Fire Gordon, without firing him

The words of condemnation against Ben Gurion University’s President, Prof. Rivka Carmi, for her incendiary attack against Dr. Neve Gordon continue to pour in. You may recall that in response to the op-ed he printed in the Los Angeles Times endorsing boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, Prof. Carmi issued the following statement,

“We are shocked and outraged by his remarks, which are both irresponsible and morally reprehensible. We strongly disassociate BGU from Gordon’s destructive views that abuse the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at BGU.”

She added that,

BGU is a Zionist institution that is fulfilling David Ben-Gurion’s vision on a daily basis, promoting the development of the Negev and Israel and reiterated its commitment to advancing research and activities that benefit all of the residents of the region. This kind of Israel-bashing detracts from the wonderful work that is being done at BGU and at all Israeli universities. Academics who entertain such resentment towards their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”

In a period of 48 hours, Prof. Carmi received over 4,000 emails of protest.

Over 180 Israeli professors — many from BGU — have signed a petition in defense of Dr. Gordon.

The petition reads, in part (my translation from the Hebrew):

The university’s claim that academic employees must state explicitly that they do not express the views of the university is absurd and does not reflect current norms. University employees participate frequently in political activities. They sign petitions, appear on radio and TV, organize demonstrations, join political parties and groups, write letters to the editor, and more. It has never been attributed to the university (or any other institution) a political position simply because a university employee supported it.

Moreover, last Thursday, students and professors at BGU sent a letter to Prof. Carmi that reads in part (again, my translation):

We, the students, wish to express our support of Dr. Neve Gordon and his welcome efforts to bring to the public important issues regarding the future of Israeli society–issues that are absent from the legitimate public dialog.

And it says further,

We are taught History but it seems we are not allowed to learn from it… We’re allowed to learn, but not to think, not to reach practical conclusions, certainly not in a wide circulating English newspaper.

Shlomo Zand wrote an opinion piece that asks BGU President Prof. Carmi the same question I was asking myself: Ben Gurion University: A zionist institution?

In her response to to the op-ed by Dr. Neve Gordon — in which the Beer Sheva professor called on the world to increase pressure on Israel, all the way to an international boycott — BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi stated: “We strongly disassociate BGU from Gordon’s destructive views that abuse the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at BGU.” She added that “BGU is a Zionist institution that is fulfilling David Ben-Gurion’s vision on a daily basis, promoting the development of the Negev and Israel. This kind of Israel-bashing detracts from the wonderful work that is being done at BGU and at all Israeli universities. Academics who entertain such resentment towards their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”

I do not know if Rivka Carmi’s “we” included the academic staff of BGU or maybe she included in her excitement all academics in Israel. In any case, as a staff member of Tel Aviv University, I feel the urgent need to disassociate myself publicly from the views of [BGU] President Carmi.

Naively, I had thought up until now that BGU, as well as the academic institution in which I teach, is for all purposes an Israeli institution. I could not have imagined that a person sitting at the helm of a university would have described it as a zionist institution, in the same way that in the not too distant past the presidents of the universities in the USSR described their institutions as communists.

So much for academic freedom, eh? You’re free to say what you want, as long as you agree with us.

Gideon Levy aptly highlighted the double-standards of the Israelis horrified by Dr. Gordon’s article, drawing a comparison to the indignation produced by a Swedish newspaper article describing baseless accusations of organ theft by Israeli soldiers:

The timing of the mini-maelstrom over an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Neve Gordon, who teaches politics and government at Be’er Sheva’s Ben-Gurion University, calling for a boycott of Israel, was somewhat grotesque. Hardly have the throats dried of those calling for his dismissal, for his citizenship to be revoked, for his expulsion and, if all else fails, his stoning, when another petition has surfaced on the Internet, this one calling for a boycott of Ikea. A bad article on the back page of a Swedish tabloid is enough to produce a call here for a consumer boycott to which thousands sign their names.

The Israelis think that one scurrilous article is enough to warrant punishing everything Swedish… Gordon thinks the occupation is a sufficiently important motive to boycott everything Israeli.

After all of this noise, you’d expect the leaders of Ben Gurion University to reconsider their position. Fat chance. They want to have their cake and it eat it too. University leaders want to be able to defend academic freedom (you know, zionists only need apply), while undermining it at the same time. My guess is that they’ve figured out that they cannot fire Dr. Neve Gordon either because of his tenure or because of the additional damage to their reputation.

Beyond tenure, there are basic protections afforded all university employees. In case university leaders did not remember, Virginia Aksan, the President of the Middle East Studies Association reminded them that,

Article 2 of BGU’s own Academic Code affirms that the university “will not discriminate in its activities against any person for reasons of race, religion, nationality, gender, or political views [and] will act to protect academic freedom.” Article 4c of your university’s Code of Ethics further clarifies “in addition to their academic freedoms, researchers of the university enjoy all civic freedoms enjoyed by every citizen of the state, including freedoms of expression and organization… Researchers are authorized to express their political or religious opinions without incitement and are authorized to act to implement them using legal means.”

Hmmm… How can the university overcome these pesky legal hurdles?

You will find the answer in Prof. Carmi’s statement. She said,

Academics who entertain such resentment towards their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.

The University administration is currently exploring its options concerning Gordon’s actions.

Was she brazenly calling for the expulsion of Dr. Gordon from his own country? Of course not! She was simply saying that he is ‘welcome’ to leave of his own accord.

As Uriel Heilman (Freedom of speech, not freedom from criticism) would have it, Prof. Carmi was simply expressing her own opinion,

If the professor, Neve Gordon, can write the Op-Ed, why can’t the university president make her views known on the matter?

How quaint. There is no pressure at all — it is simply your employer, the head of an institution that purports to encourage academic freedom expressing her opinion, saying that you should leave your job and your country.

But let’s not bee too harsh on Mr. Heilman. After all, his piece in defense of Prof. Carmi did have this gem of a line: “refraining from criticism runs counter to the spirit of free-speech rights.”

This is what we’ve been saying in this blog all along.

Back to Prof. Carmi and her “welcoming” Dr. Gordon to leave. It seems that she is doing more than just “expressing her opinion.”

Officials of Ben-Gurion University are calling on Dr. Neve Gordon to resign his post as head of the Political Science department. In coordination with University President Prof. Carmi, University Rector Professor Jimmy Weinblatt met Thursday with faculty members who had signed a petition supporting Dr. Gordon and told them that “it was up to Gordon to reach the proper conclusions.” The rector met with Dr. Gordon’s supporters “to cast their influence on Gordon to resign his post”.

With a straight-face, the rector added that “Gordon’s status as faculty member will not be compromised and that the University administration will no violate his civic and academic freedom of expression.”

Huh? Who is he trying to fool?

Certainly not Prof. Uri Ram, head of BGU Sociology and Anthropology Department, who stated,

Should he be fired as head of the Political Science department due to his political opinions I shall call on all department heads in the University to resign as well, in support of Gordon and in protest of the violation of his rights, civil freedom and the University establishment in Israel.”

Personally, I don’t believe that Dr. Gordon will be fired. Rather, the university seems intent to do whatever it needs to make his life at BGU unpleasant so that he will leave of his own accord… and then pretend that academic freedom in Israel has not been compromised at all.

In fact, academic freedom has been compromised a long time ago.

When Dr. Gordon published his piece, he did not set out to open a debate about academic freedom in Ben Gurion University, but rather to talk about the Israeli occupation and nonviolent ways to end it. Let’s honor his wish and refocus on the occupation, shall we?

Maybe Tel Aviv University’s Anat Matar can lead the way,

When the flag of academic freedom is raised, the oppressor and not the oppressed is usually the one who flies it. What is that academic freedom that so interests the academic community in Israel? When, for example, has it shown concern for the state of academic freedom in the occupied territories?

This school year in Gaza will open in shattered classrooms as there are no building materials there for rehabilitating the ruins; without notebooks, books and writing utensils that cannot be brought into Gaza because of the goods embargo (yes, Israel may boycott schools there and no cry is heard).

Hundreds of students in West Bank universities are under arrest or detention in Israeli jails, usually because they belong to student organizations that the ruling power does not like.

The separation fence and the barriers prevent students and lecturers from reaching classes, libraries and tests. Attending conferences abroad is almost unthinkable and the entry of experts who bear foreign passports is permitted only sparingly.

All that Dr. Gordon wanted to do was to find a way to right these wrongs. He suggested boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. Is that the right answer?

Noble Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes it is. Speaking in favor of Dr. Gordon’s call to apply selective sanctions on Israel, he said that,

…when F.W. de Klerk became president he telephoned congratulations. “The very first thing he said to me was ‘well now will you call off sanctions?’ Although they kept saying, oh well, these things don’t affect us at all. That was not true.

Regarding Israel, the hysteric reaction that resulted from a mere op-ed in the LA Times proves Archbishop Tutu’s point.

-Sydney Levy