Students and Lecturers Blast Proposed “Ethics Code” as an Undermining of Academic Freedom

The umbrella organization of the heads of Israel’s universities and colleges, the lecturers unions and the National Union of Students has blasted a new “ethics code” formulated at the behest of the Education Ministry that is expected to bar professors from voicing their political opinions in classrooms.

Far right and pro-settler Education Minister Naftali Bennett is promoting adoption of the new “ethics code” that would also prohibit professors from calling for or participating in an academic boycott of Israel; boycotting colleges located in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and university departments from collaborating with “political organizations.” Academic institutions would be required to institute committees tasked with monitoring political activity of professors, act on complaints from students, and take disciplinary action against transgressors.

Protestors demonstrating at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem last week against the proposed "ethics code"; another protest was held at Tel Aviv University. The signs read: “Against the forced shutting of mouths.”

Protestors demonstrating at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem last week against the proposed “ethics code”; another protest was held at Tel Aviv University. The signs read: “Against the forced shutting of mouths.” (Photo: Standing Together)

The proposed set of rules, which will be submitted for approval to the Council for Higher Education chaired by Bennett, was formulated by Asa Kasher, a professor at Tel Aviv University who has been authoring “ethics codes” for the Israeli military since the mid-1990s.

Kasher is notorious for providing “ethical” arguments to justify Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza. Commenting on the conduct of the Israeli military during the 2014 massacre in Gaza, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including over 500 children, Kasher said: “The number of casualties is irrelevant – it does not speak of omissions or any wrongdoing.”

According to the Students’ Department of Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel: “The new rules are part of Israel’s dangerous and ongoing attack on academic freedom. If implemented, the code of conduct will become another element of complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the political agenda of the state, which targets first Arab-Palestinian academics and students and is another step in the way of ‘fascization’ of Israel.”

According to Academia for Equality, an organization of the leftist lecturers in the Israel universities and colleges: “The code is far from its ostensible ethical goal. Everything is political and it is impossible to separate politics and other areas of life, and even more so in academia. The code is a form of ‘thought police’ and its only purpose is to silence voices and cause lecturers to be afraid.”

However, the fascist Im Tirtzu student group welcomed the code, saying it would restore “sanity to Israeli academia.” “The ethical code compiled by Professor Asa Kasher is a correct and appropriate step toward the goal of ending politicization in academia,” Im Tirtzu head Matan Peleg said in a statement.

An editorial appearing in the newspaper Haaretz opines: “The code of ethics composed by Professor Asa Kasher at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett is a bad solution to an imaginary problem, dreamed up by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu. Kasher actually consulted with this group when composing the document, as he expressly states in it. The party that Bennett leads, Habayit Hayehudi [The Jewish Home], has for some time operated as the political arm of Im Tirtzu. Kasher even took the trouble to note in Article 5(D) of the code that the guidelines that his recommendations reflect proper conduct and do not ‘in the slightest’ reflect the current situation. Thus the very search for a solution to the ‘problem’ is in itself a political assault on academia, with the intent of silencing those who think differently than Im Tirtzu and Habayit Hayehudi.”