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Netanyahu vetoes left-leaning Israeli academic`s participation in Merkel meet
Barak Ravid

Tel Aviv University professor was due to participate in a round-table discussion with Netanyahu and Merkel, meant to be the height of the summit being held by the two governments in Berlin on Thursday.

Prime Minister Netanyahu`s Office has demanded that a faculty member of Tel Aviv University cancel her participation in a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Netanayhu with academics in Berlin, because of her political views and criticism of government policy.

Professor Rivka Feldhay, the head of the university`s Minerva Center for Human Rights, was invited to the event by Israel`s embassy in Germany a few weeks ago. The event is meant to be the height of the summit being held by the two governments in Berlin on Thursday.

As part of the event, there will be a round-table discussion featuring both Merkel and Netanyahu alongside some ten academics and scientists from Germany and Israel. Following brief remarks by both leaders, each participant will say a few words about their area of research.

Feldahy, the wife of Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, a senior member of the Israel Democracy Institute, had already arrived in Berlin when she received a phone call on Wednesday morning from the Israeli embassy in Germany, informing her that she could not take part in Thursday`s event.

`The cultural attache spoke with me this morning [Wednesday] and told me that my participation had been canceled,` Professor Feldhay told Haaretz from Berlin.

`When I asked why, the embassy in Germany explained to me that the national security adviser, Maj. Gen. (res.) Ya`akov Amidror, refused to approve my participation because I have said things that are critical of the government.`

In recent years, Professor Feldhay has sharply criticized the government`s policy in the West Bank. In the past four years, she has leveled criticism over infringement of academic freedom. She has also come out against calls to close the Department of Politics and Government of Ben Gurion University, and has also criticized plans to accredit Ariel University Center in the West Bank as a university.

A member of Netanyahu`s inner circle confirmed that Amidror had vetoed the professor`s participation in the meeting with Merkel, due to a petition she had signed in 2008 supporting Israel Defense Forces soldier`s refusal to carry out operations in the Palestinian territories.

`The Prime Minister came to Europe, among other things, to speak on behalf of IDF soldiers who do all they can to prevent attacks on civilians, while the other side is making efforts to target as many civilians as possible, and so, we refused to include the professor in the event,` he said.

Feldhay told Haaretz that she had no recollection of signing such a petition.

Feldhay also said on Wednesday that she had not even planned to speak about political issues during the Berlin meeting with Merkel and Netanyahu. Instead, she intended to speak about her academic research, and about the importance of the humanities in every society. Feldhay said also that her criticism of government policy over the past ten years related mainly to the protection of academic freedom.

`This move is a silencing of academics and harms freedom of expression,` Feldhay said. She added that Israel cannot ignore the conduct of a government in which the national security council is `engaged in finding enemies within, those who criticize the government, and following that blocks the presentation of scientific projects.`

`It is hard to believe that this is what Israel looks like in the year 2012,` she said.

German government officials refused to comment, or respond to Haaretz.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal`on said: `An evil wind of McCarthyism is blowing from the Israeli government Professor Feldhay echoes the criticism of Meretz and other Israeli citizens. Every day, Netanyahu is becoming more like his partner, Lieberman.`

A member of the Labor Party`s campaign, MK Nachman Shai, commented on Netanyahu`s move, saying the prime minister is attempting to silence other views. `Instead of presenting to Germany a pluralistic and free Israel,` the prime minister`s office prefers to only present views that suit Netanyahu, Shai said.

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