New code of ethics bans calls for BDS at Israeli universities

A new code of ethics prohibits discrimination based on political opinion in the classroom and calls for anti-Israel boycotts, but the universities are not on board.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

At the behest of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) adopted a wide-ranging code of ethics Sunday to put a high divider between politics and academia. However, it was slammed by Israel’s universities.

The code prohibits lecturers from enjoining colleagues or students to assist the BDS movement by calling for boycotts of Israeli universities and forbids the discrimination – either positive or negative — of students based on their political views, besides such accepted criteria as race, gender and ethnicity.

Ban on ‘taking advantage of the teaching platform’

It also bans the educators from “wrongly taking advantage of the teaching platform to systematically and improperly exhort a political position that clearly exceeds what is required by the teaching of the course in its broader context within its field.”

Sanctions for violating the code are noted as well, although enforcement is considered a problematic issue. However, at least officially, if a student’s complaint for a code violation is found to be correct, a first offense would have an “educational note” put in the offending professor’s record, and a repetition would involve “disciplinary measures.” The measures are meant for administrators as well as faculty.

The Association of University Heads criticized the code harshly.

“The Council of Higher Education’s decision continues the unfortunate approach in which the ethics code is a political censorship that tramples on the most basic principles of academic freedom and free research, and is intended to silence people,” the Council said in a statement.

That view was backed by politicians from the left-wing opposition as well as Arab Joint List MK Ayman Odeh, who, in a Twitter post, called the education minister “a dangerous fascist” who “passes a code of ethics straight from the darkest of regimes.”

The code was written in 2017 by Asa Kasher, a philosophy professor in Tel Aviv University and Israel Prize Laureate who also formulated the widely praised IDF Code of Ethics. The range of issues covered by that first version was actually narrowed in response to the universities’ negative reaction, but they are seemingly no happier with the current code.

Bennett: Document strengthens freedom of expression

Bennett dismissed the criticism, noting that the universities voted for the ethics code in a meeting last week. “The response of the heads of the universities is puzzling. It seems that they did not bother to read the document that was approved,” he tweeted.

Furthermore, “What is particularly surprising is that the document was approved on Tuesday unanimously by everyone, including the representatives of the universities themselves. Instead of hollow slogans, I would like to hear one substantive argument. In reality, the document strengthens freedom of expression and prevents discrimination on the basis of opinions.”