The Ariel University Center, which Israel recognized last week as the first accredited Israeli university in the West Bank, has been acting as an employment agency for the Defense Ministry, according to recent court documents.
"Employing contract workers in civil service via the Ariel college is a way of creating fictitious employment mechanisms," said Martin Villar, the contract worker coordinator for the social activism group Ma'aglei Tzedek. "It's a classic 'Israbluff' that the state encourages to get around a shortage of jobs, to break organized labor and to reduce the cost of employment at the expense of the workers."
The Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court ruled this month on a complaint filed by some 30 guides for museums operated by the Defense Ministry, who asked the court to reverse their replacement by other temporary staffers, saying they work for the state even though their paychecks came from the Ariel University Center. The court overturned their dismissal and ordered the state to take them back on.
The university had won a tender to be the formal employer of the guides, as well as of cashiers and maintenance staff working at the museums.
"The witness for Ariel confirmed that Ariel had not held a professional seminar for the complainants," the court wrote in its ruling. "Essentially, the testimony indicates that Ariel served as a 'formal' employer, which paid the salaries, conducted job interviews, provided salary slips and noted absences and the like, but day-to-day life there involved interaction with representatives of the Defense Ministry. According to the testimony we heard, the complainants' connection with Ariel was extremely minimal."
Hadar Kamon, a guide for the Underground Prisoners Museum in Jerusalem and one of the complainants, said the connection with the university "was simply a pipeline to transfer money and hand out salary slips."
Ariel University Center said it sees such projects as socially and educationally important and that they offer the institution a chance "to contribute from the world of academic knowledge it contains."
All the same, the university said its connection with the Defense Ministry had initially ended in June but was extended until December 15 and has again come to an end.
But providing guides like Kamon for Defense Ministry museums is just one of the projects for the state carried out by the university, which also employs staff members for the Knesset, the Education Ministry and other ministries.
While many of the Education Ministry staffers employed by the university work as guides, others have purely secretarial tasks that require no expertise in education.
"Even when there were workshops, they were from the Education Ministry," said a former Education Ministry staffer who received her paycheck from the Ariel center. "Aside from timesheets and paychecks, I had no connection with Ariel. Nothing, nothing, nothing."