A retired Open University historian has announced her resignation from the Council for Higher Education to protest the government's use of the council to confirm state recognition of Ariel University in the West Bank last week. "Unfortunately, this conduct turns the Council for Higher Education, which you head, into an empty vessel," Ora Limor wrote in a letter to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar last week.

"Instead of serving as a barrier between politics and the higher education system, as intended, [the council] has become a political tool. This even threatens its ability to properly fill its role as a professional and academic regulator."

The retired professor was writing in response to the council vote Sa'ar held on upgrading the status of Ariel University Center of Samaria, even though council members had protested their involvement because the body is not supposed to deal with academic issues in the territories. Fewer than half the council members were present at the vote.

Limor criticized what she said was the absence of a discussion about whether an additional university was necessary, where it should be located and what should be the criteria for establishing it. She said the way in which the government adopted the recommendation of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, a separate body, to upgrade the status of the college in Ariel was "problematic (to say the least)."

The low point, wrote Limor, was when the education council was convened last week on short notice so that it would rubber-stamp the decision, thus turning the council into "an active collaborator in this entire process." She also criticized the timing: two weeks before both the election and a High Court of Justice hearing on a petition by Israel's university presidents against the state recognition of the Ariel center as a university.

"Under these circumstances, and so as not to be party to these actions, I have no recourse but to submit my resignation," wrote Limor. The council vote could affect the High Court hearing, since the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities is arguing that the West Bank education council does not have the authority to upgrade the Ariel center to a university, and that its decision contravenes the position of the Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee.

But with the council vote in hand, the government can now argue that the education council does support the decision made by its West Bank counterpart, which was founded in 1997 to deal with academic affairs in the territories.

Limor said when she was appointed by Sa'ar in January of last year, he told her he was seeking to appoint council members based solely on their academic qualifications. "I believed you," she said in the letter to Sa'ar. "Unfortunately, it has become clear to me that I was wrong and that the challenges I faced as a member of the council were completely different from those for which I was trained over the years."