The chairman of the executive committee of the Ariel University Center of Samaria, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, said recognition conferred on his institution as a "university center" by Defense Minister Ehud Barak was made possible by the current alignment of political forces.

"The political constellation [of powers] during the period when Yuli Tamir was education minister blocked the continued recognition of [our institution] as a university center," Cohen-Orgad said Thursday.

Barak confirmed in a message to GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi that the college in the West Bank settlement of Ariel will be recognized as a "university center" as an intermediate status, on its path to status as a full university.

The Ariel University Center will hold an open house Friday for prospective students; 2,600 have made reservations for the event, compared to 1,800 in prior years. Cohen-Orgad rejected claims that his institution was inferior academically to full universities, saying the Ariel University Center "is absolutely in a reasonable position according to common criteria in Israel and abroad as relates to a young university."

Yaron Ezrahi, a professor at Hebrew University, said Barak's decision involved the "academization of the occupation" which would do harm to the academic community and bring about a renewed academic boycott of Israel. He referred to the Ariel institution as "an academic settlement in occupied territory" and said "all the Nobel prizes that we have won will not help us." He added that Ariel was established to promote the ideology of right-wing settlers. Ezrahi went on to describe the defense minister's move as a "dangerous precedent, in which a general is establishing a university. Such a thing only exists in totalitarian countries."

Sources at the Israeli Council on Higher Education noted that state funding for Ariel will not change as result of its new designation and that the school has agreed not to ask for funding as a university for the next two and a half years.

Cohen-Orgad said the Council on Higher Education had never actually defined what constituted a university. He added that the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which handles Israeli educational institutions in the West Bank, recognized the Ariel college as a university in 2006 for all intents and purposes, except in terms of granting doctorates.