Academic rebuked for expressing sympathy for Gaza victims

Bar-Ilan University scrutinizes law professor for reflecting a political position in an email to his students

Bar Ilan University, Israel (photo credit: CC-BY Avishai Teicher/Wikimedia commons)
Bar Ilan University, Israel (photo credit: CC-BY Avishai Teicher/Wikimedia commons)

Hanoch Sheinman, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University, is under fire after sending an email to his students that began with a statement of sympathy for all of the victims of the conflict between Israel and Gaza, triggering criticism from students, faculty and administrators.

Intended to reassure students that an additional final exam date would be provided due to the ongoing security situation, Sheinman’s email, reported by the Haaretz daily, began by saying he hoped that the message “finds you in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during, or as a direct result of, the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs.”

The rest of the email related to the added exam, Haaretz reported.

Students complained to the dean of the law faculty, Professor Shahar Lifshitz, because Sheinman did not distinguish between Israeli and Palestinian victims of the conflict.

Hanoch Sheinman (Photo credit: Bar Ilan University)
Hanoch Sheinman (Photo credit: Bar-Ilan University)

Responding to their grievances, Lifshitz issued the following statement: “I was shocked to learn of the email sent to you by Professor Sheinman. It was a hurtful letter, and since the morning we have been justifiably flooded with messages from students and family members, many of whom are involved during these very days in the battles in the south.”

“Both the content and the style of the letter contravene the values of the university and the law faculty,” Lifshitz added. “The faculty champions the values of pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of expression, but the inclusion of such positions as were included in the administrative message sent by Prof. Sheinman to the students on a matter relating to exams does not fit into the framework of academic freedom or freedom of personal expression in any acceptable sense. This constitutes the inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher…”

Lifshitz then apologized for Sheinman’s email, promising that “the matter will be handled with the appropriate seriousness.”

Bar-Ilan University also acknowledged the incident, saying, “In his letter to his students, Prof. Sheinman made inappropriate use of the platform given to him as a lecturer to convey messages reflecting his political positions, in a way that offended the students and their families.”

No response has been given by Sheinman.

Freedom of expression has become a polarizing issue within Israeli society during Operation Protective Edge. The Committee of University Heads issued a warning recently against “extreme and inappropriate expressions,” on the Internet by Israeli students and faculty members.

In a response Tuesday, the Coordinating Council of the University Faculty Associations, which represents the senior faculty at all of Israel’s universities, wrote the following rebuttal:

“Sanctifying the principles of democracy means respecting the right to protest and criticize, and not to limit it,” the council wrote. “[The right to] freedom of expression is meant [to protect] outrageous statements, not pleasant statements.”

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