CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION
November 16, 2009
By Matthew Kalman
Left-right tensions are rising on Israeli campuses over the complex legacy of Zionist ideology and the place of Zionism in Israeli society, with a call for students at one university to report on "Thought Police" professors, a campaign that is being likened to "McCarthyite" tactics in the United States.
The tensions pit radical academics, who are being accused of pursuing a political agenda and silencing pro-Zionist views, against Zionist groups, accused of a "witchhunt" against professors who reject the mainstream Israeli narrative.
Things came to a head at University of Haifa with the publication this fall of an advertisement in the new student calendar by IsraCampus, a watchdog modeled on Campus Watch in the United States.
Under the heading "Warning! Academic Fifth Column!," students are alerted to "professors and lecturers in Israeli universities and colleges who are involved in subversive activities." The ad alleges that the professors "openly support terrorist attacks against Jews, initiate an international boycott of Israel, make use of their status in the classroom for anti-Israeli incitement and anti-Zionist brainwashing, collaborate with known anti-Semites, denounce Israel as a fascist-colonialist state and an apartheid regime."
Meanwhile, a campus poster published by Im Tirzu — a movement seeking to reinvigorate Zionism — invites students to call a special hotline to "Stop the Thought Police in Academia" by reporting anti-Zionist lecturers or syllabi.
David Newman, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba, called the naming campaigns "McCarthyite."
An internal memorandum written recently by the head of the department of curriculum and instruction at Tel Aviv University said some students feared that left-wing lecturers might penalize them for their political opinions.
"There are no small number of students of lecturers with left-wing views who complain bitterly that they are extremely offended by the presentation of materials that oppose their views, but are fearful of expressing contrary viewpoints in class, lest it harm their grades," wrote the official, Nira Hativa.
Israeli universities have always been proud of hosting a robust debate in a society that perceives itself as constantly under threat of war and terrorism, but recent moves by a small group of academics to advocate an international boycott of Israeli universities have sparked an angry backlash.
"There's a group of Israeli professors who are misusing the classroom for political indoctrination," said Steven Plaut, an associate professor of business administration at Haifa, who paid for the IsraCampus advertisement. "They are using their positions within Israeli academia to basically promote an anti-Israel political agenda. Other people have the right to know what they're doing."
But Menachem Klein, a political-science professor at the right-leaning Bar-Ilan University who feels his left-wing views are stifled there, said those who categorized professors according to their political views do not understand the purpose of academic life.
"Academic research cannot be measured according to loyalty to a policy or to nationalism," said Mr. Klein. "The question is not whether I am a good Israeli scholar but whether I am a good scholar, period. I feel that Israeli academia is losing its universal humanistic base because of what's going on in general society and the conflict with Palestinians."