In a joint statement released by Israel’s largest and most prominent universities, the academic leadership challenged a foreign-funded campaign to undermine academic freedom in the name of Zionism, led by radical Israeli rightists and Christian fundamentalists.The pressure campaign against Israeli universities was launched last year, led by the rightwing ‘Institute for Zionist Strategies’ and Im Tirtzu. It is at least partially supported by the current Education Minister, which raises a special concern on the part of Israeli academics.

The statement released by the major universities in Israel urged ‘condemnation of this dangerous attempt to create a thought police.”

The statement continued, ‘No Israeli university has to prove its staff’s love of their homeland to any organisation, and certainly not to a political one that is trying to present a tendentious political position to advance its own public relations. As is proper in an enlightened democratic country, Israeli academia is not a political body, and members of faculty are selected solely according to objective criteria of excellence in research and teaching.’

Tel Aviv University, the country’s largest, has been a major target of the right-wing campaign. The Insititute for Zionist Strategies has put together a list of professors that they consider too left-leaning, and is now demanding that the University President personally review the reading material in these professors’ classes, then “balancing” the professors with extreme right-wing ones.

The Tel Aviv University President said that this pressure campaign is based on a fundamental misinterpretation of Zionist values, writing, “Anyone who criticises our universities for lacking concern about the values of Zionism does not understand that maintaining a pluralistic environment is the cornerstone of the Zionist and democratic vision on which the State was founded. Only through discourse is it possible to educate generations of citizens who are aware of such basic democratic and liberal values.”

Im Tirtzu, the other right-wing group involved in the pressure campaign, has focused on Ben Gurion University, submitting to the President a list of professors that they consider to be too left-wing. In their letter to the Ben Gurion University President, they stated that “if the anti-Zionist tilt does not end” within one month, they will convince major donors to stop supporting the university.

Thus far the University President has refused to accede to the demands, saying “As a matter of principle, I don’t respond to threats or extortions, or in this case, of a witch hunt.”