For dozens of years, Israel's academic institutions managed to safeguard their autonomy in both financial and academic matters. This independence was one of the main sources of their professionalism, as well as of their respected international standing. But Defense Minister's Ehud Barak directive to GOC Central Command Nitzan Alon - that the Ariel University Center should be declared a full-fledged university - pulls the rug out from under this independence.
The directive's motives are political, not professional, and certainly not for the good of the country. It's a supremely fitting conclusion to the Netanyahu government's current term, as it highlights one this government's chief characteristics: contempt for Israel's laws and norms coupled with provocative behavior toward the international community, which views Ariel as occupied territory.
Barak's move, which was approved by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, could render irrelevant a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice several months ago by the council of university presidents. The decision is similar, at least in one respect, to the government's decision-making process with regard to the report on settlement outposts that it commissioned from former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy: In both cases, the government tried to legitimize political decisions by seemingly professional means. Just as Levy's report declared that the territories aren't under occupation, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria approved a report by a professional committee that, without even bothering to compare Ariel to similar institutions in Israel and abroad, decided it deserved to become a full-fledged university.
Manuel Trajtenberg, who chairs the regular Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee, joined the university presidents in opposing the upgrade. In an exceptionally harsh statement issued a few months ago, he accused the finance and education ministers of securing Ariel's upgrade via "an intentional and severe deviation from the fundamental principles of equality and fairness." The price of the witch's brew they concocted will be paid by Israeli academia as a whole.
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