Tuesday July 6, 2010

Prestigious Israeli University Sacks Professor for Same-Sex Parenting Comments

By Peter J. Smith

BEERSHEBA, Israel, July 6, 2010 ( – Officials at the prestigious Ben Gurion University in Israel say that they believe in academic freedom, but apparently draw the line when a professor comments negatively on homosexuality. Professor Yeruham Leavitt found this out the hard way, after he affirmed a student’s concern that homosexual parenting would deprive a child of a “normal” family upbringing during his lecture’s question-answer session for pharmacological students.

According to Israeli news sources, the university fired Prof. Yeruham Leavitt, because three students – at least one of them homosexual – were outraged that Leavitt would share such an opinion with his medical ethics class, and that he would go on to affirm that one could choose freely to restrain one’s sexual inclinations – both heterosexual and homosexual.

“Take me for example. I’m attracted to all women – but I contain myself,” he reportedly said. “So can homosexuals.”

The comments came amidst an ethics discussion on artificial insemination for homosexual couples.

Ynet News reports that the students complained to the university’s faculty committee, which then demanded Leavitt explain himself. Leavitt said his remarks were correctly understood, said he had nothing for which to apologize, re-affirmed his position, and declared that he had the right to voice personal opinions before his class.

But the faculty committee rejected Leavitt’s defense, and condemned his statements “on the homosexuality phenomenon” as “offensive.” Following their judgment, they cancelled his class and fired him from his position at the university.

“There is no room for personal opinions that offend some of the students,” Professor Riad Agbaria, head of Ben Gurion’s Clinical Pharmacology Department, stated in a letter which Ynet News had obtained.

The university also affirmed Agbaria’s position in a statement. “Ben-Gurion University sanctifies freedom of thought and expression, but the lecturer blatantly crossed the line,” the statement read.

Academic staff, students, and free speech groups, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, have expressed outrage.

Ynet reports that a small band of students has conducted protests outside Ben Gurion University over the dismissal of Leavitt, with signs saying, “Enough hypocrisy” and “Freedom of expression is only for the Left.”

Leavitt protested the decision as a gross violation of his academic rights, and told Ynet, “My embarrassing dismissal from Ben-Gurion University constitutes a severe violation of basic rights, including the right to dignity, academic freedom and freedom of expression.”

“I have nothing against the gay and lesbian community,” he reiterated. “Moreover, during my many years at the university I have always instilled the values of tolerance and liberalism.”

The Israeli journal, Arutz Sheva, reports that the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel is threatening to bring the case before the nation’s Supreme Court if Ben Gurion does not renege on its decision to fire Leavitt. They noted that several weeks ago Ben Gurion did not sack Dr. Neve Gordon, head of the university’s Department of Politics and Government, for calling for a boycott of Israel during one of his lectures.

They added that the double standard is blatant, considering that University Rector Prof. Weinblatt gave a platitude-ridden defense of Gordon, saying, “We live in a democratic country in which there is freedom of expression for all, even for those whose opinions are not appreciated by all.”

Ben Gurion’s Im Tirtzu movement also joined the chorus of condemnation, stating that Ben Gurion University had proven that “when lecturers dare to express an opinion that doesn’t align with the management’s ‘mainstream’ opinion, they pay the price with their positions.”