Heads of national US teachers’ unions slam Israel’s proposed ban on political opinions in classrooms

Jun 19, 2017

NEW YORK (JTA) — The heads of the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors jointly condemned a proposal by Israel’s education minister that would bar the expression of political views in classrooms.

“The ‘code of ethics’ that the government of Israel is considering for the country’s academic institutions is a threat not only to academic freedom in Israel, but to Israel’s standing as a democracy,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten and AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum in a joint statement Monday. Both Weingarten and Fichtenbaum are Jewish.

The proposed code of ethics for institutes of higher education, spearheaded by Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, has spurred a fierce debate in Israel about the role of politics in the classroom. An organization of Israel’s university chiefs has rejected the code as governmental overreach.

“A careful study of the code shows that although it is defined as an ‘ethical code for appropriate behavior in the areas of overlap between academic activity and political activity,’ many of its articles deal with general activities in academic research and lectures,” the Committee of University Heads, which represents the nation’s seven universities, said in a statement last week. “As such, this code is a collection of state rules to dictate our conduct as faculty members.”

The AFT represents over 1.5 million K-12 teachers, while the AAUP represents teachers from more than 500 college campuses.

Weingarten and Fichtenbaum’s statement noted that they oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel but believe any group has the right to free speech.

“While we have opposed efforts to boycott Israeli universities, we also oppose stifling discussion of boycott proposals,” they wrote. “No one convinces anyone of the merits of their position by preventing free speech.

“Moreover, movement to do this violates the norms of intellectual freedom and makes any opposition to boycott proposals significantly more difficult to defend. Either you believe in democracy and the freedom to speak or you don’t.”