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Hebrew media review

Who lectures the lecturers?

There's not a lot of love for the university ethics code in the press, but one paper does show what happens when institutions are scrubbed to the government's liking

All eyes on him: Naftali Bennett at a foreign policy debate co-organized by The Israel Project and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, January 08, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
All eyes on him: Naftali Bennett at a foreign policy debate co-organized by The Israel Project and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, January 08, 2013. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press are front and center in Sunday morning’s Hebrew-language papers in Israel, the first courtesy of a backlash to a proposed law that would censor university lecturers and the second thanks to the country’s most popular daily going above and beyond in looking like the Pyongyang Times.

The storm brewing over an Education Ministry-initiated academic code for professors that would bar them from expressing political opinions or calling for a boycott of Israel — first reported by Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday — makes the top stories of both that paper and Haaretz. Both papers report on a protest lodged by university heads against the code being formulated by Prof. Asa Kasher.

“This is a fundamentally illegitimate decision being driven by special interests and political pressure,” Prof. Yossi Klafter, who heads the group that penned the protest, tells Yedioth.

The paper also adds in criticism from politicians taking aim at Kasher, whose IDF ethics code is generally well respected.

“Sometimes professors, to say nothing of ministers, simply don’t understand what academics means. This bizarre thought police won’t work,” MK Ofer Shelah is quoted saying, in a statement that could also be read as backing the code if taken out of context. Zionist Union’s Micky Rosenthal is quoted slamming Kasher as “demolishing academia” after having previously authored a code that allows assassinations and home demolitions.

In Haaretz, columnist Or Kashti joins in the criticism of Kasher, accusing him of colluding with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and right-wing student group Im Tirtzu in the endeavor.

“Due to either apathy or courtesy, Kasher, who has a monopoly on formulating ethical codes for the establishment, confers legitimacy on this Im Tirtzu-Bennett axis,” he writes. “There is no point or justification in hiding reality unless the intention is to declare war on it. It’s hard to know if that’s what Kasher is aiming at, but it’s not certain if that’s even relevant. The fact is that he wrote a policy platform for Bennett that makes that possible.”

Yedioth’s Ben-Dror Yemini is far more forgiving, agreeing that academia has issues with quashing certain unpopular political voices, which necessitates some sort of correction. But he writes that the ethics code forbidding all political expression is not the way to go about changing things.

“It’s exactly the lecturers to whom the rules relate who are saying in advance that they will chip away at them. They know nobody will enforce it, since they would enlist the whole academic world to boycott Israel. There’s no need to give them a weapon,” he writes. “The large change needs to come from the admissions committee for lecturers, since it is ideological nepotism that is destroying academia. It’s tough, but they’ve got to find a way to do it. Not to shut mouths, but to expand the variety of voices.”

Israel Hayom runs only a small item on the hubbub, burying it on page 13. But really, the paper is perhaps itself the most striking example of what the academics are chafing against, its rah-rah front page the result of what happens when a regime tailors an important democratic institution to its liking. The paper leads off with a peppy story blowing the lid off a plan to invite — gasp — representatives from 161 countries to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday, a mere 11 months away, and prove that The Democratic People’s Republic of Israel is the most beloved Democratic People’s Republic in all the world.

“International bans? More like international fans!” guffaws the front page. “Everyone’s invited” reads a hard-hitting headline on page 2, crediting Dear Leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the “idea.”

“The goal of Netanyahu’s initiative is to create a ‘picture of victory’ which will disprove the claim of Israel’s international isolation — a claim that comes up time after time when the conversation turns to the price Israel is paying in the international arena because of the settlements. Netanyahu has spoken on the issue several times and said that there is no diplomatic isolation of Israel,” the paper reports.

The idea as presented by the paper essentially determines whether or not Israel is internationally isolated or not on how many top officials come to Israel next spring. But as British Prime Minister Theresa May learned over the weekend, gambling your future on what other people think of you is not a safe bet, and several papers continue to mull over the results of the British elections.

In Haaretz, columnist Asaf Ronel joins the others calling the strong showing for Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party a backlash against Brexit, but on the same page Anshel Pfeffer, actually in London, notes that Corbyn wasn’t exactly a major Brexit opponent and the results don’t exactly show a resounding pushback against the plan to leave the EU.

“Those still angry at the Brexit vote may taken revenge on May’s Conservatives in some parts of the country, but this is not a reversal of Brexit by any means. The United Kingdom is still split down the middle on Europe, and the polls still show a small majority in favor of leaving,” he writes. “It’s still way too early to talk of second thoughts in Britain, let alone a retreat from Brexit.”

What’s clear enough, though, is that May is the biggest loser, coming out of the election weaker than when she went in. Yedioth Ahronoth headline writers christen the Tories “The Lost party” (it’s a play on words of the Hebrew for Labour Party, strangely enough) and chest-slapping Corbyn a “superstar.”

On Israel Hayom’s op-ed page, meanwhile, Yossi Beilin notes that the results show that reports of the death of the European left were premature: “After the French elections and now Britain it seems it’s actually the right that’s in retreat and what is called the Trump Effect simply isn’t happening.”

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