Leading Anti-BDS US Academics Weigh in On Controversial Proposed Israeli Academic Ethics Code

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American professors who have played prominent roles in fighting the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement have weighed in on a controversial academic ethics code being considered for implementation in Israel.

The Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) released a statement earlier this week condemning the proposed regulations drawn up by Israeli professor Asa Kasher, of Tel Aviv University and the liberal arts Shalem College, at the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, which would prohibit academics from promoting personal political views in the classroom and from supporting BDS.

“[The code] would govern how faculty members address political issues in their classrooms, their publications, in external political activity, and in public debate,” the AAF said. “At the core of these proposed regulations is an effort to impose fundamental and wholly unacceptable government constraints on faculty political speech and, more broadly, to radically circumscribe the authority of Israeli academic institutions to do their work.”

Kasher’s code was described by the AAF as “vague,” which the progressive academic organization claimed made the regulations “easily manipulated and dangerous.”

The statement also rejected the code’s insistence that it falls in line with academic freedom standards set by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

However, the AAF noted Kasher did make a number of points of “sound advice,” including his ban on faculty use of university communication resources for “political activity,” and that schools should “take concrete steps against the appearance that a narrow selection was preferred on the basis of considerations having to do with the political activities of the unit’s faculty members.”

The AAF statement was drafted by Cary Nelson, a jubilee professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who told The Algemeiner that pro-Israel US academics might face greater challenges should the policy be adopted.

“[T]hose of us who care about Israeli higher education will have to redouble our efforts to stand with our Israeli colleagues and the principles that have secured their academic freedom,” Nelson said. “At the same time we will have to draw an ever stronger distinction between Israel, the country and the people we love, and a conservative government that often does not represent the country’s best interests.”

Miriam Elman, a political science professor at Syracuse University and a writer at the conservative blog Legal Insurrection, took issue with the AAF charge that Kasher’s document breaches AAUP guidelines, saying that both policies reject “indoctrination in the classroom.”

“[P]rofessors shouldn’t be discussing political topics that are irrelevant to their subject matter; shouldn’t be bullying, berating or grading down those students who hold different views; shouldn’t be preventing students from raising dissenting viewpoints in classroom discussions. All this is straight out of the AUUP guidelines,” said Elman, who praised the ethics code’s “laudable goals” of “protecting students from political coercion in the classroom and ensuring that students are treated fairly by faculty.”

She was highly skeptical that the Israel’s Council of Higher Education would ever adopt the code, but welcomed the international debate generated by its introduction.

However, Elman made clear that she believed that the code attempted to address these problems “in a very heavy-handed way,” and that government regulation of academic matters would be entirely different than policy set by AAUP, a professional organization.

Leading Anti-BDS US Academics Weigh in On Controversial Proposed Israeli Academic Ethics Code

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