Indian Academics Protest Israeli Ambassador’s Interference in Academic Freedom

Fri Dec 08 2023
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NEW DELHI: A growing number of Indian scholars are raising concerns over what they perceive as undue interference by the Israeli ambassador in academic affairs on their campuses. Tensions escalated after a lecture on Palestinian history was canceled at one university following a complaint from the Israeli envoy, prompting 470 academics to issue a joint statement condemning the interference and asserting the right to academic freedom.

Naor Gilon, the Israeli ambassador in New Delhi, has been criticized for his public statements and attempts to influence academic discussions critical of Israel’s actions, particularly in the context of the Gaza bombardment. The controversy unfolded when Achin Vanaik, a retired professor from the University of Delhi, had his lecture on the history of conflict in Palestine canceled at O.P. Jindal Global University after Naor Gilon expressed “concern and extreme disappointment” over an event he deemed as “delegitimizing the state of Israel.”

The cancellation of Vanaik’s lecture at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay further fueled the discontent among academics. In response, 470 scholars from various institutions issued a joint statement objecting to the “Israeli ambassador’s interference with academic freedom on Indian campuses.” They emphasized that such interference “disrespects the competence of Indian scholars to analyze historical and political situations for themselves.”

Prof. Apoorvanand Jha from the University of Delhi criticized Gilon’s actions, stating, “He has crossed all the limits.” Jha highlighted that ambassadors typically refrain from commenting on internal matters, calling it a clear violation of diplomatic norms.

Israeli Ambassador Accused of Behaving Like the “Boss of India”

The Israeli ambassador’s recent public attack on Frontline, a prominent Indian magazine critical of Israeli policies, also drew condemnation. Nadeem Khan, co-founder of the India-Palestine Friendship Forum, expressed concerns about Gilon behaving as if he were the “boss of India,” adding that his interventions went beyond the usual scope of diplomatic activities.

Pamela Philipose, a fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research, described the Israeli envoy’s efforts as attempts to control the narrative in a “provocative and proactive” manner. She characterized his actions as displaying “arrogance and impunity of a very high order,” arguing that Gilon had surpassed his diplomatic brief and crossed a red line.

Academics are asserting their right to discuss and analyze the Israel-Palestine issue independently on campuses, emphasizing that they do not require external interference in shaping academic discourse.


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