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Is Ben-Gurion PoliSci Department Biased?

A recent report by an international committee appointed by Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended that the Politics and Government Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev be shut down, should it fail to address the shortcomings outlined. In particular, the department stands accused of allowing the faculty’s leftist political opinions and fondness for activism to affect the curriculum and undermine the quality of its academic research, a viewpoint apparently affirmed by students.

Faculty have responded that the committee is populated by extreme rightists and set out to hurt the department. However, in an op-ed for Haaretz entitled, ‘‘Yes, Shut it Down!’’ (perhaps unsurprisingly, it is only available in Hebrew) Ze’ev Maoz, a professor at UC Davis and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and a self-declared “proud man of the left” (credentials here), revealed he had been tasked with evaluating the department some nine years ago and came to the same conclusions, also based solely on academic considerations.

Rather than confront the findings of this report (and, it seems, the previous one), faculty have gone on the defensive. Meanwhile, Prof. David Newman, a founder of the department and now a dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion, has paid it little attention, instead engaging in a peripheral, if revealing, personal conflict with Prof. Efraim Karsh, of King’s College, London.

Prof. Karsh noted on the day of the publication of the report, Newman’s Jerusalem Post op-ed, instead of dealing with the committee’s findings, blasted the Knesset for its alleged attack on democracy in seeking to restrict foreign funding of NGOs, to revise the system of judicial appointments, etc. The article, though of course it does not precisely confirm the concerns of the report, certainly does nothing to mitigate them.

Following the harsh words from Karsh, Newman, in a subsequent Jerusalem Post piece, inexplicably denounced his adversary for committing “verbal terrorism” in resorting to Nazi metaphors – a feat of which only Newman, of the two, is in fact guilty. Perhaps recognizing the flimsiness of his defense (and compounding it), Newman further implies that Karsh, having left Israel to teach in England, is somehow less fit to comment on his native state – an odd espousal from a man who himself has also spent much of the past few years in England.

Back at Ben-Gurion, the political biases of the politics department are well-documented. Indeed, though Prof. Newman should be lauded for his efforts to combat the proposed academic boycott of Israel in the UK, they do ring somewhat hollow when the chair of his own department supports the boycott, a matter to which one would assume Newman would urgently attend. Instead of ignoring the report, Prof. Newman and the rest of the faculty should immediately correct the failings in their departments. And if they fail to step up, the authorities should press them to step down.