A Meeting of Minds

Ariel College in the West Bank has existed since 1992, so why does calling it a University anger so many people?

Much like angry passengers on a bus that skipped their stop, those who are opposed to "the announcement" that Ariel College was upgraded to university status are hanging onto the bumper while shouting at the driver to stop, or else - or else what? This college, which before last week was consistently referred to by its chief officials as "The Ariel University Center of Samaria," has been in existence since 1982. Has anybody raised a fuss since then over the fact that an Israeli college is even operating in the territories?

In 1992, the year when the college sought academic recognition for its two departments (electrical engineering and electronics, and chemistry and biotechnology), the Council for Higher Education - Judea and Samaria was established. This body was intended to circumvent the fact that the Council for Higher Education's guidelines do not apply to the territories. The CHE-J&S actually went further. It required the State of Israel to ratify the CHE-J&S law and implement it throughout the country. A law born of occupation morphed into a binding law for all of Israel. From that time forward, has anyone uttered a whisper of protest against this anomaly?

But lest anyone risk sounding political, since we are dealing here with the purity of academe, those who oppose "the university of the settlements" are suddenly perturbed by the academic level of the college. They are particularly disturbed over the prospect that the coffers of the CHE's planning and budget committee will empty out on account of this academic settlement's laboratories and classrooms.

When was the last time the commissars of education lodged a complaint over the academic quality of the Ariel University Center? Is the quality of the college's students and teachers no less important than that of a university? During a radio interview, even former education minister Yuli Tamir was adamant that "this is an excellent college - I have no complaints as to the academic level."

Accusations of substandard quality are intriguing given that they are usually uttered by the institution's opponents. What it means is that an Israeli academic index must be applied to a college in the territories before it can become a university. Is there a more unadulterated form of annexation?

What about the money? Is that what really disturbs the naysayers all of a sudden? Not the billions of shekels that have been invested in the settlements and used to pave roads leading to nowhere, subsidize security for residents, and, no less, build the grandiose infrastructure upon which rests the Ariel University Center. Whoever is incapable of sticking their finger in the huge dam of money that is pumped into the settlements will find themselves some shelter in a puddle.

If academic purity is the issue, now the naysayers are trotting out another trump card with which to scare us. An international academic boycott will be levied against Israel in the wake of the academic annexation. But what has been the situation thus far? Why haven't Israeli professors been invited to academic symposia abroad? What was all that anti-Israel noise on the campuses of Norway and Britain about? All of a sudden, the college's upgraded status to university - and not the sin from which it spawned - has become the national threat.

The boycott stems from the fact that a town like Ariel even exists. It stems from the occupation and from Israel's insufferable policies in the territories. If the academic community is - rightly - worried about an international boycott, it would behoove it to raise its voice against the continued occupation, the inhumane closure of the Gaza Strip, the denial of the right of Palestinian students to matriculate. It must do so with the same conviction with which it is now objecting to university status for the college in Ariel. The Ariel University Center certainly does not endanger the welfare of Israeli academe more than Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's hesder yeshiva, or the yeshiva in Hebron.

To this litany of complaints let us add another grievance. How can it be none other than Ehud Barak, the flesh and blood of the left, this pursuer of peace, this Herculean foe of the settlements, this dismantler of outposts, who has now decided to legitimize this ignominy? This is truly unconscionable. If Avigdor Lieberman or Benjamin Netanyahu would have given their blessing, nobody would have uttered a peep. This is because we are a country that loves order, according to which "right is right, and left is left." What does a priest (Barak) have to do with the settlers' church of reason?

The main anomaly, however, the one which has Barak continuing in his job as defense minister in a government that includes Lieberman, does not bother them.

Granting university status to the college in Ariel actually did the left a favor. It provided it a playground whose dimensions are befitting and commensurate with its abilities. It allows for a fair amount of breathing space for those who are incapable of contending with the large, cruising settler bus. When the left descends on the streets of Gaza, Abraham's Tomb in Hebron, or reinforces the ranks of demonstrators in Bil'in, it can also scream toward the walls that surround the college in Ariel.