WASHINGTON -- Israel and the United States debated publicly Friday whether loyalty oaths required of some university professors in the Israeli-occupied West Bank infringe on academic freedom.
'There's no basis for the fear that the so-called loyalty pledge threatens schools in Judea and Samaria,' said the Israeli Embassy, referring to occupied West Bank areas by their Biblical names.
'It is a pledge not to support or assist the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) or any other hostile organization. In no way does this interfere with freedom of thought,' the embassy said in a public statement.
The disagreement surfaced Thursday, when Secretary of State George Shultz said at a news conference the requirement is 'just not constructive,' and Israeli academics 'ought to speak up' against it as American professors protested loyalty oaths during the McCarthy investigations.
The Israeli Embassy statement compared the West Bank oath to U.S. visa forms, which require applicants to sign an oath pledging not to support the Communist Party or affiliated organizations.
The Israeli pledge, which applies only to alien teachers and not to residents of the West Bank, requires work permit applicants to swear they will not support 'the organization entitled the PLO or any other hostile organization.'
In a public response to the embassy statement, the State Department said the oath comes down to a simple matter of academic freedom and expressed hope that Israel will eliminate it.
In a prepared statement, State Department spokesman John Hughes repeated Shultz' view that 'political pledges from educators are an abridgment of academic freedom.'
Shultz, who describes himself as 'fundamentally a university man,' was a professor at Stanford University, the University of Chicago and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The statement said, 'It is not a complex issue. It boils down to a defense of academic freedom anywhere in the world. We make no apologies for that defense.'
It also said the pledge 'is totally unnecessary from a security standpoint. It has the effect, whether or not intended, of eroding the few Arab institutions remaining on the West Bank. Its impact on the thinking of West Bankers is not helpful to our efforts to expand the peace process.'
The PLO is an umbrella organization that includes scores of organizations ranging from labor unions and the Red Crescent relief society to underground groups engaged in terrorism, including assassinations and aerial hijackings.