Israeli Philosophy Community Calls For Rejection Of Proposed Ethics Code

Over 80 Israeli philosophers—the vast majority of the Israeli philosophical community—have issued a statement urging their government’s Council for Higher Education to reject a proposed academic ethics code.

The proposed ethics code, authored by Asa Kasher, a philosopher at Tel Aviv University, had been criticized on grounds that it would infringe on the academic freedom and freedom of speech of university faculty and staff in Israel. In response to criticism, Israel’s Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, has said that the document is just a “draft” and is being treated as a “starting point for a dialogue.”

Below is an unofficial draft translation of the text of the statement from the philosophers (the original, in Hebrew, was the one circulated for signatories):

Statement regarding the Ethical Code for the Academia

We the undersigned—researchers in philosophy—call upon the Council for Higher Education to reject the recommendations in the document written by Prof. Kasher. As people who work in philosophy and moral and political theory we state that the document suffers from severe conceptual and theoretical flaws which render it unacceptable. Here are the main ones:

  1. The document conflates ethical principles voluntarily formulated by a professional community for the sake of its members with disciplinary rules imposed by an external regulatory agency. For this reason, any comparison with the AAUP’s Statement on Professional Ethics is mistaken and misleading. The AAUP is a voluntary association, and it is up to specific research associations, colleges and universities to adopt its recommendations if they so choose. The proposed ethical code, on the other hand, is the product of a political initiative by the Minister of Education. According to the proposal, the Council for Higher Education, a government body, will impose the code on institutions of higher education. In these circumstances, it is clear that the document is not a voluntary ethical code, but rather a means of subjecting academic activity to governmental supervision.
  1. The document does not consist of general principles enshrined in the academic ethos (as does the AAUP Statement). Instead, it specifies a list of rules and regulations. This is a crucial conflation of an ethical code with disciplinary regulations.
  1. The proposed definition of “political activity” in the document conflates what is indeed political activity (advocating for or against specific parties or a candidates) with activities that constitute an exercise of freedom of thought and expression which are the rights of every citizen (expressing one’s view on matters of public debate). Exploiting the academic setting in order to promote a specific party or candidate, or for ideological preaching, is uncontroversially unacceptable. In this matter, there is no need for a CHE-sponsored ethical code. The disciplinary mechanisms already in place in the various academic institutions are fully capable of dealing with violations of this principle, as they deal with other disciplinary violations.
  1. The definition of “political activity” in the document is not only confused; it is also broad in a way that renders the concept void of any practical significance. Expressing and criticizing matters which are in public dispute is a central feature of research activity and a precondition for meaningful intellectual discourse. Given this broad definition of political activity, its prohibition in academic settings is incompatible with accepted, proper research and teaching practices in many disciplines, such as: economics, geography, history, biology, law, sociology, bible studies, Talmud studies, philosophy, and others.
  1. The definition of “academic activity” in the document is also unreasonably broad. The document subsumes together formal research and teaching activity, which faculty members undertake as part of the official definition of their role, with social or civil activity pursued outside the bounds of this role. This is a fundamental fallacy. The social contribution of academics often includes supervising the writing of textbooks, conducting research to facilitate the work of policy makers, supporting the work of organizations of civil society, and civil and political involvement more generally. The suggested disciplinary regulations will prohibit such activities (including several such activities in which the author of this very document has engaged in the past).
  1. It is impossible to separate the document from the wider social and political context in which it was created. The document was written at a time in which publicly funded educational institutions with explicit political affiliation are not subjected to any constraints on their political activity.[*] Over the past few years, the very government that initiated the writing of the document has taken steps clearly, and at times explicitly, designed to limit the freedom of expression and political space of its rivals. These facts, as well as statements made by members of cabinet and coalition parliament members, make it impossible to escape the following conclusion: That this document’s aim is not to protect academic freedom and promote scientific research, but rather to create a chilling effect and to bully the academic community.

Due to these profound flaws, we call upon the Council for Higher Education to reject the document; we hereby announce that should it be adopted, we will render it a dead letter.

Joseph Agassi (Tel Aviv University)
Daniel Attas (Hebrew University)
Oded Balaban (University of Haifa)
Maya Bar-Hillel (Hebrew University)
Hagit Benbaji (Ben-Gurion University)
Yitzhak Benbaji (Tel Aviv University)
Anat Biletzki (Tel Aviv University)
Alon Chasid (Bar-Ilan University)
Yossi Dahan (College of Law and Business)
Yuval Dolev (Bar-Ilan University)
Dalia Drai  (Ben-Gurion University)
Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)
Yuval Eylon (The Open University)
Ovadia Ezra (Tel Aviv University)
Ilit Ferber (Tel Aviv University)
Eli Friedlander (Tel Aviv University)
Michalle Gal (Shenkar)
Chaim Gans (Tel Aviv University)
Ido Geiger (Ben-Gurion University)
Andy German (Ben-Gurion University)
Jacob Golomb (Hebrew University)
Rami Gudovitch (University of Haifa)
Moshe Halbertal (Hebrew University)
Orna Harari (Tel Aviv University)
Alon Harel (Hebrew University)
Oren Harman (Bar-Ilan University)
Meir Hemmo (University of Haifa)
David Heyd (Hebrew University)
Giora Hon (University of Haifa)
Pini Ifergan (Bar-Ilan University)
Hilla Jacobson (Hebrew University)
Tatiana Karachentseva (Hebrew University)
Hagi Kenaan (Tel Aviv University)
Arnon Keren (University of Haifa)
Arie Kizel (University of Haifa)
Sharon Krishek (Hebrew University)
Netanel Laor (Tel Aviv University)
Sam Lebens, (University of Haifa)
Tamar Levanon (Bar-Ilan University)
Yakir Levin (Ben-Gurion University)
Lior Levy (University of Haifa)
Yair Levy (Tel Aviv University)
Arnon Levy (Hebrew University)
Ruth Lorand (University of Haifa)
Dorit Lorand (Seminar Hakibbutzim College)
Yair Lorberbaum (Bar-Ilan University)
Abraham Mansbach (Ben-Gurion University)
Avishai Margalit (Hebrew University)
Anat Matar (Tel Aviv University)
Ariel Meirav (University of Haifa)
Noa Naaman Zauderer (Tel Aviv University)
Ohad Nachtomy (Bar-Ilan University)
Isaac (Yanni) Nevo (Ben-Gurion University)
Ittay Nissan-Rozen (Hebrew University)
Yanay Ofran (Bar-Ilan University)
Galia Pat-shamir (Tel Aviv University)
Alik Pelman (Bar-Ilan University)
Carl Posy (Hebrew University)
Efrat Ram-Tiktin (Bar-Ilan University)
Hili Razinsky (University of Lisbon)
Ofra Rechter (Tel Aviv University)
Ruth Ronen (Tel Aviv University)
Michael Roubach (Hebrew University)
Avi Sagi (Bar-Ilan University)
Gil Sagi  (University of Haifa)
Jacques Schlanger (Hebrew University)
Yair Schlein (The Open University)
Christoph Schmidt (Hebrew University)
Dov Schwarts (Bar-Ilan University)
Shlomi Segal (Hebrew University)
Aaron Segal (Hebrew University)
Yaron Senderowicz (Tel Aviv University)
Oron Shagrir (Hebrew University)
Assaf Sharon (Tel Aviv University)
Ayelet Shavit (Tel-Hai College)
Noa Shein (Ben-Gurion University)
Orly Shenker (Hebrew University)
David Shulman (Hebrew University)
Levi Spectre (The Open University)
Naomi Sussmann  (Independent researcher)
Zvi Tauber (Tel Aviv University)
Naly Thaler (Hebrew University)
Nehama Verbin (Tel Aviv University)
Ruth Weintraub (Tel Aviv University)
Sharon Weisser (Tel Aviv University)
Elhanan Yakira (Hebrew University)
Dror Yinon (Bar-Ilan University)
Yirmiyahu Yovel (Hebrew University)
Noam Zohar (Bar-Ilan University)

[Editor’s note: the above list may be periodically updated with the names of new signatories.]

[*] Religious institutions of higher education, affiliated with some of the ruling parties and supported by public funds, regularly engage in political activities. No ethical coded has been proposed for them [note added in English version for clarification].

(Thanks to David Enoch for sending this in.)

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