Thanks in part to his efforts, Israeli universities are no longer the bastions of the left, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday. Speaking at an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Israeli Council for Higher Education, Bennett said that while higher education in Israel “is not, was never and never will be a branch of the Jewish Home party, it is no longer the home court of groups on the far left like Breaking the Silence.”
That, Bennett said, should be seen as a positive thing by members of academia, “who are pluralistic fighters for freedom of speech. People who profess those ideas should be glad that there is a range of voices, and that additional institutions are making their voices heard. We have truly engineered a revolution.”
As Education Minister, Bennett is also head of the Council, and is in charge of its budget. Bennett has been trying to convince the heads of other universities to admit Ariel University to the Council, a request that they have turned down so far.
In response, Bennett has threatened to cut budgets of the Council members. “You claim you are not a closed group. Now is the time to turn words into actions. The burden of proof” of being able to accept alternative viewpoints, such as those of the staff of Ariel University, “is on you,” Bennett told university heads. “I find the claims and cries of the false prophets that we are witnessing the end of a free academia in Israel to be strange,” he said. “Israeli academia is strong, free and vibrant, and it will remain so.”
Also speaking at the event was President Reuven Rivlin, who criticized Bennett’s remarks. “It is possible to promote Ariel without sneering at the rest of academia,” Rivlin said. “I have great affection for Ariel University and I believe it should be part of the Council. But to say that the ‘cartel of the universities’ has been broken, as the Education Minister said, is a bit much.”