Israeli Academics Protest Bennett’s Ousting Higher Education Council Head

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Israel Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who announced a new prize to be awarded by his ministry, "to express the appreciation of the Jewish people to those artists producing Jewish culture.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has raised the ire of some Israeli academics.Credit: Moti Milrod

Some 225 university professors have signed a petition protesting Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s ouster of the deputy head of the Council for Higher Education.

Although the minister technically heads the council, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron was the professional who ran it in practice. She is widely credited with having implemented some important reforms.

By law, the minister can’t actually fire the deputy head, but two weeks ago, Bennett asked Messer-Yaron to resign, and then informed the other council members that she had acceded to his request. He gave no reason for this decision.

The petition argued that the education minister “must set a personal example for educators” by means of “proper governmental behavior.” Yet Bennett gave no explanation for dismissing Messer-Yaron, it said, and “nobody” has ever questioned either her professional qualifications for the job or the way she has handled it for the last two years.

“Under these circumstances, her ouster looks like an arbitrary move that violates the fundamental norms of governmental behavior and the rules of administrative law,” the petition charges, adding that she should be allowed to complete her full term, which was supposed to end in February 2017.

Messer-Yaron, a former president of the Open University, was appointed by Bennett’s predecessor, Shay Piron. She is leaving at a critical moment, shortly before the council starts preparing its next five-year plan for higher education. This process will be overseen primarily by Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, whom Bennett appointed in August to head the council’s powerful planning and budgeting committee.

During her time as the council’s deputy head, Messer-Yaron worked to improve the council’s relationship with and oversight of the universities and colleges, to implement a decision to let the colleges open PhD programs, and to implement a decision to restrict so-called “executive programs” – private degree-granting programs in business administration that are run by public colleges and universities and charge high tuition fees.

This is not the first time Bennett has ousted a senior education official. In July, shortly after taking office, he fired the head of the Education Ministry’s pedagogical secretariat, Dr. Nir Michaeli, who had been on the job for nine months.

Bennett’s office declined to comment on the petition.

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