In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent this week, ahead of the Council for Higher Education's scheduled discussion of the issue in about two weeks, the presidents of Israel's universities expressed their opposition to upgrading the Ariel University Center of Samaria to university status. The university heads said their considerations were financial and academic. They claimed the change would deal a fatal blow to their institutions and to higher education in Israel.
Their opposition is admirable, but the considerations they cited are off-base. There is another consideration, one that precedes the budgetary and academic ones by a mile. The college in Ariel must not be allowed to become a university because of its location, in the heart of the occupied territories. There is no place for an Israeli university there, in the land of the West Bank, and its establishment would only further entrench the creeping annexation, the blurring of the Green Line and the process of making the territories of the occupation an indivisible part of the State of Israel. That is what the university presidents should have protested, and explicitly.
These figures, who are battling an ever-expanding academic boycott against Israel abroad, should have been the first to take alarm at the harm their institutions and the state would suffer were a university to be established in the territories. It would only goad on the boycotters. A group of around 1,000 academics, including 18 Israel Prize laureates, signed a petition against the upgrade because of the political significance of the college's location. They did their public duty better than the heads of their own universities.
The proposal to upgrade the college's status, which is supported by the prime minister and the education and finance ministers, is chiefly a political one. For that reason, the opposition to it must be political. Any building in the territories contributes to perpetuating the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinian people and the Arab states; but adding an Israeli university there would have far-reaching symbolic significance. Israeli academia, which prides itself on its protection of academic freedom, cannot support the establishment of an academic institution in a place whose residents are denied freedom.
An Israeli university on the West Bank would be a university for the occupation sciences; it must not happen.
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