Amid war, Israel academics experiencing ‘substantial’ career, personal harm – survey

Israel-Hamas conflict causing difficulties for Israelis involved in international academic projects, such as articles in peer-reviewed journals and attending conferences abroad

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Students walk through the Tel Aviv University campus. on Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Illustrative: Students walk through the Tel Aviv University campus. on Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israeli academics are experiencing “a sense of substantial harm” in both their professional careers and personal lives as a result of the Israel-Hamas war, according to a recent survey of over 1,000 university faculty members.

Respondents especially noted difficulties in “international connections, including the cancellation of visits by colleagues, the departure of international students and difficulties in recruiting others, as well as harm to scientific work in general.”

Respondents were asked to rate “war-related harm to daily life, emotional state and economic situation” on a scale of 1-5, with the mean results of harm to daily life scoring 3.57, harm to emotional state 4.04 and harm to economic situation 1.81 (with a standard error of ±0.03).

“Women, non-tenured researchers, faculty members of lower rank, those with young children and researchers in the social sciences and humanities reported more severe harm in comparison to other faculty members,” the report noted, and respondents with school-aged children were also more likely to report economic effects and “general harm to the quality of research.”

The survey was jointly conducted in late December by the Israel Young Academy and Afik in Academia: Israeli Women University Professors’ Forum, and the results were released last week.

“Significant reported harm to international visits and research work in general is already observable, both for the researchers themselves and for research groups,” the report noted.

Furthermore, the researchers anticipate significant future harm in many other parameters, including peer review by their international scientific community and letters of recommendation for promotion. The expectation of future harm appears to be particularly high in parameters that include an international component, for example, collaboration, peer review of articles and research proposals, and sabbaticals.

The survey report concluded with a recommendation that institutional funding will need “a significant boost” as well as a revamp in “institutional infrastructure and procedures” to mitigate the harm to international academic activity.

The results, especially the fears of future difficulties internationally, “reflect concerns that calls to boycott Israelis will gain ground in the global scientific community,” according to Itay Halevy of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Israel Young Academy.

Speaking to the journal Science in an article published on Wednesday, Halevy said that Israeli academics have been asked to step down from positions at academic journals or not speak at international conferences due to fears of disruptions from anti-Israeli elements.

Another academic, Prof. Liat Ayalon of the Bar Ilan University School of Social Work, said that an article of hers about the effects of the October 7 Hamas attack on the elderly was rejected by a peer-reviewed journal, whose editor told her that he couldn’t publish it because “it would harm the journal.”

The article was eventually published elsewhere, she noted.

Separately, Tel Aviv University archaeology professor Ran Barkai told The Times of Israel this week that he had canceled an upcoming book tour in the UK, after numerous colleagues there warned him that “now is not the time.”

The Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel in a surprise assault, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and over 253 were taken hostage in Gaza.

Israel went on a war footing and called up an unprecedented amount of IDF reservists, resulting in major societal effects including at universities, where around 30% of the general student body were called to duty, along with thousands of faculty members.

The academic year for universities, originally set for October 15, eventually began on December 31 after several delays.

The Israel-Hamas conflict also set off a renewed and ongoing wave of anti-Israel demonstrations and controversies at major universities in the US and Europe, which have often been perceived to have an antisemitic element.

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