A stormy meeting was held Wednesday at the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on the topic of academic politicization and the support given by university faculty members to a boycott against Israel.
MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu), who initiated the meeting, said ”Israel cannot support and budget lecturers who call for a boycott against Israel. The boycott movement is an anti-Semitic movement, and they (lecturers) cannot hide behind freedom of expression.”
Forer said he plans to introduce legislation that would allow the State to prevent an institution of higher learning from receiving funds that amount to the salary of a lecturer who calls for a boycott against Israel.
Professor Zvi Ziegler, who heads an inter-university forum to combat the academic boycott, said that ”the number of lecturers who support an academic boycott against Israel is so small and marginal – damaging but marginal – that it would not be worth it to deal with them. The damage they cause is a lot less severe than the damage that will be caused to Israel`s reputation as an enlightened and advanced country if we fight them.”
Matan Peleg, the director of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, told the committee that ”this phenomenon must be stopped for the sake of the future of the Israeli academia.”
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) said: ”Could it be that the Arab Members of Knesset are doing the same thing as professors in the State of Israel – receive money and call to boycott the country? I ask myself, who learned from whom?”
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp) said that while he supports a two-state solution, ”the academic boycott hurts the chances of a shared existence.”
MK Mordhay Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) urged the Council for Higher Education of Israel ”to discuss this unacceptable phenomenon, so that there will be respectful rather than inciting academic freedom.”
MK Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp), a professor, stressed that while he is against boycotts and the BDS movement, ”a democracy`s strength lies in its ability to accept criticism.” He further argued that any initiative aimed at restricting academic freedom would cause much more damage.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) said, ”This debate is not between Jews and Arabs, or for or against BDS, because most of us are against BDS. We must check to see who is breaking the law and who isn`t.”
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Camp) said Israel should fight the BDS movement ”while preserving the values of democracy.” He noted that among the thousands of university faculty members in Israel, there are between three and 10 lecturers who support the boycott, ”and I am revolted by their actions and denounce them.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said, ”This is an example of academic freedom under attack. Those who create politicization in the academia are the members of Im Tirtzu, with their amateurish report. We are sick and tired of this system of muzzling and restricting every democratic value in the country. Leave us alone. As for BDS, it is a non-violent protest that succeeded in South Africa, and it is legitimate to operate in this manner here as well.”
MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), who serves as the deputy chairperson of the Education Committee, chaired the meeting in place of Committee Chairman Yakov Margi of Shas, who did not attend in protest of the comments made by Channel 10 News Chairman Rami Sadan against his party and its leader, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Ben Ari said another meeting would be held with the participation of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who also serves as chairman of the Council for Higher Education.
Dr. Yael Barda of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem called out to the MKs: ”No one here has ownership over patriotism, so you need to hear us as well. Im Tirtzu distort and incite.” In response, a university student said, ”It is hard being a rightist student in the academia. We are silenced.”