Shabbat Shalom​, 14 April

Dear friends,

Last week's journey took me and a delegation from BGU to two U.S. universities, Penn and Drexel in Philadelphia. The chilly, wet weather seemed fitting, mirroring the uneasy climate Israeli academics face on U.S. campuses. Despite this, each university extended a warm welcome.

Penn went out of their wat to make us feel welcome, and for some, to spin a story or the situation being much safer for Jews than that shown in the press. The juxtaposition of the armed escorts at the university's insistence did not exactly reassure us that all was well.   Conversations with Jewish and Israeli faculty members revealed concerns that contrasted sharply with the official assurances we received. This underscored a palpable tension, urging us to remain alert to any anti-Israel sentiments.

The next day at Drexel, despite the rain, We felt that we could let our guard down. In a meeting with the President, Provost, Vice-President and several researchers, I remarked that for the first time in six months, I found myself engaging solely in academic discourse, momentarily disconnected from the war's shadow. This respite brought both relief and guilt. For those of you unfamiliar, Drexel is a scrappy, up and coming university, quite similar to BGU in outlook and in regional impact. We left with a number of action items to build our relationship.

The difference in our experiences at Penn and Drexel can be traced back to the differences in the responses of their presidents on October 7 and in the aftermath. While the president of Penn vacillated with weak statements, highly qualified, aimed at trying to keep everyone happy, even terrorists, Drexel President John Fry was the first American university president to reach out to me on October 7, and he made a very morally strong public statement condemning Hamas, with no qualifications, from the very beginning. This is not to say that he has not been supportive of increasing humanitarian aide to Gaza, or in reaching out to his Moslem students and making sure that they also feel safe. But his strong moral stand from the beginning has enabled him to navigate these trying times for any leader.

Indeed, leadership must always flow from strong ideological positions, and I hope that I can meet that test also.

Unfortunately, some of you may be aware that a small number of our faculty members signed a petition that, frankly, aligns more with propaganda of the worst kind that we have seen on some Ivy League campuses, than with the principles of academic integrity and freedom of speech we hold dear. This petition unfairly maligns Israel and our IDF soldiers, distorting the reality of a nation defending its existence against a ruthless adversary.

To be unequivocal:

  • I denounce the actions of those faculty members who, by signing this petition, have tarnished the reputation of BGU and our community.
  • I reject their portrayal of Israel's defensive actions as genocide, an accusation that is as baseless as it is offensive.
  • I am appalled by their unfounded accusations of the unthinkable against IDF soldiers, our students, staff, and faculty, who have shown nothing but bravery and sacrifice.

Freedom of expression and critical thinking are pillars of democracy and academia, but they too have limitations. They are not shields for spreading falsehoods or for undermining the cohesion of our university community.

As I wrote several months ago in the Times of Israel, "freedom of speech does not absolve a university president from the responsibility of condemning harmful discourse." I assure you that I will do my best to ensure that we at BGU will continue to embody ethical and academic integrity, set a clear example for students, and teach them to delineate the boundaries between constructive discourse and destructive propaganda.

Despite the rumblings of war, I pray for a quiet shabbat, the immediate return of Noa Argamani and all the hostages, and the safety of our soldiers.

Shabbat Shalom,


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