Ariel University
Ariel University Photo by AP
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The university heads objected, for purely academic reasons of course, to granting Ariel college a university status. Later, due to their pure motives, they were terrified that the defense minister was the one who, for political motives, would be preventing the Ariel institution from achieving the status. “This is a crude, unprecedented invasion of defense officials into academia,” the Council for Higher Education said in a statement.

The defense minister is spearheading an irresponsible escapade against Iran, fumed the Hebrew University president. He should be dedicating all his time to security, so that the attack succeeds and afterward, we don’t all go up to heaven in a cloud of smoke. There isn’t a state in the world, said his colleague from Haifa, in which a defense minister takes the exclusive authority to decide what institution deserves to become a university.

It’s even worse than that, said the Tel Aviv University president, the final signature is in the general’s hands. Yes, that’s the face of “the only democracy” in the Middle East. In a few days, he said, I will be taking part in a conference at Princeton. Imagine how I’ll look there after the world media reports that a general’s signature determines the status of a higher education institution in Israel.

At an emergency gathering, university heads raised the fear that the Ariel precedent, including the defense minister and OC Central Command’s involvement in approving their status, will apply retroactively on the rest of the universities set up on occupied land.

In Be’er Sheva, sighed the president of Ben-Gurion University, it is certainly the case. My vociferous guys in social sciences and humanities have been saying and writing for years that we’re sitting on occupied land. And it’s no news that Tel Aviv is called “Sheikh Munis University.”

Now that the European Union has outlawed Modi’in and Maccabim as well, they will target the Givat Ram campus, which, like the Supreme Court, Knesset and government complex, is on the Sheikh Bader village lands. Calm down, she continued, I know that Israel has a case in Mount Scopus, but it can break down, because all the access roads to the campus cross Palestinian Jerusalem. Whatever that warmonger touches, he turns into chaos, she concluded with frustration.

I’m convinced, said the head of the CHE’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, that this matter won’t end with Ariel. Bar-Ilan, whose representative is missing, for some reason, should be told it may be the only university whose status is safe. Is this why they’re not interested in our struggle on principle, which negates all intervention by defense officials in academic freedom? I doubt it. I feel they are rejecting Ariel more strongly than all of us together. Perhaps you know why?

The students’ organizations abandoned the social struggle, despite their many achievements, and held stormy demonstrations to save academia from the army’s clutches. “Even Stalin’s generals ruled the barracks, not the campuses,” said a slogan held by a veteran communist, a retired Sovietologist.

Authors and intellectuals went even further. In addition to publishing an especially severe announcement − “the defense minister is raising the blackest of flags over academic freedom” − they also took to the streets. We may yet come to a state, predicted David Grossman on Israel Radio, in which my books will be sent to the censor and a general will approve or not approve their publication.

How did we come to that, asked the interviewer. How? Exactly 25 years ago, said the author-prophet, I predicted it in my book “The Yellow Wind.” The occupation, sighed the interviewer, the occupation. Mother of all sins, concluded the author.