What to do about Neve GordonAs I noted more eleven days ago, Ben Gurion University professor Neve Gordon wrote an article in the Los Angeles Times calling for an international boycott of Israel. Facing outraged donors, particularly in the Los Angeles area, university President Rivka Carmi penned an article in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times, in which she blasted Gordon, but claimed that she is powerless to fire him.
Academic freedom exists to ensure that there is an unfettered and free discussion of ideas relating to research and teaching and to provide a forum for the debate of complicated ideas that may challenge accepted norms. Gordon, however, used his pulpit as a university faculty member to advocate a personal opinion, which is really demagoguery cloaked in academic theory.On Wednesday night, I confirmed with someone who knows far more about this area of the law than I do that Gordon can apparently only be fired if he commits a crime. I asked whether his article might not be considered treason - which is a crime - and she said that "what he has done isn't treason in the eyes of the law." As Charles Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist, the law is an ass.
Gordon argues that Israel is an "apartheid" state and that "a boycott would save Israel from itself." But the empirical facts show that it would destroy the very fabric of the society that he claims to want to protect. Instead of investing in activities that promote coexistence, this "call for a boycott" is already being used to isolate Israel.
This is particularly pernicious for our university, a proudly Zionist institution that embodies the dream of Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to bring development and prosperity to all the residents of the Negev region. This work -- which includes community outreach and scientific innovation in Israel and around the world carried out by nearly 25,000 students, faculty and staff -- is being threatened by the egregious remarks of one person, under the guise of academic freedom.
A number of online campaigns have been launched calling for donors and other supporters of the university to "boycott BGU." We have heard the calls by those who demand that the university ignore Israeli law and fire Gordon, a tenured faculty member, on the basis of his statements. And we are also under attack by others who champion Gordon on the basis of freedom of speech.
Like it or not, Gordon cannot be readily dismissed. The law in Israel is very clear, and the university is a law-abiding institution.
On Thursday, Dr. Daniel Gordis, the Vice President of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based think tank, and the author of Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End, published an article in the JPost in which he argues that Neve Gordon is not the problem.
Gordis focuses on the outrage of American donors to Israeli universities, and argues that they should have known that Gordon and people who think like him permeate Israeli universities. Gordon himself has made similar arguments for years (including comparing Israel to Nazi Germany), as have his colleagues at just about every university in the country. Gordis is correct about this. American donors must be writing their checks with their eyes closed. Gordis' solution is an indictment of the Israel university system.
But first, a small digression. Gordis points out that there are no liberal arts colleges in Israel. That is true. One is admitted directly to a faculty (law, medicine, business, computers or whatever else strikes one's fancy) and just about everything you learn is a required course from that faculty. If you change what you want to do in the middle, you have to start over again. There's no four years of liberal arts to expose you to a wide variety of disciplines so that you can choose what you would really like to do. That's why there are so many kids here who finish university and then don't work at all in what they studied in university (and there are also kids who don't finish because of the frequent faculty strikes but that's another story - last year nearly an entire semester was wiped out).
Here's Dr. Gordis' solution:
In today's Israel, the People of the Book do not even read their own books. When they read or hear someone like Neve Gordon, nothing in their education has given them the tools to evaluate what he says, or to take him on. They are helpless.Gordis is 100% correct. But here's the catch: Most Israelis who go to university serve in the army until they are 21 years old. Add a four-year liberal arts program and they will be 25 before they start to pursue a profession. This is a country where people marry young. Tuition is cheap, but I'm not sure how much you gain from school if you're spending 40 hours a week working while you study in order to support yourself. The liberal arts college will not appeal to everyone. I doubt that an American-type system would work here.
TODAY'S NARROW model of education, in which students essentially study only one discipline, produces excellence, but excellence as technocrats. It does not produce the broadly read, intellectually nuanced people that the Jewish state so desperately needs.
Without dramatic change, Israeli universities will produce only more Neve Gordon's - scholars of varying quality, who feel no love for the very country that has saved their people. If it learned from American education, Israel might actually begin to cultivate a new wave of leadership, and with it, a generation of Israelis who actually love their nation.
Dr. Gordon is correct - Israel needs to be saved from itself. What Israel needs now is a reconceived notion of the educated Israeli.
It needs a liberal arts college, and the young people prepared to speak constructively about Jewish sovereignty, its challenges, its failures and its future that only that kind of college can produce.
A century ago, who could have imagined that the Jewish state would one day have a world-class army but a failing, collapsing educational system? Whether or not American Jews have the foresight to use their philanthropy to promote genuine change in Israeli academe still remains to be seen. But if they do, Neve Gordon's op-ed may ironically have goaded both Israel and the American Jewish community into taking the first steps needed to begin to save the Jewish state.
Does Israel need a liberal arts college? Absolutely. But it will likely serve - and probably should only serve - an academic elite who would go on to become the country's philosophers and thinkers and historians and political scientists (but not - unfortunately - our politicians). Do enough Israelis see the importance of developing an academic elite like that? Do enough American Jews see it? That remains to be seen. But give Dr. Gordis credit for thinking outside the box. If a liberal arts college comes into existence, we may have a lot more people who can put the Neve Gordons of this country in their place.
Read the whole thing.