Ariel University
Public criticism is growing over Ariel University Center's upgrade in status. Photo by Alex Levac
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The decision expected today to recognize the Ariel University Center of Samaria as Israel’s eighth university is not a source of pride, as should be any development of the higher education system. The move, engineered by the ministers of finance and education against the will of the presidents of the existing universities and the bodies that budget the academic institutions, will be remembered as a low point of this right-wing government. It follows on the heels of the report the government commissioned on the settlement outposts, a document which stated last week that the West Bank should not be designated as occupied territory.

When the planning and budgeting committee of the Council for Higher Education decided last week that the academic institute in Ariel should not, for the time being, be recognized as a university, and that the entire system of higher learning should be evaluated, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar stepped in immediately. He claimed that the right body to make the decision, “the council for higher learning of Judea and Samaria,” where the debate over the Ariel institute is taking place, is not a political body. This is an obvious attempt to dress up a political decision in the garb of academic objectivity. The professors due to resolve the matter were appointed by the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command. Their academic authority derives from military orders.

Moreover, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the planning and budgeting committee, declared that the discussions by the council for higher learning of Judea and Samaria on this matter, as well as the overt support from Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, implied a “deliberate and severe deviation from the fundamental principles of equality and decency.” Trajtenberg used harsh words to describe, once again, how the settlers and the government are acting in a way that tramples the law. The unacceptable reality that sanctifies the illegal outposts is now also seeping into the sphere of higher education.

Sa’ar is also “ex officio” chairman of the Council for Higher Education, in which the planning and budgeting committee and Trajtenberg are charged with managing the system of colleges and universities. The manner in which he has ignored the decisions of the planning and budgeting committee, and the uniquely generous budgeting that Steinitz is promising the Ariel institute without taking into account other colleges, are proof that two systems of decision-making have been created in Israel. One system, within the Green Line, is subject to the law and to norms that bind it; the other, beyond the Green Line, acts without any interference to entrench the occupation.