Ben-Gurion University (BGU) is yet again embroiled in controversy over its association with the far Left. Last week, BGU announced that it will be sponsoring a conference at the end of May featuring the highly controversial NGO, “Breaking the Silence.”
The conference, which according to the University will address the historical and current aspects of whistle blowing, is being organized by BGU’s Department of Jewish History and will be featuring “Breaking the Silence” (BtS) CEO Yuli Novak, as well as the organization’s Public Relations Coordinator, Nadav Weiman, who is scheduled to present his “personal testimony.”
Following a letter sent by Im Tirtzu to BGU President Rivka Carmi, which charged that the University’s sponsorship of the conference is in violation of the Council for Higher Education in Israel’s stand on politicization in academia, the University replied that the conference is “academic” in nature and “promotes and enables an open and diverse dialogue and does not seek to espouse a particular political viewpoint.”
However, a quick look at the conference schedule reveals that the vast majority of speakers are affiliated with the radical and anti-Zionist Left. In addition to participants from BtS, the conference is replete with lecturers who support, inter alia, refusing IDF service, encouraging international pressure on Israel, and refusing to work over the Green Line.
The conference is also set to feature the chairman of “Physicians for Human Rights – Israel,” an Israeli NGO that uses foreign funding to accuse Israel and the IDF of violating international law, and a journalist who wrote for the Yediot Achronot: “There are several settlements, like Tapuach and Yizhar, which should not only be evacuated, but they should all be sprayed with bullets and killed… As far as I’m concerned killing them is not even considered killing people, but merely eliminating stray weeds.”
Despite BGU’s claim of academic pluralism, the reality remains that this conference has a clear slant to the hard Left. Incidentally enough, it was in response to this very phenomenon that the Council of Higher Education saw fit to heavily sanction BGU’s Department of Politics and Government several years earlier.
In addition to the politicized line-up of speakers, BGU is also being disingenuous by misrepresenting the name of the conference in its English translation (“Whistleblowing Through the Ages and Today”). The conference in Hebrew is titled “Shovrei Shtika Lidoroteyhem. Viachshav,” which elicits a clear and unmistakable association to BtS as Shovreim Shtika is the Hebrew name of the organization. The usage of the word “Whistleblowing” in place of the more fitting “Breaking the Silence” is a clear attempt by the University to deceive its English-speaking benefactors by denying the conference’s obvious connection to BtS.
As in the past, academic freedom is being used to mask a clear political agenda being propagated by BGU. The exchange of ideas and freedom of speech are crucial tenets to a thriving society and higher education, and political groups should have the right to organize events on campus grounds, but this does not give a publicly-funded university the mandate to sponsor such a highly politicized event. Presenting only one side of the debate is not academic freedom; it is forced indoctrination.
The fact that BGU is actively supporting an organization that defames the State of Israel and bolsters the BDS movement is very troubling. This is not only a gross misuse of public funds, but a betrayal of BGU’s student body that strives to achieve a higher education, not to be imbued with the University’s political agenda.
With this clear act of academic politicization, the Council for Higher Education should immediately open up another inquiry to investigate the University’s continuous violation of its guidelines.Eytan Meir