An article in Monday’s Haaretz newspaper explores issues potentially impacting the upper echelons — the decision- and policy-makers — within Israel’s archaeological community. The specific issue has to do with the makeup of the IAA board of directors and a related advisory body, the Archaeological council. At the center of the present controversy is Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister, Limor Livnat, who has proposed a legal gambit that will give her more leeway and power over appointments. Among the parties mentioned in the story are many of “the usual suspects”, including: Yoram Tsafrir, Benjamin Kedar, Ze’ev Weiss, Gabi Barkay, Eilat Mazar, Ronny Reich, the Elad organization, Bar-Ilan University, and the activist archaeologists of Emek Shaveh. The article says, in part:
Senior archaeologists are up in arms over an amendment to the Antiquities Authority Law proposed by Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat , which they say will shift the political slant of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s board of directors to the right.
Critics say Livnat has proposed the legislation to prevent the appointment of Prof. Yoram Tsafrir as chairman of the board of directors of the authority and to allow her to instead appoint archaeologists identified with the political right. Opponents of the bill also say Livnat has also been changing the makeup of the country’s senior archaeological body, the Archaeological Council, which advises the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the minister who oversees the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“People are being elected according to what they have on their head as opposed to in their head,” an opponent of the bill who declined to be named said, referring to religious head coverings.
By law, the authority’s board of directors sets policy and approves and supervises the budget. The law currently requires the board to be made up of two representatives on the faculty of one of the five universities in Israel, and one scholar from the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, who also serves as chairman of the board.
Tsafrir, one of Israel’s foremost archaeologists and the only archaeologist who is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, was the likely successor to Prof. Benjamin Kedar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is also deputy chairman of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
However, Livnat’s detractors say Tsafrir is considered a leftist for having spoken out against the involvement of Elad, an organization identified with the political right, in excavations of the City of David in Jerusalem.
Over the past year,three new members were appointed to the Archaeological Council: Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Dr. Ronny Reich and Dr. Eilat Mazar. All three are known for their work in excavations funded by Elad in East Jerusalem. Reich was elected head of the council.
Archaeologists critical of Livnat’s moves also say scholars from Bar-Ilan University have a greater representation on the Archaeological Council than other universities.
Prof. Ze’ev Weiss, head of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology said that if the bill becomes law, it could “stymie academic freedom and the ability to act without political influence.”
Emek Shaveh, an organization of archaeologists and community activists identified with the left wing said: “The day is coming when Israeli archaeology will be nationalistic archaeology whose main function is to serve as a tool in political debate about the country.”