Top education official quits after Bennett ignores racism study
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Top education official quits after Bennett ignores racism study

Prof. Ami Wilensky says minister didn’t adopt his initiative for an index on attitudes to minorities, jointly developed with army

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (right) seen with Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen at a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 18, 2016. (Flash90)
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett (right) seen with Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen at a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 18, 2016. (Flash90)

The recently departed chief scientist at the Education Ministry said he resigned over the minister’s refusal to implement his new index to measure racism among Israel’s youth.

In his first interview since he stepped down a month ago, Prof. Ami Wilensky told the Haaretz daily this week that Naftali Bennett had ignored him since taking over as minister 10 months ago, and that he was informed in November by ministry director-general Michal Cohen that “the education minister has decided to appoint his own candidate for the role of chief scientist.”

Wilensky said that Bennett’s conduct presented a “risk of enslaving science for the needs of the regime. Such things only happened in the Middle Ages or in totalitarian regimes.”

Wilensky formulated the index in cooperation with senior officers from the IDF’s Education Corps, Haaretz said.

“What does this mean, ‘His own candidate’? I have been working in education for 45 years, 28 of which I have spent in research,” Wilensky said. “A major part of every study is to raise questions, sometimes difficult ones, sometimes ones that examine alternatives to existing policies.”

Wilensky accused Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, of politicizing the ministry.

“Real research, especially in education, can only take place if the chief scientist is free to conduct his professional business without depending on or fear of the political echelon,” he said.

Wilensky came up with the idea of a racism index following the abduction and brutal murder of East Jerusalem teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists in July 2014. The index uses a questionnaire to examine respondents’ views on different groups in Israeli society, including Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, and Israelis of Russian or Ethiopian descent.

The index was also developed with the cooperation of professors from the IDC Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and was, Haaretz said, also enthusiastically adopted by the IDF.

Wilensky informed Bennett of the index in an introductory meeting in July. Subsequent requests to meet with the minister to promote the initiative were left unanswered.

The professor worked at the ministry for 32 years, under 11 different ministers. He described Bennett’s behavior as unprecedented. Frustrated with what he called persistent disregard for his initiatives and requests to meet with the minister, Wilensky resigned in January.

The Education Ministry noted in response that it did not terminate Wilensky’s appointment and that the professor decided on his own to step down. The IDF said work on the racism index was frozen once the ministry took the decision to press pause.

According to Haaretz, a request for a meeting with Bennett by the heads of education faculties at several universities to discuss several issues, including Wilensky, also went unanswered.

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