Sunday, December 7, 2008
The distinguihsed legal scholar Alon Harel, who holds a Chair at the Hebrew University of Jersualem and has also taught at many U.S. law schools (including Columbia and Texas), writes:
The Faculty of law at the University of Tel Aviv has suffered greatly in recent weeks. Regrettably, the Provost of the University of Tel Aviv Professor Dany Leviatan decided to interfere with the basic academic freedoms of the clinics at the university of Tel Aviv and has rendered decisions which violate the autonomy of the Faculty.
The faculty of law at the University of Tel Aviv operates six live-client legal clinics. The clinics at the University of Tel Aviv have been involved in numerous important legal cases, among others in the following areas: criminal justice, environmental justice, health, education and welfare rights, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and others. The clinics have won many important legal victories, including the rights of the mentally ill to legal representation and the right of prisoners to sleep on beds.
The clinics in all law schools (Israel and worldwide) enjoy broad autonomy. The directors of the clinics make decisions on the basis of legal as well as pedagogic considerations.
On the basis of these considerations the directors of one of the clinics at TAU decided to represent workers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in their struggle to establish a union – a basic right recognized under Israeli labor law. For unknown reasons the Provost at the University of Tel Aviv Professor Dany Leviatan decided to block the representation of the workers and instructed the clinic to cease representation. To the best of my knowledge this is the first and the only time in the history of clinics in Israel that such an order is given by the provost. In addition to the resentment triggered by this move on the part of the lawyers in the clinic, this precedent may affect the autonomy of the clinics in the future.
The information I have indicates that Professor Leviatan threatened both senior and junior workers at the University of Tel Aviv.
To the credit of the faculty and its dean, Professor Hanoch Dagan, I shall add that professor Dagan and other members of the faculty did their best to defend the autonomy of the clinics. At the end however the clinic itself decided that it cannot under the circumstances continue representing the workers and transferred representation to an external lawyer. A notification on the site of the clinic indicates subtly the reasons for their decision. The notification can be found in
http://www.law.tau.ac.il/Heb/?CategoryID=499 (scroll down for the English version)
I personally asked professor Leviatan to clarify the reasons for his decision. His unpleasant reaction was that he is not looking for preachers. I have to add that Professor Leviatan has tried in the past to cancel a conference on administrative detention. His record on issues of academic freedom has been less than what one would hope for.
UPDATE: More on the case here.