Threat to Academic Freedom?

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Article/book #: 6978
Title: Threat to Academic Freedom?
By: David Newman  
Published in: The Times Higher Education Supplement
Date of issue: Thursday, 29 April 2004
Topic(s) addressed:
Commentary (by JB):

Newman ignores the fact that the boycott of Israeli universities is intended to force those institutions to take a stand against the Israeli government's continual (for several decades now) repressive actions against Palestinian university life, actions which are far worse than a boycott.

Newman mentions Plaut and Gordon; both of these published pieces in the same issue of the THES in December 2004 -- see this article and this article.

According to reports in last week's Haaretz newspaper, Israel's academic freedom is in danger of being trampled on by politicians. This was in part a response to the decision by Limor Livnat, the minister of education, not to attend the annual meeting of the board of governors of Ben Gurion University next month because she objected to the views expressed by a member of faculty in an article that was published in Belgium and in which he used the term "symbolic Holocaust" to describe Israel's policies of targeting and assasinating Hamas leaders.

At the same time as Livnat's views became public, Neve Gordon, a lecturer known for his leftwing views and critique of the policies of the present Israeli government, brought a libel action against Stephen Plaut, a lecturer at Haifa University, after Plaut refused to retract statements circulated in articles and on web sites, accusing him of being a "fanatic anti-Semite," a "Judenrat wannabe" and a "groupie of the worlds leading Holocaust denier".

These are not isolated incidents. They are part of a much bigger campaign that has been growing alarmingly over the past three years. Leftwing academics have become the target of neo-conservative attacks, in Israel and the US. Many of these attacks have appeared as letters addressed to university supporters or the general public, or in articles that have been published indiscriminately on websites, many of which have affiliations to extreme rightwing organisations.

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