Ben Gurion U Denies Political Persecution of Student

November 27, 2014  

Joel Cohen, a Politics and Government student at Ben Gurion University, was removed from the class “Introduction to Political Thought” Wednesday.

Cohen claims this was due to his statement of political solidarity with the grassroots Zionist movement, Im Tirtzu. Ben Gurion University says the student’s claims of political persecution are disconnected from reality, and that the incident centered on improper use of a laptop computer.

The student’s version

“After about 20 minutes in class, [lecturer] Gali Rahat asked us to say something about ourselves. I said that I was a member of Im Tirtzu,” Cohen said Thursday. “Mine was the last introduction and immediately afterwards, she insisted in a disrespectful tone that I close my computer – which had already been open for 20 minutes – and gave me a disgusted look. It was no coincidence that it was after I exposed my political affiliations.”

Cohen explained that the lecturer had asked that the students open up the text they were studying. “I responded that I follow the material we are learning with English text on my computer since English is my native language.”

“Her response,” he said, “was that ‘you are making your situation worse and from my point of view you’re not in class.’ At this point, I left the classroom hurt and shocked by what happened in a university setting that supports pluralistic norms and freedom of expression.”

Dr. Ronen Shoval, founder of Im Tirtzu, said “the Minister of Education should intervene immediately and protect Israeli students from anti-Zionist political persecution according to the law and the decision of the CHE (Council for Higher Education). The weeds that have not been uprooted from Ben Gurion University, with the protection of university president Rivka Carmi, continue to poison and persecute political positions and students who are not to their liking. Academic pluralism applies to Zionist positions as well.”

Im Tirtzu adds that the 2010 decision of the Council of Higher Education clearly stated that “Situations should be prevented or avoided where students or teachers suffer from rejection, silencing or discrimination due to their views, including political views.”

The lecturer’s version

Ben Gurion University told Arutz Sheva that the student’s claim that he was distanced from the class due to his political views “has no basis in reality.”

“The student was asked by the lecturer to leave the class because of improper and unusual behavior that contradicts the class’s syllabus, following which a complaint was filed against him with the university’s academic director, in order to bring him before a disciplinary committee.”

The lecturer’s version, as communicated to Arutz Sheva by the university spokesman, is that “The student, Joel Cohen, got up in the middle of the class in order to connect his computer to the socket. I repeatedly told him that computers are not allowed in the class and asked him to stop fooling around with the computer. In response, he said that the computer is off and that he is not touching it.

“The class continued, and when I asked the students to open up the texts, the student opened the computer and began working on it. Since I did not want to start an argument at the expense of the lesson, I did not say anything to him. However, when the student asked for permission to ask a question, I told him that since he is using the computer against my instructions, he is no longer a participant in the lesson.

“In response, the student raised his voice and said that his texts are located in the computer and that I have no right to tell him what to do and that I am picking specifically on him when there is another student who is using a computer.”

The lecturer went on to describe in detail her version of the argument she had with Cohen, who she said took a photo of the other student who was using her computer. Cohen “disrupted the class, took photos against the rules, was rude to the lecturer, shouted at her in front of other students to undermine her authority, and even left the class while disrupting the class, and demeaning the lecturer and another student.”

She claimed that the other student who worked with a laptop had received special permission to do so because of “problems she has with writing” and that she had given her word that she would not use the WiFi internet connection. 

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