Donor to Ben Gurion University wants condemnation of leftist statements 20Apr11 April 26, 2011

The Alternative Information Centre -  20 April 2011

Millions of shekels were to be donated to build a new university library, but the payment has been delayed. One suggestion is that the donor’s request for condemnation is specifically referring to Professor Neve Gordon, a public advocate of boycotting Israeli academic institutions, who in a 2009 Op-ED called Israel “an apartheid state”.

Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi has declined to reveal the name of the donor or the amount of money in question, but insists the institution and the individual have good, longstanding ties.

“I know the donor for more than five years. We have a warm and close relationship, and we meet each time I travel to the United States and every time he comes to Israel,” Carmi said.

“We have a discussion about this topic, not related to an individual but related to the topic of the boundaries of academic freedom. This is a disagreement of years, even before this or that individual story occurred. We are currently discussing this and it isn’t closed. I hope and am optimistic that soon we will reach an understanding.”

Carmi said that the donor is not trying to restrict academic freedom, and that this matter is limited to a particular individual.

The professor most likely in question is Neve Gordon, the chair of the university’s department of politics and government, and a well-known Israeli peace activist.

Gordon is one of Israel’s better known academics internationally. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Watson Institute at Brown University. During the first Intifada, he was the director of Physicians for Human Rights – Israel.

The 2009 Op-ED that drew so much attention appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

“The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside,” Gordon wrote.

“The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.”

Carmi’s response, also in the Los Angeles Times was strong, though apparently not enough for the mystery donor. “As president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, I have always remained open and impartial to the wide diversity of opinions within our academic faculty and their right to free speech, no matter how controversial their views or writings may be.”

“However, I strongly believe a call for a worldwide boycott of Israel written by a Ben-Gurion University faculty member, Neve Gordon, that appeared in The Times oversteps the boundaries of academic freedom — because it has nothing to do with it.”

The Ben Gurion donor is not alone in targeting leftist political opinions in Israeli academic institutions.

In October 2010, the Zionist organization Im Tirtzu released a report stating that 80 percent of the research papers taught at political science courses in Israeli universities are “anti-Zionist and anti-nationalist.” The report was roundly criticized by academics and public figures, but Im Tirtzu officials said they stood behind the study.

Nationalist groups such as IsraCampus and Israel Academia Monitor are also going after academics.

In a recent interview with the independent Israeli media group +972, Gordon was asked what he believes academics should do in response to the growing anti-democracy trends both in government and academia.

He responded saying: “I’m not sure it’s the role of academics to change society. People should speak out in support of democracy and criticize undemocratic elements, but not necessarily through academia. Civil society movements should lead… academics are not only academics, they are also something else, they are also members of civil society. And as members of civil society, academics need to struggle for social justice, locally and nationally.”

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