Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Setting the Record Staright! The Spokeswoman for Ben Gurion University Lied!

Since controversy has arisen about just what the President of Ben Gurion University did or did not say in her controversial interview about donors to her own school and about her own politics, we decided to set the record straight. Here are the exact words of Prof. Rivka Carmi from the interview in the relevant segments thereof. They are quite different from what the spokeswoman for BGU claimed in a letter to the Jewish Press.

The interview with Carmi appears in "Academia". Winter 2007. Academia is usually posted on this web site in Hebrew: however the web site is about a year in arrears and the current issue is not up there yet.

The Carmi interview is entitled "That's Right, I am a Big Dreamer", and stretches over several pages, starting page 34 and ending page 40. The article and interview are by Judy Lutz (I do not know much about her).

Much of the interview is not political nor controversial, and because it is so long, I am skipping non-relevant sections.

Near the beginning, Carmi is asked by Lutz: "Would you like to see students demonstrating on other issues (besides tuition)?" Carmi's response cited by Lutz: "Absolutely. Especially on social issues. And that is one of the reasons why I went out to them to the protest to greet and commend them. Because in my opinion now is the time to address social issues."

Lutz: "And if they had been standing there and chanting "End the Occupation/Conquest (Kibush in Hebrew), would you have gone out to greet them?"

Lutz writes that after a pause Carmi responds, "I believe so. Especially on THAT issue I would have trouble NOT going out to commend the students. You ask me what I would do if there was a protest in favor of something I oppose ideologically? I believe that I would NOT go out to greet the protesters. Those are the limits I set for myself. Not to lie to myself and shake hands with those with whom I disagree."

A few lines later, Lutz writes, "Carmi grew up in a socialist home and she remained loyal to the socialist ideology that she picked up in her youth and she answers candidly all questions that have political implications. She is cautious in her words but uncompromising. Her personal truth is important to her."

That is followed by about 2 pages about her election as BGU CEO and the fiscal situation at BGU. Then on page 36 Lutz asks her, "Lately there has been in the air the threat of a boycott on academic institutions of higher learning in Israel. Can you imagine circumstances under which you would endorse such boycotts of any institution?"

Carmi: "Only if I were to observe some crime within the academic club. I have considered this question and read the book 'Reading Lolita in Tehran', in which the author describes the terrible things that go on within the walls of academia, kidnappings, disappearances, and so on. If I were to have first-hand testimony about such things going on in any academic institution I would endorse a boycott, but only if there were real crimes and not just rumors."

Lutz: "And those periodic attempts in England to boycott Israeli universities are unacceptable for you?"

Carmi: "Of course. They involve no academic nor scientific thinking. I expect academics to pursue truth but what they are doing is superficial and populist."

Lutz: "Maybe that just expresses disappointment with Israeli academics. In a different interview you said that academics well earned their reputation for being inferior."

Carmi: "Not inferior but for being a closed ivory tower cut off from reality…"

A bit lower down, Lutz asks: "Universities are places in which people of spirit and culture develop for our future, and who - if not the academics - need to express an opinion about issues with universalist values such as the tearing out of olive trees belonging to Palestinians by settlers or the killing of children."
(Note, these are common and false smears against 'settlers' by the Israeli leftist media. -- SP)

Carmi: "To my regret even universal values today have political meaning. Every value that I considered absolute as a youth turns into, 'It all depends on how you look at it.' Recently I myself participated in a protest against the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, but now.... (stops in mid sentence)."
(Note she did not mention going to any protests against terrorists murdering Jews – SP)

Lutz: "And if they were to write that the President of Ben Gurion University went out to protest against uprooting olive trees, what would then happen?"

Carmi: "The point is that as a university president you are not a private person and must be balanced."

Lutz: "And if a professor of literature were to express his opinion on this issue and gets a headline?"

Carmi: "Such things have already transpired. Medical doctors from here (BGU) went to the 'occupied territories' during difficult times to help Palestinian patients."

Lutz: "And how would you react to that as university president if your response were requested? Would you call them (the radical faculty) to order, encourage them, or ignore them?"

Carmi: "The problem is the image that could be created for the university by the behavior of individuals. Extremist behavior causes an image of extremism to attach to the university. There are sometimes terrible pressures on the university from donors. I raise here the issue of ethics and donations. Unfortunately we are all dependent on donations. So ask me how far donors should be allowed to go in dictating the university's agenda!" (emphasis added)

Lutz: "Ok, I am asking."

Carmi: "One needs to tiptoe as if among glass shards. I thought a lot about the question of where my red line is and where I would simply tell a donor - thank you very much I am foregoing your contribution."

Lutz: "You mean by threatening not to make a donation a donor can dictate the limits of academic freedom?"

Carmi: "Unfortunately there is that possibility. I do not know how often such things really happened but the danger is there and anyone who says it is not is simply lying. I do not want to say that we are confronted by this every day. Thank God, the statistics show that most people are in the center (politically? -- SP). Once they get explanations from us they usually understand that we are talking about legitimate academic discourse. But in extremist cases could a donor find our explanations unconvincing and condition his donation?" (Implying the answer is yes)

(The next topic of the interview is the public debate in Israel over whether to grant the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel status as a university. Carmi explains why she is opposed. More hypocrisy over pluralism? The rest of the interview is about other topics. The only other political matter is where Carmi expresses opposition to conducting special university programs for police officers and Shin Bet intelligence officers, an issue that has been a matter of debate in Israel, with the Left opposed to the programs.)

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