A stormy emergency session was held Wednesday at the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, following a report released by the rightwing Im Tirtzu movement that revealed the involvement of 20 Israeli academics in the proposed resolution of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to join the boycott against Israel. The debate revolved around academic politicization and the support given by university faculty members to boycotts against Israel.
The emergency session was called by MK Oded Forer (Yisrael Beitenu), who said that “Israel cannot support and budget lecturers who call for a boycott against Israel. The boycott movement is an anti-Semitic movement, and they (the lecturers) cannot hide behind freedom of expression.”
Forer announced his plan to introduce legislation that would allow the State to prevent an institution of higher learning from receiving funds that amount to the salary of a lecturer who calls for a boycott against Israel.
Professor Zvi Ziegler, who heads an inter-university forum to combat the academic boycott, said that “the number of lecturers who support an academic boycott against Israel is so small and marginal – damaging but marginal – that it would not be worth it to deal with them. The damage they cause is a lot less severe than the damage that would be caused to Israel’s reputation as an enlightened and advanced country if we fight them.”
Matan Peleg, director of Im Tirtzu, told the committee that “this phenomenon must be stopped for the sake of the future of Israeli academia.”
MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi) said: “Could it be that the Arab Members of Knesset are doing the same thing as professors in the State of Israel – receive money and call to boycott the country? I ask myself, who learned from whom?”
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Camp) said that while he supports a two-state solution, “the academic boycott hurts the chances of a shared existence.”
MK Mordhay Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) urged the Council for Higher Education of Israel “to discuss this unacceptable phenomenon, so that there will be respectful rather than inciting academic freedom.”
MK Yoseph Yonah (Zionist Camp), himself a university professor, stressed that while he is against boycotts and the BDS movement, “a democracy’s strength lies in its ability to accept criticism.” He further argued that any initiative aimed at restricting academic freedom would cause much more damage.
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) said, “This debate is not between Jews and Arabs, or for or against BDS, because most of us are against BDS. We must check to see who is breaking the law and who isn’t.”
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Camp) said Israel should fight the BDS movement “while preserving the values of democracy.” He noted that among the thousands of university faculty members in Israel, there are between three and ten lecturers who support the boycott, “and I am revolted by their actions and denounce them.”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) said, “This is an example of academic freedom under attack. Those who create politicization in the academia are the members of Im Tirtzu, with their amateurish report. We are sick and tired of this system of muzzling and restricting every democratic value in the country. Leave us alone. As for BDS, it is a non-violent protest that succeeded in South Africa, and it is legitimate to operate in this manner here as well.”
MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), who serves as deputy chairperson of the Education Committee, chaired the meeting in place of Committee Chairman Yakov Margi (Shas), who did not attend in protest of the comments allegedly made by Channel 10 News Chairman Rami Sadan against his party and its leader, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.