Ben-Gurion University rector encourages students to protest judicial overhaul

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The rector of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev called on students on Sunday to join protests across the country against the widespread overhaul of the judiciary, and urged all of the country’s institutions of higher learning to threaten to go on strike. strike if the controversial legislation goes ahead.

In a letter written by the rector, Professor Chaim Hames, the university’s forum for academic staff, known as the Senate, “invited the entire university community to participate in the ‘interruption day’ on Thursday, in which we express our commitment to. the democratic values ​​of the State of Israel and the academic freedom under which we operate.”

There have been repeated mass protests against the legislation, including several nationwide “days of disruption” held on Wednesday or Thursday, which have included roadblocks and occasionally led to clashes. the police.

The letter stated that the proposed legislation was a “serious threat not only to the future of democracy in Israel but also to the future of higher education, one of the country’s significant engines of economic and cultural growth.”

“There is no free academic life without a strong liberal democracy,” Hames wrote. “The damage to the legal system will allow political interference in all areas of academia.”

Hames said the university asks the umbrella group of the Committee of University Leaders, and all higher education institutions, to announce “if the legislation continues and the bills related to the judicial system are brought to second and third reading. [in parliament]activity in institutions of higher education will be suspended for an indefinite period.”

Screen capture from a Ben-Gurion University video of Negev Rector Professor Chaim Hames, 2022. (YouTube. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Hames noted that the university supports President Isaac Herzog’s independent proposal for judicial reform, which the president hopes will be the starting point for an eventual agreement between the government and the opposition on the issue.

He panned members of the coalition government for quickly rejecting Herzog’s proposal when it was revealed last week, saying it “shows their intentions, including a serious threat to the continued existence of the State of Israel in the spirit of the values ​​of the Declaration of Independence .”

Hames, however, did not clarify whether he was advocating for students to take part in the mass protests, including blocking roads. The rector said in his letter “it is not yet clear what activities will take place on this day on the university campuses, but from the things that came up in the Senate, I hope that there will be opportunities to discuss the legislation itself. and democracy, and opportunities to hear and be heard.”

He said information about the university’s activities will be announced later.

Raz Turgeman, head of the university’s local branch of the right-wing student group Im Tirtzu, criticized the letter.

“This is further evidence of the sharp politics in academia in recent years,” Turgeman told the Israeli news site Hayom. “The senate of the university should not, under any circumstances, invite students to a political protest, certainly not in such an explosive time when we were hoping to ask for a respectful dialogue between the parties and encourage unity.”

He asked the university administration to withdraw the letter and issue a clarification on the rector’s statements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. P(Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation aimed at weakening the High Court of Justice, political control over the appointment of judges, empowering the Knesset avoid judicial review of legislation, and enable ministers to appoint their own legal advisers — and fire them.

Coalition leaders said early Monday, however, that they were delaying all reform bills until at least the end of April, except for the one that changed the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee to allow the coalition to Appointment of Supreme Court.

It was also decided that the coalition would keep advancing bills tailored to Netanyahu – preventing the attorney general and the High Court from forcing him to take a leave of absence due to a conflict of interest, and allowing him to receive funds from his deceased cousin to keep as a gift. which the court ruled that he must return — and to the leader of the Shas party Aryeh Deri, allowing the thrice-convicted politician to be reinstated as a minister despite a court ruling prohibiting this.

Proponents of the plan say it’s a long overdue measure to curb what they see as the undue influence of unelected judges. But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.

Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in the past two months to protest the overhaul.

Business leaders, Nobel-winning economists, and prominent security officials spoke out against it, military reservists threatened to stop reporting for duty and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, d Netanyahu urged to slow down. Herzog’s repeated attempts to compromise have not yielded results.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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