At Last Minute, West Bank College Panel OKs Ariel Medical School

It would not be unreasonable for the Council for Higher Education in Israel to make a decision that contradicts the territories council, which operates under orders from the army’s Central Command commander

Ariel University in the West Bank.
\ Moti Milrod

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is expected to approve Wednesday the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank, a day before the council dissolves and returns its mandate to the Council for Higher Education in Israel. Last Thursday the national council’s Planning and Budgeting Committee voted to reject the plan.

During this tight time line, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must decide whether the West Bank council has the authority to make the decision and how to relate to the decision by the Planning and Budgeting Committee, which is responsible for funding higher education.

The deans of Israel’s five existing medical schools said Monday that if the Ariel medical school does not open, they will increase their enrollment to accommodate the 70 students who were to study at Ariel. Fifty will study at Tel Aviv University, and the other 20 at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, subject to the allocation of the appropriate resources.

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Ariel University are claiming that the establishment of a faculty at Ariel is the only response to the serious shortage of doctors in Israel. But the deans, in a statement issued Sunday, said they had asked two years ago, before the discussions about Ariel began, whether there would be funding to increase the number of medical students by 100. They never received a response.

“A number of months afterward, under pressure from various sources, the discussions about Ariel University’s request to open a medical school began,” the deans said. “Because the Planning and Budgeting Committee didn’t allocate the necessary funds, and did not order the allocation of hospital slots to train additional students, the deans were forced to freeze the plan to increase the number of students.”

Ariel University argues that the deans of the five faculties did not fight hard enough to increase the number of new students. On Monday, the university said, “We are pleased that following Ariel’s plan to launch medical studies in October 2019, the older medical schools have woken up and are prepared now to increase the number of students, after years during which it was explained why they couldn’t do so by the Health Ministry, the state comptroller and the Planning and Budgeting Committee.”

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Last Thursday the Planning and Budgeting Committee voted 3-2 to reject Ariel University’s request to open a medical school, reversing a decision from July. The committee held a second vote after it was determined that one council member, Rivka Wadmany Shauman, was vying for a professorship at the university when she voted to support plans for the med school. The conflict of interest was first reported by Haaretz. In response to the decision Bennett said he would not give up and that would fight “the university cartel” until the medical school was opened. This battle apparently includes the effort to push the decision through the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which has consistently supported Ariel University and most of whose members are right-wing.

Prof. Amos Altshuler, chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, said Monday that a decision by the body under his leadership could override the decision by the Planning and Budgeting Committee. “We have to take it into account, but we have the power to decide. The Planning and Budgeting Committee decision is merely a recommendation.”

While it would be unreasonable for the Council for Higher Education in Israel to make a decision that contradicts a Planning and Budgeting Committee vote, that’s not the case for the territories council, which operates under orders from the army’s Central Command commander. The territories council dissolves on Thursday under a law that was advanced by Bennett himself, which is presumably why there is pressure to have that council make the decision immediately.

Sources familiar with the details say that transferring the final decision to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria would be puzzling. “Where were the supporters of this when the Planning and Budgeting Committee approved the establishment of the medical school?” said one. “Why didn’t they think then that the approval of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria was necessary?” They said that the chairwoman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, “is meant to be a gatekeeper and prevent her role from being emptied of significance.”

The Council for Higher Education in Israel said, “The issue has been turned over to the Justice Ministry and we will follow its instructions.”