Tel Aviv Prof Resigns Over Controversy
Controversy is not easily summarized
Academic politics, goes the famous quip, are so vicious because the stakes are so small. For further proof, consider the recent developments at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Poetics and Comparative Literature, where a recent scandal led to the resignation of the department chair and a much publicized flurry of accusations, insinuations, and name-calling.
The story begins, as such stories often do, with an academic conference, this one dedicated to political blogging. Among the invited panelists was Benny Ziffer, the editor of Ha’aretz’s literary section and a popular and provocative blogger on the newspaper’s website. Last year, when Yitzhak Laor, a noted Israeli poet, was accused by a female acquaintance of rape, Ziffer took to the blogosphere, writing strongly in support of Laor and questioning his accuser’s motives.
None of this, of course, has anything to do with the panel to which he was invited, but in Israel, as well as in academia in general, the political and the personal are conjoined. Laor’s accuser, an artist named Eshkar Eldan Cohen, contacted Dr. Orly Lubin, the Comp Lit department chair, and demanded that Ziffer be uninvited. Lubin, a thoughtful scholar whom I’d had the pleasure to briefly meet while myself an undergraduate at TAU, wrote Eldan Cohen a long letter, explaining that uninviting Ziffer is tantamount to censorship and that if Eldan Cohen was so inclined, she, too, would be invited to the panel where she could freely confront Ziffer.
None of this sufficed to Eldan Cohen, who proceeded to lobby the family of the late professor in whose honor the conference is held annually. Realizing that the panel was growing needlessly controversial and counterproductive, Lubin announced last Friday that she was canceling it altogether. That, too, apparently, wasn’t enough: A few days after the panel had already been cancelled, Eldan Cohen took to her blog and demanded, once again, in an open letter to the university’s governing body, that Ziffer’s invitation be rescinded.
This, apparently, was all Lubin could take. She resigned. She couldn’t accept, she told Ha’aretz, that the gender studies program, which falls under the purview of her department, would be tainted by accusations of not being sufficiently committed to preventing violence against women. Reached for comment Tel Aviv University said it knew nothing of Lubin’s resignation. This is probably not where the story ends.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.