August 18, 2010 - 12:00am

A group of Israeli academics have come out strongly against what they are calling a "threat letter" sent by rightist group "Im Tirtzu" to the President of Ben- Gurion University (BGU) in Beersheba.

The letter demands the school offer what it considers equal teaching and learning opportunities to those not in line with what it claims is a hard-core left-wing doctrine among the center's educators and leadership.

Im Tirtzu charges that BGU's Politics and Government Department is the most left-wing in the country.

"The department has 11 faculty members, of whom nine are involved in political activities that present extreme leftist positions," Im Tirtzu director Ronen Shoval told the Jerusalem Post newspaper.

The group says that students not academically hewing to what it considers the educators' left-of-center ideology are harassed, and that no efforts were made to balance the teaching syllabus.

The organization threatens to influence students not to attend the university, and convince donors to cut off or reduce their funding of the school if their concerns are not met within 30 days.

"We will request that all the donors submit their contributions to a trust fund managed by a lawyer, to be released to the university after it is factually proved that the bias that exists in the department, as expressed in the faculty make-up and the syllabus content, is remedied," the letter said.

"These threats are not new," Professor Naomi Hazan told the Ha' aretz daily.

"They represent only part of the very worrisome process of de- democratization of Israel, which is being orchestrated by extreme right-wing organizations," Hazan, who is a former Knesset member and identified with the left side of the political spectrum, told the newspaper.

Former BGU president and current Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman said Im Tirtzu's challenge to the school smacked of "McCarthyism," and that they threatened Israeli democracy.

Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he is against blocking donations to Israeli universities.

Im Tirtzu, which means "If You Will It," is part of a famous statement by the 19th Century Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl, " If you will it -- it is no dream," which refers to the hoped-for future establishment of a Jewish State.


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