SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 28, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Sapir Academic College

Region & Country:Western Asia | Israel

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 28, 2024, Sapir Academic College denied Regev Nathansohn’s request for a paid leave of absence and instead offered him a six-month unpaid leave. Nathansohn, a professor in the college’s Department of Communications, had experienced harassment after signing a petition calling Israeli action in Gaza “plausible genocide.”

In late March, Nathansohn signed the Academics4Peace petition, “Genocide is plausible; stop arms to Israel.” The petition called on the United States to end the transfer of offensive arms and related funding to Israel. Over 1,000 academics around the world signed the petition.

On March 27, a group of students at Sapir College sent a letter to the college’s administration demanding that Nathansohn be dismissed. The students also circulated the letter to media organizations. The letter accused Nathansohn of damaging the “academic climate and the trust we students place in our institution” and of causing discomfort. The publicity prompted harassment against Nathansohn, including anonymous phone calls, messages from colleagues condemning him, and accusations on social media – including comments on Sapir College’s Instagram account – that Nathansohn was a supporter of terrorism.

Sapir College responded to Nathansohn’s signing of the petition by distancing itself. In a public statement, the college stated that the petition did not represent Sapir and that Nathansohn should not “use the college’s name in personal and/or political contexts.”

On March 28, Nathansohn wrote to Sapir College administrators asking for a leave of absence for the upcoming semester, which was due to begin on April 1, because of a “hostile work atmosphere in the college.” Sapir administrators offered him an unpaid leave of six months, apparently writing later that Nathansohn’s decision to sign the petition had produced the hostile working environment for him. Nathansohn agreed to take the unpaid leave, but reported later that he did not feel that he had made the choice voluntarily.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about a higher education institution’s failure to protect a member of its faculty; the intimidation of a faculty member by students, colleagues, and members of the public for engaging in extramural academic speech; and public pressure on a university to take disciplinary action against a faculty member. Members of the public have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education, and higher education institutions have a responsibility to protect the exercise of academic freedom and extramural speech. Such intimidation and the failure to protect faculty members undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://www.jta.org/2024/04/10/israel/israeli-academics-face-backlash-after-signing-letter-accusing-israel-of-plausible-genocide-in-gaza
https://www.ynetnews.com/article/h1hef1mj0
https://www.brismes.ac.uk/news/letter-to-sapir-college-regarding-dr-regev-nathansohn
https://www.isa-sociology.org/en/about-isa/isa-human-rights-committee/statement-of-support-of-the-isa-for-dr-regev-nathanson