Thursday, February 18, 2010

Does "freedom of academia" mean freedom of treachery?

From a Jerusalem Post op-ed, February 16, 2010 Tuesday 2, by JOSEPH KLAFTER, professor of theoretical chemistry, president of Tel Aviv University and the former chairman of the Israel Science Foundation. (Continue reading after the excerpt to also read responses to this op-ed) :

...As the new president of Tel Aviv University, the country’s largest and most comprehensive institution of higher education, I find myself caught in an agonizing double bind.

On the one hand, my university and other Israeli academic institutions are the subject of an odious boycott campaign...that seeks to delegitimize Israel – and ultimately eliminate it – by unfairly casting it as the new racist South Africa. Regrettably, some of the campaign’s advocates include a handful of the university’s own faculty and students. In fact, one of the most vocal leaders of the campaign is a current post-graduate student.

On the other hand, the university is subjected to vehement calls for another kind of boycott – a financial one – by loyal and long-term donors. This latter campaign is designed by well-intended friends of Israel who seek to coerce us, the Tel Aviv University leadership, into acting against the very small minority of our faculty and student body that is critical of Israel and government policies. They demand that we fire dissident faculty and expel politically wayward students.

It is between these two forces that I operate.

...The boycott campaign must...be opposed on a single universal principle alone – the right to academic freedom.

...many people expect, and a few insist, that my university and its management punish [faculty members who clamor for an academic boycott] and students by expelling them.

To do so, however, will subvert the very same principle by which we oppose the boycott and will undermine our best efforts to thwart it. If we impose severe sanctions against dissident faculty and students, we will play into the hands of those who lead the boycott drive by compromising on our own core value of academic freedom.

Moreover, if donors decide to withhold funding from TAU because of the views of a few faculty members or students, they will inadvertently strengthen the boycotters’ position by politicizing and destabilizing our universities. I believe that those who love and believe in Israel should do the exact opposite – they should increase their support for the universities. They should make a strong public statement against boycotts of any kind by providing greater, not fewer, resources for Israel’s high-achieving academic community, and by strengthening, not weakening, the universities’ national contribution.

It helps to think of education as a tree. In our case, investment in higher education in the early years of the state’s existence yielded incredible fruits for the people of Israel and, indeed, for the world – including medical discoveries and hi-tech innovations. I hope that current and future supporters will invest more in the wonderful tree that is the Israeli research enterprise. The double bind we face is that one group exhorts felling this tree to hurt Israel through boycott and exclusion, while another would stop watering the tree by withdrawing funding and support.

Either will hurt my university and my country.

Responses to Professor Joseph Klafter's op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, titled "The double boycott challenge":

1) From Mark Tanenbaum, Board Of Governors, Tel Aviv University; Board of Directors, American Friends of Tel Aviv University; Board of International Overseers, Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University

...Professor Klafter is mistaken if he feels members of the Board of Governors, such as myself, have a problem with free speech at the University. We don't. Even when the anti-Israel polemics are repugnant to our pro-Israel sensibilities.

I DO however have a problem with these professors hiding behind the University's skirt of "free speech" while in essence, actively working to harm the State of Israel. This insidious and dangerous activity must be dealt with firmly by the TAU Administration.

Allowing the professors to actively advocate and promote the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ("BDS") Movement in general, and the academic boycott of TAU in particular is unacceptable.

A red line is crossed when a professor transitions from stating his or her opinion on certain political matters within an academic environment, to actively pursuing and promoting the international boycott of Israel in non-academic spheres. The latter activity should not be protected or condoned by Professor Klafter and his Administration.

Furthermore, by these faculty members stating at their international Israel-bashing forums that they are TAU professors, it gives undeserved credence to their nefarious views. At the same time, it harms the University's reputation. TAU now appears as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity in the eyes of it's donors, thanks in part to the president facilitating this behavior through his inaction.

Rachel Giora and Anat Matar are the two most high profile faculty extremists that fly all over the world, encouraging the academic boycott of the very university (TAU) that pays their salaries. How whacked is THAT?

Both have made publicly recorded statements to the press that TAU is complicit in the "criminal", "racist" and "illegal occupation of the Palestinian's land" due to it's military research activity. Yet not a peep from the Administration defending the University against these slanderous and libelous remarks. Plus total silence from the University when Matar wrongly accused an IDF soldier of murdering a Palestinian and blasted his picture all over the Internet. The State Attorney is now looking into that incident.

Matar will be speaking on February 17th at University College in London to promote the academic boycott of Israel. She made sure she was listed in the program as a faculty member at TAU. Plus there was a recent Jerusalem Post article on Matar calling for a worldwide boycott of Tel Aviv University. And again,no statement from TAU's Administration about their esteemed faculty member's efforts to destroy their beacon of academic freedom.

If Matar were not such an obvious hypocrite, she would quit her job at the University she so despises, and apply for a position in Ramallah. Let's see how long the Palestinian Authority would tolerate her "right to free speech".

State employees such as these faculty members at TAU, should not be able to receive a paycheck from the government with one hand, while signing anti-Israel boycott petitions with the other.

One must remember that TAU is a State supported institution. As such, the president bears a fiduciary responsibility to the Israeli taxpayers and the Ministry of Education that professors at his University do not actively promote and work toward the financial destruction of their country through the BDS movement.

A South Africa-like boycott, which is being promoted by these TAU faculty members, will swiftly bring Israel to it's knees by the crushing economic damage it shall inflict. Our enemies will defeat us without firing even one shot.

Professor Klafter does not realize that Israel is fighting against her annihilation in a new type of war.

It is a war where no tanks, or airplanes, or rockets are involved.

It is a war where Israel's military might is of no avail.

It is a war of delegitimization fought by our sworn enemies.

It is a war to crush us through economic and political isolation.

It is a war fought against us from within our borders by the these faculty members.

They are aiding our enemies.

And foolishly protected by Professor Klafter and his Administration.


2) From Dana Barnett, executive director of Israel Academia Monitor:

Dear Prof' Joseph Klafter,
We can certainly understand the predicament you are in with regards to those faculty in your university who misuse their academic freedom. But didn't you make your life too easy by saying that the best answer is to ignore these people and continue with the important work of the university? You can initiate some simple steps which may lead to cessation of anti Israeli activities emanating from your university, without compromising academic freedom.

As a starter, why don’t you write a letter to your faculty, explaining to them that this type of behavior hurts the university and that you personally ask them to cease from their anti-Israel activity?

Second, why don't you warn them that any political activity which enters the classroom will be dealt with harshly? If you would take a close look at the curriculum of some of the courses in your university you would see that they are political and ideological, rather than scientific. Don't you think that such misuse of academic freedom at the expense of students should and can be stopped?

Third, why don’t you cut off all financial support for the type of bogus research that some of these people undertake? You can make it clear that beyond the bare salary, you will stop any financial support especially for so called "research" that is used by your faculty in their war against your university and the State of Israel. You have the right to set funding priorities, you do this every day with regards to bona fide research and do not consider this to be detrimental to academic freedom. So why not use the same criteria for the bogus "research" of these people?

Fourth, you do not have to support their travel abroad. You can make sure that beyond their travel funds given to them as part of their employment contract, they do not get any support from your university for travelling. You can disallow their travel if it is on account of their teaching, you may prevent other teachers from filling in for their courses, when these people try to go abroad during the academic year.

Fifth: You can make sure that these people do not serve on any professional committee or other position in your university. Surely they should not be department chairpersons, or responsible for students in any capacity.

Sixth: Let your university know who the offenders are, make sure that all your students know their identities. Just as students will not go to a poor lecturer, they may opt not to go to courses given by someone who is trying to undermine their university.

Seventh: You need not be helpful when it comes to setting your teaching schedule. Their allotted hours should receive the lowest priority, just as you would give low priority to someone who is known to be a poor lecturer.

The bottom line, these people have the right of free speech, but not anything beyond that. Academic freedom means that one has the right to free speech and to pursuing academic interests freely, without being persecuted by the law. Academic freedom does not mean your university has to support action which it deems to be detrimental. You can set clear guidelines, stating that anyone who calls for a boycott of Israeli Universities shall be treated accordingly. Your present stand, although clearly well meaning, encourages those who hate Israel and its wonderful university system to continue their actions, knowing that they will not be accountable. We are certain that if your donors see a firm stand, which, on the one hand preserves academic freedom but at the same time takes the measures needed to assure this freedom shall not be abused, they will be even more supportive and giving.

3) From Vic Rosenthal:

...Dr. Joseph Klafter has a problem. He’s president of Tel Aviv University (TAU), where Dr. Anat Matar and Prof. Rachel Giora are members of the faculty, and Omar Barghouti is a graduate student.

Matar, a professor of Philosophy has called the IDF a ‘criminal army’, agrees with the conclusions of the Goldstone report that accuses Israel of deliberately targeting the civilian Palestinian Arab population for violence, and supports the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement — including the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. She was arrested at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in Bili’in in 2005.

Giora, about whom I wrote previously, also a stalwart of the BDS movement, is member of the Linguistics Department. Her name appears first (followed, of course, by Matar’s) on a petition calling for “civil society institutions as well as concerned citizens around the world” to

Integrate BDS in every struggle for justice and human rights by adopting wide, context-sensitive and sustainable boycotts of Israeli products, companies, academic and cultural institutions, and sports groups, similar to the actions taken against apartheid South Africa;

Ensure that national and multinational corporations are held accountable and sanctioned accordingly for profiteering from Israel’s occupation and other Israeli violations of human rights and international law;

Work towards canceling and blocking free trade and other preferential agreements with Israel;

Pressure governments to impose a direct and indirect arms embargo on Israel, which will guarantee end-user compliance with international law and human rights principles.

And Barghouti — well, he is a leader of the BDS movement, a founder of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel. PACBI claims to want to apply pressure to make Israel ‘change its ways’, but in reality its goal is to destroy the Jewish state. It is absurd that this person is benefiting from a university built from contributions given in good faith by Zionists in order to strengthen the Jewish state. And it is beyond absurd that he is studying ethics.

Dr. Klafter’s problem takes the form of a dilemma. On the one hand, he seems to believe that the words and actions of Matar, Giora and Barghouti are protected by the concept of academic freedom. On the other hand, some big donors to TAU have said that they will zip up their wallets if subversive academics like the above are not fired or expelled.

While Klafter finds the BDS campaign and particularly the academic boycott “odious”, he is opposed to taking action against the boycotters because to do so would subvert the very same principle by which we oppose the boycott and will undermine our best efforts to thwart it. If we impose severe sanctions against dissident faculty and students, we will play into the hands of those who lead the boycott drive by compromising on our own core value of academic freedom.

According to Klafter, Academic freedom is an absolute value, because without it the university would not be able to perform its functions. So even if a teacher or student agitates for the destruction of the state, he or she can’t be stopped. One can oppose the academic boycott itself, because it limits academic freedom. But doing anything about the perpetrators is forbidden. So the donors should fight the boycott by increasing their contributions, because this will strengthen the university and the state.

Here are a few facts Dr. Klafter seems to have missed:

The state of Israel is more important than Tel Aviv University. BDS is not just an academic boycott — although the fact that it includes one makes student Barghouti a hypocrite — it is part of a campaign to delegitimize and weaken the state so that it can be physically destroyed.

Academic freedom, like freedom of speech in other contexts, is not an absolute value. It can be limited without destroying it.

If the university becomes a bastion of anti-Israel activity, then Zionist donors can better support the state by sending their money elsewhere.

It’s not just the BDS people. TAU is also home to Shlomo Zand, whose ’scholarship’ attacks the very notion of a Jewish people, and a number of others. It’s time for Israeli academia to wake up, smell the coffee, and think about what their academic freedom would be like in the Arab state that Matar, Giora and Barghouti want to replace Israel with.
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