Four years ago the management of Ariel University located in the occupied territories and considered by many the academic arm of occupation asked the university senate to ratify a new ethical code that prohibits faculty members from criticizing the university in public and supporting academic boycott. After minor objection, the code was imposed. I vividly remember a bet I made back then with a fellow professor from abroad. The terms were as follows: If other Israeli universities, ones that are not clearly identified with the occupation, adopt a similar code within the next five years – my fellow owes me a well aged bottle of whiskey; Otherwise, I owe him a bottle. Yesterday, the bottle was delivered to my doorstep.
I won the bet because Asa Kasher, emeritus philosopher from Tel-Aviv University, submitted the final draft of a new ethical code for Israeli Universities. The soon to become binding set of rules was commissioned by the right wing minister of education Nafatli Benett. Code highlights include a ban on making political statements in class, an establishment of statutory committees that would prosecute lecturers who do not abide to the ban, and a partial ban on political demonstrations in campuses (demonstrations would be still allowed when it is clear beyond reasonable doubt that the university is not involved even remotely). The “funnier” parts of the code include a demand that professors apologize to students if during lectures they somehow identify themselves with a political party, and forcing scientists to operate under academic standards when they speak out in public – regardless of the subject.
What could have brought a 77 year-old ethicist to believe that a physicist who is also a football fan commentating on matches should use scientific jargon when talking about free kicks and offside I truly do not know. In my humble opinion, the fact lately Prof. Kasher has become a jack of all trades and offers codes that aim to regulate the behavior of very different occupations – from soldiers to TV advertisers – and a whole gamut of human behavior – from renting a flat to fighting at war – says something not very complimentary about the patchy nature of his work. However, the willingness of a supposedly respected humanist, who not so long ago still took part in Peace-Now demonstrations against the occupation, to limit legitimate protest (at least as of now – political identification with BDS is still legal in Israel) is less critical to the future of Israeli academe than the outcome of adopting the proposed code.
Let us not delude ourselves: This code is another chain in a line of laws and regulations that are aimed to make left wing protest illegal or at least very expensive to the protesters. Together with the 2011 Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott that puts BDS supporters under the risk of paying astronomical sums in compensation to settlers, last year’s bill that forces NGOs supported financially by foreign governments to declare so in all their public statements, and a recent bill barring foreign BDS supporters from entering Israel as tourists.
Benett clarified that the new code is “not against academic freedom” (he is right – it is against freedom of speech) and declared plans to bring the code for ratification by the council of higher education. His chances of obtaining that ratification are pretty high given that all acting members of the council are appointments conferred by the current right-wing government.
If the bill is indeed a done deal, this should bring the international academic community one step closer to supporting a full-fledged boycott of Israeli academe. I know that this is not an easy step to take emotionally and practically, and that in the short run it may damage good people, but in the long run – boycott is the best way, perhaps the only way, to save Israel from fascism.
Let me end with proper disclosure: For 15 years I have earned my living in various institutes of high education in Israel. Since my work contract as a professor at Ariel University was not renewed in 2014 because of what the university considered “my inappropriate public statements” I have not had any working ties with Israeli academe, nor do I have plans to reconnect.