No, the Israeli Government Isn’t Banning Books from High Schools

Two weeks ago, the left-leaning Israeli media and professoriate raised a hue and cry over an alleged government decision to “ban” from schools the novel Borderlife, whose plot revolves around a romance between an Israeli and a Palestinian. As Liel Leibovitz points out, nothing like a “ban” was issued; the only decision was not to include the book on a list of works required for all students taking the nation-wide matriculation exam: a list that already includes multiple novels about love between Jews and Gentiles (both Arab and European). The real root of the controversy, writes Leibovitz, is the left’s desire to impose its views:

In declining to canonize [Borderlife], the Ministry of Education made a call to favor works that explore not the nation’s failings—aside from the interfaith love story, Borderlife is rich with descriptions of IDF soldiers behaving cruelly toward bedraggled Palestinian innocents—but its glories. And that, to some in Israel, is hard to take.

To those guardians of good taste and right thinking—comprising, if you’re inclined to stereotype, authors and academics and op-ed writers and entertainers and the other usual suspects one finds everywhere among the tender and progressive elites—a book is only worth its salt if, [as they might put it], it problematizes power relations and undermines the hegemony of the privileged classes. [Thus] so many Israeli novels—many of which have pride of place on the Ministry of Education’s list—are shivering, introspective mea culpas about all sorts of wrongdoings, real and perceived. But try to argue that the Jewish state should teach, say, Jewish values, and you’re likely to be labeled a benighted brute.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Censorship, Education, Israel & Zionism, Israeli left, Israeli literature, Israeli society

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus