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Clampdown on campus politics in Israel feeds social apathy

By Issa Edward Boursheh

Let me start by making a few essential points: I believe that academic work should not be politically influenced, pressured or manipulated, and any argument that is discussed in class must be supported by methods, terms, tools and criticism that fit the world of research methods. I am against professors promoting their political agenda in class, based on emotions or so-called facts, which are not supported scientifically. Having said that, I think it’s the role of students to bring politics into universities and campuses by any legitimate means necessary.

The main demand of the Free Speech Movement of ’64-’65 in Berkeley was for the university’s administration to lift the ban off of on-campus political activities, and acknowledge the students’ right to free speech and academic freedom. One wouldn’t envision that such concerns from the 1960s would still apply in Israel of 2011.

Yet Tel Aviv University’s security department recently wrote to professors from in the history, philosophy and literature departments: “I will be grateful for your handing over the students’ details as soon as possible, including full name, ID number and telephone number,” with a YouTube video of students protesting reportedly attached to the email. And in Ben-Gurion University, students, represented by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, recently appealed (Hebrew) to the Supreme Court demanding it lift a ban on the distribution of pamphlets and posters protesting the current government’s policies.

In the summer protest, the Students Union played a major role in the social justice protests and activities. Regardless of what we think about the leaders, the movements involved and the participants, I think we can all agree that the students played a major role in this awakening. Apathy was partially kicked aside and replaced by a little bit of self-awareness and a motivation to act. Yet activism in universities lacks authentic elements, as political parties are still involved, the Students Union still behaves at times like a business and professors are left alone in trying to foster an atmosphere of fertile ground for a real debate over topics that concern our future.

As the majority of Israelis spend much of their youth in the Israel Defense Forces, absorbing strict concepts of discipline and conformity, academia lacks the youthful spirit that is common in other campuses in Europe and the United States. One can only hope that the youth in Israel will free itself from these constraints and practice a thriving academic (and preferably political) life, contributing to a better future for our society.

Cheers to academic freedom!

Issa Edward Boursheh is a graduate student at Tel Aviv University. This piece was originally published on Issa’s blog, 20:40

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    1. aristeides

      Police state tactics like that shouldn’t feed apathy, they should feed protest.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      I have been in higher education in both Israel and overseas. The sterility of Israeli campuses (at least Tel Aviv and IDC) is appalling. There isn’t even a freaking “save the whales” poster to be found!!!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Marian Hennings

      I am sad to learn of photosurveillance of students in Tel Aviv – reminds me of the bad old days during the Vietnam War when I attended an American university. A good Occupy target would be the new Ariel University campus in the West Bank, where no Arabs are allowed, but I suppose I should be careful about what I say or I might not be allowed to visit! I was told last year by Ha’aretz that the words “ethnic cleansing” could not be used in a letter, even if that term accurately describes the policy of removing Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza. Israel is walking a dangerous path if it is employing “thought police” tactics against its own youth, let alone the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Elana

      Believe it or not, we *still* have these problems at UC Berkeley. Police even beat us on our own campus too…

      Reply to Comment