Bennett Seeks Ban on Profs Politicizing in Classroom

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks to press before attending the weekly cabinet meeting at the PM’s office in Yerushalayim, Sunday. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

A panel for higher education headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett adopted on Sunday a code of ethics which bars lecturers from exploiting classrooms to advance their own political agendas, a measure which was denounced by the universities as hostile to academic freedom.

The new code, which was drafted by Philosophy Professor Asa Kasher, who also authored the IDF Code of Ethics, prohibits lecturers from “wrongly taking advantage of the teaching platform to systematically and improperly exhort a political position that clearly exceeds what is required by the teaching of the course in its broader context within its field.”

The heads of the seven Israeli universities were defiant in their opposition to the measure, saying they will not be “used as a political thought police for the government.” The move “continues the unfortunate line by which the ethical code is political censorship that crushes underfoot the most basic principles of academic freedom,” it added.

In response, Bennett asserted that it was “absurd” that professors who are being paid with taxpayer money were using their teaching positions to call for the world to boycott Israel.

“We are working to prevent academic suppression in order to prevent a student from being harmed because of his political views or for a lecturer who receives his salary from the taxpayer to come out with a call to boycott his own academy,” said Bennett.

While the guidelines are broadly formulated, and make no mention of BDS, it was understood to be the main subtext of the debate, as Bennett indicated in his remarks.

The code calls for a “ban on discrimination, positive or negative, of students based on their political opinions,” and a “ban on discrimination, positive or negative, of a faculty member or candidate for such or for promotion, based on their political opinions.”

It was sent to the heads of Israel’s academic institutions for response, after which it is slated to brought before the full Council for Higher Education. If adopted, it will go into effect in 2019.

However, the universities may defy Bennett and Kasher even then. Haaretz quoted a source on Sunday who said that adoption of the ethics codes would in the end be up to the universities themselves, since the Council has no compulsory power, short of stripping a university of official recognition, something which is considered unrealistic.