: A Comparative Perspective. Her three case-studies - Germany, Great Britain and United States (public universities) - clearly indicate that Israeli faculty enjoy a most expansive version of academic freedom though they are supported by taxpayers.
Equally important, all three countries follow the guidelines included in the EU's "Working Definition of anti-Semitism." According to the document, comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, known as "Nazification of Israel" is not allowed. Specifically, "Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis" and/or "drawing comparison of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis." Ironically, in Israel faculty like Professor Leshem have engaged in such activities with impunity.
The Israeli public and university authorities need to be aware of the proper balance between academic freedom and duty to the institution and the society at large. This is especially important, as the University Haifa has a long history of condoning faculty behavior that does not comport with such a balance and would not be tolerated in other countries. The university is yet to recover from an erosion of its donor base caused by Professor Ilan Pappe and the scandal involving the dissertation of Teddy Katz about the alleged massacre of Palestinians in the village of Tantura in 1948.
Surely, the anti-Semitic cartoon of Professor Leshem is not helpful in this regard.
----- Forwarded on 09/12/2013 10:15 AM -----
From: Amos Shapira
Subject: RE: New Year's Greeting and questions relating to the University.
Firstly, it is of great importance for me to express my gratitude in favor of your sincere concern and sensitivity for the university's well being. I know your alarm and subsequent message comes from the most genuine place as a long-time University of Haifa supporter.
In regards to Mr. Leshem's recent caricature and the additional problematic remarks you highlighted, you can be certain that the University of Haifa is appalled and strongly condemns their messages. In no way do their comments represent the official line or viewpoint of our institution, nor do they influence our policy-making.
Nevertheless, the University of Haifa is bound by the principle of academic freedom, and moreover the law, which permits these tasteless, albeit legal, comments to be made.
I hope that the virtue of upholding the law and the integrity of freedom of speech may quell the disquiet you and any wider audience may have experienced as a result of these comments.
Wishing you a happy New Year,