Ariel Center Moves a Step Closer to Becoming University

Hundreds of academics, including four Israel Prize laureates, petition education minister to nix process.

The Ariel University Center of Samaria now qualifies as a university, according to a report prepared by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, Haaretz has learned. But the bid to recognize the center as a university has prompted hundreds of academics to urge Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to revoke the process.

The CHE-JS report is a key step in the process of turning the Ariel center into a university in July, when the institution's "temporary university status" expires.

Ariel University - David Bachar - 14022012
David Bachar

Sa'ar, who visited the Ariel center two months ago, pledged to advance its status and called it "an important anchor in the Samaria capital." Sa'ar, who is also CHE chairman, said he increased the institution's budget by more than NIS 15 million and intended to appoint Ariel center officials as CHE members.

The CHE-JS is in charge of academic institutions in Judea and Samaria, and is not overseen by the national CHE.

Its report lists changes in the Ariel center, such as increasing the number of doctorate and advanced degrees students, a 50 percent increase in publications and a 30 percent increase in academic staff. Due to these changes the center now fulfills the required criteria to become a university, the report concludes.

More than 250 Israeli academics, including four Israel Prize laureates - professors Yehoshua Kolodny and Shimon Zandbek of Hebrew Univeristy and Yosef Amari and Itamar Procaccia of the Weizmann Institute - have recently petitioned Sa'ar urging him not to declare the Ariel center a university.

"Mixing Israeli academia with an ideology of occupation and oppression undermines [ties with academic institutions in other democracies] and threatens to cause severe damage to the Israeli academia," they wrote.

"Democracy is the air and soul of academia, hence we see it as our duty to stop the attempt to harness academia in the occupation's service," they wrote.

Other signatories include Orly Lubin, Anat Matar, Ben Zion Munitz and Miri Eliav-Feldon of Tel Aviv University, Danny Filc, Niv Gordon and Uri Ram of Ben-Gurion University, Ariel Hirshfeld and Emmanuel Sivan of Hebrew University and others.

Political controversy

The lecturers say upgrading the Ariel center "is part of the [West Bank] settlement project at the heart of the political controversy in Israel in the past 45 years. Establishing the Ariel college stemmed from political considerations, regardless of Israeli academia's needs...former incidents in history of mobilizing academia to the government's political purposes ended up in academia's destruction...."

The petition was initiated by a group of professors from the Weizmann Institute, headed by Dr. Nir Gov, of the department of Chemical Physics, who spearheaded the academics' move to boy.cott Ariel about a year ago.

"People of science needed a spark to wake them from their sleep and I think the spark has come," Gov said yesterday.

"We're trying to stop an attempt to use Israeli academia to advance the occupation policy. The Ariel center is not an entirely academic one. It was established for a political purpose, so every decision regarding it is political. The government and settlers' intention is obvious, to create a deceptive guise of normalizing the settlements," he said.

"Academia in a democracy cannot be involved in a blatantly anti-democratic project - oppressing a population under a military rule. If Israel wants to annex the territories and naturalize the Palestinians it's another matter. In that case the CHE will have authority in Ariel as well. The college is in the heart of a large Palestinian population, which is completely excluded from entering the settlement," Gov said.

Ariel Center President Professor Dan Meyerstein responded: "I'd expect people of science to check their facts first. The question whether an institution is entitled to be called a university must be judged by criteria for judging academic institutions, not by their location. If someone claims we don't receive students from the surrounding area he's wrong. We do. The fact that they don't come to register is another question."

The CHE in Jerusalem said "debates on the University Center will begin in July according to previous decisions."

Read this article in Hebrew