Dr. Joseph Klafter has a problem. He’s president of Tel Aviv University (TAU), where Dr. Anat Matar and Prof. Rachel Giora are members of the faculty, and Omar Barghouti is a graduate student.
Matar, a professor of Philosophy has called the IDF a ‘criminal army’, agrees with the conclusions of the Goldstone report that accuses Israel of deliberately targeting the civilian Palestinian Arab population for violence, and supports the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement — including the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. She was arrested at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in Bili’in in 2005.
Giora, about whom I wrote previously, also a stalwart of the BDS movement, is member of the Linguistics Department. Her name appears first (followed, of course, by Matar’s) on a petition calling for “civil society institutions as well as concerned citizens around the world” to
- Integrate BDS in every struggle for justice and human rights by adopting wide, context-sensitive and sustainable boycotts of Israeli products, companies, academic and cultural institutions, and sports groups, similar to the actions taken against apartheid South Africa;
- Ensure that national and multinational corporations are held accountable and sanctioned accordingly for profiteering from Israel’s occupation and other Israeli violations of human rights and international law;
- Work towards canceling and blocking free trade and other preferential agreements with Israel;
- Pressure governments to impose a direct and indirect arms embargo on Israel, which will guarantee end-user compliance with international law and human rights principles.
And Barghouti — well, he is a leader of the BDS movement, a founder of PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel. PACBI claims to want to apply pressure to make Israel ‘change its ways’, but in reality its goal is to destroy the Jewish state. It is absurd that this person is benefiting from a university built from contributions given in good faith by Zionists in order to strengthen the Jewish state. And it is beyond absurd that he is studying ethics.
Dr. Klafter’s problem takes the form of a dilemma. On the one hand, he seems to believe that the words and actions of Matar, Giora and Barghouti are protected by the concept of academic freedom. On the other hand, some big donors to TAU have said that they will zip up their wallets if subversive academics like the above are not fired or expelled.
While Klafter finds the BDS campaign and particularly the academic boycott “odious”, he is opposed to taking action against the boycotters because to do so would
subvert the very same principle by which we oppose the boycott and will undermine our best efforts to thwart it. If we impose severe sanctions against dissident faculty and students, we will play into the hands of those who lead the boycott drive by compromising on our own core value of academic freedom.
According to Klafter, Academic freedom is an absolute value, because without it the university would not be able to perform its functions. So even if a teacher or student agitates for the destruction of the state, he or she can’t be stopped. One can oppose the academic boycott itself, because it limits academic freedom. But doing anything about the perpetrators is forbidden. So the donors should fight the boycott by increasing their contributions, because this will strengthen the university and the state.
Here are a few facts Dr. Klafter seems to have missed:
- The state of Israel is more important than Tel Aviv University. BDS is not just an academic boycott — although the fact that it includes one makes student Barghouti a hypocrite — it is part of a campaign to delegitimize and weaken the state so that it can be physically destroyed.
- Academic freedom, like freedom of speech in other contexts, is not an absolute value. It can be limited without destroying it.
- If the university becomes a bastion of anti-Israel activity, then Zionist donors can better support the state by sending their money elsewhere.
It’s not just the BDS people. TAU is also home to Shlomo Zand, whose ‘scholarship’ attacks the very notion of a Jewish people, and a number of others. It’s time for Israeli academia to wake up, smell the coffee, and think about what their academic freedom would be like in the Arab state that Matar, Giora and Barghouti want to replace Israel with.