Thousand Professors Defend BGU Dept. vs. McCarthyist Allegations

Over one thousand faculty members of academic institutions all over Israel last week signed a petition protesting the Israeli Council of Higher Education’s subcommittee’s decision not to allow Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government to register students beginning in the 2013-14 academic year. The decision, which still needs approval from the plenum, effectively closes the department. The program is very popular and was now accepting only one out of four applicants for a class of 150 students.

The decision by the Council for Higher Education not to permit new students to enroll in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Department of Politics and Government, and thus to bring about its closure, is unprecedented in its severity. The behavior of the council, which is headed by right-wing Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, raises concerns that the body entrusted with developing and preserving the country’s higher education system is being influenced by decidedly non-academic pressures and considerations that threaten academic freedom.  “Israeli academic freedom is under severe attack,” the petition, signed by faculty from universities and colleges around the country, states.

The extreme-tight movement “Im Tirtzu – Rebuilding a Zionist Society” has been involved with the issue for a few years and has continued to push for close the politics and government program. “Im Tirtzu” found two years ago, that nine out of 11 professors in the department had signed “radical left-wing petitions.”

Foreign academics have also criticized the decision.  “If the committee intends to prevent scientific research that internationally known researchers are prepared to defend, Israel could lose the world’s esteem,” wrote Prof. Richard Anderson, a UCLA political scientist.  Prof. Eric Sheppard of the University of Minnesota, president of the American Geographical Society, said that such a move would have “damaging consequences, not only in Israeli academia’s relations with the world, but also with the effort to attain knowledge and understanding everywhere.”