Israeli Universities Warn Judicial Overhaul Will Lead to 'Brain Drain,' International Boycott

Presidents of the country's major universities called on the government to 'refrain from a rapid constitutional change, which is being taken without a meaningful parliamentary and public conversation over the issues'

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Student protest at the Hebrew University against the plan to weaken the justice system, last week.
Student protest at the Hebrew University against the plan to weaken the justice system, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The presidents of Israel's universities issued a joint statement on Monday warning that the government's plan to weaken the judicial system could cause a serious blow to academia resulting in a "brain drain."

Israel's university chiefs warned that weakening the justice system would lead to an international boycott of Israeli academia, with “international colleagues not coming to Israel, with restrictions on access to international research foundations, with foreign industries reluctant to cooperate with Israeli academics and with the exclusion of Israeli researchers from the international community of research and education.”

They called on the government to "refrain from a rapid constitutional change, which is being taken without a meaningful parliamentary and public conversation over the issues." Adding that “the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence must be preserved, particularly those relating to the rights of minorities and human dignity.”

The statement was signed by the rectors and presidents of research universities, including the Hebrew University, the universities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ariel, Bar-Ilan, the Open University, the Israel Institute of Technology (the Technion) and the Weizmann Institute.

The statement further states that university heads “express their grave concern over the polarization and rift in Israeli society, and over processes which could seriously impact Israel’s strength and stability.” They claim that the changes to the justice system envisioned by the government could have “a long-term and comprehensive impact on the security, economy and social strength of the state.” They also warned about the undertaking of an “unmonitored process.”

The president of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Prof. David Harel, also warned about the implications regarding the government's plan for the justice system.

At the opening of an event at the Academy on Monday, Harel said that, “If the current process will continue in the direction it has taken, and with the inconceivable speed with which it is proceeding, I believe that not only the courts will be affected, but also the economy and the protection afforded to individual citizens.

"One cannot rule out the possibility of interference in the freedom of academic inquiry or a disastrous cut to research budgets and higher education. Ultimately, we have a finance minister who said in an interview that ‘evolution is a farce.’ I will fight against such explicit assaults on scientific research and higher education with all my might.”

Last week, the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo was the first academic institution to publish a statement related to the expected changes in the judiciary.

During an interview with Haaretz last week, President of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Ariel Porat, responded to criticism by members of his institution that university leaders are refraining from standing against the government's intentions.

Porat said that he believed that there was an advantage that he, as university president, would remain above the political fray. “Sometimes you have to do so when there is no choice, and then you pay a price which makes you less effective,” he said.

On Monday, Porat wrote a letter to students and university employees, referring to the government’s plan while expressing support for students and academic staff who had demonstrated at the entrance to the campus last week. “The right to demonstrate is a basic political right, a derivative of the freedom of expression, a right which is correct and desirable to exercise.”

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