ISRAEL: Bar-Ilan University denies persecution claim

Bar-Ilan University has denied claims by two of its lecturers that their promotion to the rank of professor was rejected because of political persecution due to their political opinions and activities. But the allegations have been endorsed in a signed letter by 70 lecturers from all over Israel.

A Bar-Ilan spokesman, Haim Zisovitch, said that the promotion of Menachem Klein, a tenured senior lecturer in the political science department and Ariella Azoulay, a lecturer on the university's hermeneutics and cultural studies programme, were denied purely on the basis of "academic merit" and that submissions in support of their requests for promotion were "not enough".

"They are not the first to feel that they were being denied promotion for political reasons," Zisovitch said.

But Klein, author of four books published by US academic presses, alleges that there was a "very clear political bias of people on the committee".

He said the first time he came up for promotion he was blocked for submitting letters of recommendation from American scholars, and the second time he tried the university "blocked" him from the beginning and refused to establish a professional committee to consider his case.

In order to be promoted from senior lecturer to the rank of associate professor, Klein was required to have published 10 journal articles, and to have a good number of PhD and masters students.

He said that since the last time he applied for promotion he had written four books published by Columbia University Press, New York University and the University of Florida - with each one equivalent to four journal articles, according to the university's criteria - and over 20 articles in edited volumes. He had also participated in more than 100 international conferences, and therefore his credentials were sufficient. But the promotions and professional committees disagreed.

According to Klein, the "academic integrity" of the university is under question. "It is not an individual case against me. There are other examples of political bias at Bar-Ilan, " he said.

Klein quoted, translating from the Hebrew original, the protocol of Bar Ilan's professional committee in his first attempt at promotion, in which the members explain why they should not accept letters of recommendation from American professors in support of his promotion:

"The American scholars have the same political agenda as he [Klein] does and therefore the committee should only accept reviews by Israeli scholars who don't have the same agenda as the Americans.

"There are certain circles in the United States that will accept any Israeli scholars who will write about the difficulties of the government of Israel or on the need to talk to Hamas. [According to these circles, this scholar] will be accepted as a leading scholar that deserves promotion. This should be taken into account."

This view was highly evaluated by the committee, according to Klein.

Klein, an orthodox Jew, is known for his left-wing and critical views of the Israeli government, specifically of its 'occupation' of the West Bank, and Bar-Ilan is regarded as a "religious university" (more often than not aligned with the political right).

Stories of political discrimination are particularly sensitive, because Bar-Ilan it is where Yigael Amir, the murderer of former Prime Minister Rabin, and a right-wing extremist, studied.

One professor, who wished to reman anonymous, said: "The Council for Higher Education must investigate Azoulay's and Klein's claims. The university is hiding behind arguments that its considerations are professional, but that is difficult to accept in light of the professional standing of these two individuals. Clearly, the university will oppose any such investigation."