academic activism in israel

Israel, it would appear, has an academic system no less controversial than any other… Haaretz reports that the senior faculty at several universities have been on strike for four weeks, claiming that they are not given adequate resources and, more interestingly, have rising anxiety about their professional status:

There is also a growing feeling that the status of academia in general in Israeli society is in a steep decline. However, some say that the academic world itself is part of the problem, because it is elitist and cut off from society, and has therefore made itself irrelevant… Faculty from various fields say the high social status that once adhered to the title of professor has been eroded…

The same debates are certainly heard in the U.S., where there’s a lot of anxiety about American anti-intellectualism, but also a horde of critiques of academic elitism. It seems that Israel also converges with U.S. critical discourses on postmodernism:

One of the main arguments of the veteran professors is that the decline of the humanities is partly due to a post-modernist trend “that has given a bad name to the humanities, because they have eschewed their task of presenting a clear scale of values,” one critic of the trend says.

The most sociologically interesting dimension of the strike is that apparently it’s led by senior professors, who didn’t bother to consult their junior colleagues before starting their protest. Last week, apparently, the scientific researchers joined them in their strike. They say, however, that they don’t feel that the public is paying any attention to them; apparently Israeli administrators have taken no definite action so far, and have announced no intention of doing so. They may be hoping that pressure on the faculty will increase as the strike lasts longer.

Apparently, also, a lecturer was suspended from his job after demanding that a student leave class. The student was wearing an army uniform and carrying a gun, and the teacher was “an Arab lecturer who does not identify with the Israeli army and who does not share in the naturalness with which many of us accept those who carry arms among us,” according to a letter written in his support by his colleagues. Obviously this has a lot to do with local Israeli politics; but it also raises, again, the question of how teachers can express their ethics or politics in the classroom, when they clash strongly with their students’ views, or with their students’ very identities. And to investigate this, we would have to return to the question raised by the first article: what is happening to professorial identity today?