I’ve just received word that academic freedom is under assault in Israel.
Haaretz calls the decision by the Israeli Council for Higher Education not to permit students to enroll in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Department of Politics and Government, and thus to bring about its closure, “unprecedented in its severity.”*
A situation in which an academic department and a renowned university is forced to battle against a body meant to represent it, and meant to fend off political pressures, should disturb anyone who is concerned with higher education and academic freedom.
The closure of BGU’s Department of Politics and Government, without allowing more time to fix any remaining deficiencies, gives one the impression that the decision was based not on issues of academic quality but on political considerations.
Richard Silverstein connects that decision to the demise of Israel’s venerable Maariv daily newspaper.
Add to this that the government has just voted to recognize a settler college, Ariel, as an official government-funded university over the objections of every president of every other Israeli university and the UK government–and you have an oncoming putsch in academia that matches the one taking place in Israeli media. Wherever the Israeli far-right sees tolerance, liberalism and freedom of thought it seeks to stamp it out ruthlessly. It is yet another manifestation of the permanent far-right majority which is designed to turn Israel into a state that chooses nationalism and religious identity over democracy. This is the rise of the authoritarian state and the death of the hybrid Jewish-democratic state cherished by liberal Zionists.
*The chairperson of that department, Neve Gordon, is a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study this academic year.