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Israel is Becoming North Korea

by GIDEON LEVY

In the end, we will only be left with Prof. Uriel Reichman. After we sent Prof. Noam Chomsky away, and there was no sharp rebuke by Israeli academics (who in their silence support a boycott of Bir Zeit University ), we will be left with a narrow and frightening intellectual world. It will be the kind of intellectual world shaped by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya – an institution of army officers and the rich, headed by its president, Reichman.

A law professor, certainly enlightened in his own eyes, a former candidate to become education minister, Reichman says he doesn’t support the human rights group B’Tselem. That’s his right, of course; our right is to state that at the head of an important Israeli college stands a man who doesn’t understand a thing about democracy.

After all, what does B’Tselem do? It gathers reliable testimonies on the sins of the Israel Defense Forces, very few of which, if any, have been proved wrong. Reichman doesn’t support this? In the world according to Reichman, we are left only with statements by the IDF Spokesman’s Office. We will believe that no white phosphorus was used in Gaza, that the “neighbor procedure” is something that tenants’ committees do, and that if they call a family and give them five minutes to leave before their home is bombed, that’s an action by the most ethical army in the world.

Students at the Interdisciplinary Center say they heard their president declare that B’Tselem is “a fifth column” and that it’s “shameful” this group received a place at the school’s Democracy Day. Reichman denies this, and we respect his word. In any case, the spokeswoman for the college said: “B’Tselem’s modus operandi is not acceptable to Reichman.” What, then, is acceptable to Reichman? A society without self-criticism. This then, is Israel’s intellectual elite; these are our intellectuals – without B’Tselem.

A college president and law professor who preaches changing the electoral system and favors an Israeli constitution – one who doesn’t explain to his students the importance of human rights groups – is no more enlightened than the yeshiva heads who don’t teach the core subjects. He is even more dangerous.

But the man of intellect from Herzliya did rally against the yeshiva heads. “All the statistics show we’re on the brink of a catastrophe and on our way to becoming a third-world country if there’s no change in the Haredi community,” Reichman said in backing a petition on teaching core subjects. But the heart of the matter must be the lessons of democracy, well before mathematics and English.

And these things, it turns out, they do not teach at Reichman’s yeshiva, where even Democracy Day is a day of silencing others. If math is not taught at yeshivas, we will lose little. Without genuine civics lessons at the Interdisciplinary Center, which purports to raise the next generation of our leaders, we will receive a generation ignorant of democracy – in the spirit of Reichman. This is the real catastrophe on our doorstep.

Universities around the world serve as a power source for democracy, and lecturers, not only renowned ones like Chomsky, are often prime examples of liberalism for their students. It’s not by chance that at “Reichman’s College,” as it is called, the voice of political involvement has never been heard. Now it’s possible to know why. The school may claim to be interdisciplinary, but one field is missing there. If Reichman takes a look at his history books, he can read about people and movements that fought for human rights. B’Tselem’s founders will certainly be on that list. Maybe someday this will also be taught at the Interdisciplinary Center, after Reichman’s time.

When Otniel Schneller proposes that an intellectual giant like Chomsky “try one of the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt,” we can only chuckle. No one expects Schneller to know who or what this is about. But the prime minister, as opposed to Schneller, knows very well who the admired lecturer from MIT is – where he studied. He knows that the crux of Chomsky’s criticism is directed at the United States, not Israel.

When the prime minister doesn’t immediately apologize and invite Chomsky back to the country, we can be sad. When Israel closes its gates to anyone who doesn’t fall in line with our official positions, we are quickly becoming similar to North Korea. When right-wing parties increase their number of anti-democratic bills, and from all sides there are calls to make certain groups illegal, we must worry, of course. But when all this is engulfed in silence, and when even academia is increasingly falling in line with dangerous and dark views like those of Reichman, the situation is apparently far beyond desperate.

GIDEON LEVY writes for Ha’aretz, where this article originally appeared.

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