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The Third Narrative Blog

Minister Compromises Academic Freedom

By Alliance for Academic Freedom

This statement by the executive committee of the Alliance for Academic Freedom (an affiliate of The Third Narrative) protests the decision of Israel’s Science & Technology Minister Ofir Akunis to block the appointment of a top brain researcher, Dr. Yael Amitai, to an international scientific committee because she once signed a petition supporting the right of Israelis to refuse military service as an act of conscientious objection to the ongoing occupation beyond the Green Line (Prof. Amitai tells her story here):

COMPROMISING ACADEMIC FREEDOM

The executive committee of the Alliance for Academic Freedom views with deep concern the recent decision by Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis to block the appointment of the accomplished Israeli brain researcher Prof. Yael Amitai to an Israeli-German scientific committee. We believe this decision politicizes the work of a fundamentally academic and non-political international committee. We urge that the decision be reversed.

Professor Amitai, the head of the Interfaculty Brain Sciences School at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, had been recommended as a representative to the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research. The appointment required government approval. Although government officials are not bound by the principles of academic freedom, which covers the rights and responsibilities of faculty members and students within their institutions, the minister’s decision nonetheless wrongly punished an academic for holding political views that in no way related to the duties she would have had on this committee, duties that were exclusively academic in nature. For that reason we believe the Minister’s decision impinges on and compromises both academic freedom and the professional integrity of the faculty. His action set aside the professional values academic freedom supports and instead imposed his political commitments. When the government has approval authority for membership on such a committee it should honor academic, not political, standards.

The unacceptable and invasive character of the Minister’s decision is made clear by the reason he offered—that Professor Amitai years earlier had signed a petition supporting the right of Israelis to refuse military service as a matter of conscience. That political position clearly has no bearing on the work of the scientific committee, which includes reviewing applications for science grants. The Minister’s effort to classify signing a petition as action, not speech, to justify his action is altogether specious.

The AAF applauds the decision of the Forum of University Heads to urge the Prime Minister to intervene and approve Amitai’s appointment. We join their call for the reversal of this decision.

P.S. Click here for an article on this matter at the Inside Higher Ed website.