‘Political propaganda’ banned from Israeli university lectures

Sector leaders decry ‘censorship’, but outright ban on expressing political opinions is not mandatory for now

March 28, 2018
Palestine protest

Israeli universities have been told to bar their academics from expressing political opinions in class.

The Council for Higher Education in Israel has adopted a code of ethics that bans “political propaganda” from lectures and prohibits scholars from participating in or calling for boycotts of Israeli institutions.

It also bans academics from discriminating against colleagues or students based on their political views, and from presenting a personal political view as that of an institution.

However, the most controversial proposed article, which effectively banned the expression of political views in class “in a manner that clearly diverges from what is required to teach the class’s subject” will not be made mandatory, the council said.

However, the council said that it expected universities and colleges to enforce the clause, according to the Times of Israel. If they do not, the council will consider making it mandatory in future, local reports say.

The code was written by Asa Kasher, a professor of ethics at Tel Aviv University, at the request of the education minister, Naftali Bennett, last year.

The document has been widely criticised, including by the Committee of University Heads, which said in a statement: "The Council for Higher Education’s decision continues the unfortunate approach in which the ethics code is a political censorship that tramples on the most basic principles of academic freedom and free research, and is intended to silence people.

“We are already seeing a dangerous deterioration on the brink of freedom of expression and academic freedom, as is customary in primitive countries and not in a country that claims to be a democracy.”

Speaking last year, Sandy Kedar, who teaches in the law school at the University of Haifa, said that the proposal had “already had a chilling effect” because of the influence wielded by the government through its funding of higher education.

“It will not be possible to teach anything seriously with such an ethical code,” Dr Kedar said. The code is “part of a deeper process of silencing any kind of independent thought in Israel by the current ministry”, he added.

sophie.inge@timeshighereducation.com

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