Education Council Supports Application of Israeli Law to West Bank Universities

A Knesset committee has approved a bill to close the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria – without discussing the international implications

Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Ilan Assayag

The Council for Higher Education supports the application of Israeli law to colleges and universities in the West Bank, a council member said Wednesday, disagreeing with other academics who warn that such a move could expand the boycott movement abroad among opponents of the settlements.

The council member was speaking at the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee. The panel approved a bill that would close the Council of Higher Education in Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – and give responsibility for all academic institutions in the West Bank to the Israeli council.

The committee sent the bill, sponsored by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), to the full Knesset for the first of three votes needed to make it a law. The Education Committee did not discuss the bill’s possible implications regarding the boycott movement abroad.

The bill is one of a series of bills from right-wing Habayit Hayehudi and other parties in the governing coalition designed to apply Israeli law to Jews living in the West Bank.

“Alongside the academic importance of the bill, there is an element of imposing sovereignty, and I’m proud of the two things together,” Moalem-Refaeli told the committee.

A representative of the Council for Higher Education, attorney Nadav Shamir, said the bill had a number of advantages; for example, it would end duplication.

“The situation today of an Israeli council and a Judea and Samaria council harms our national planning,” Shamir said. “What interests the council is academics, and from a professional regulatory standpoint we’re in favor of the law.”

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was the only opposition party that supported the bill. Opposition MKs arranged for a revote to take place; only then will the bill go to the full Knesset. No date has yet been set for the revote.

MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) said approval of the bill would harm Israel. “I speak out of a Zionist fear for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” Yonah said. “I think these steps of normalization of the control over the Palestinian people don’t serve us well.”

One reason for the bill is the growing legal problem surrounding the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank. The university needs new legislation because it wants to cooperate with a teaching hospital in Israel proper. Because Ariel University is under different academic auspices than the hospitals, there’s a problem in the granting of academic credits between the two institutions.

Former Zionist Union MK Manuel Trajtenberg, a former head of the council’s planning and budgeting committee, told Haaretz the bill would violate the agreements with the European Union on preserving a separation between academic institutions in Israel and the West Bank. This could cause the EU to remove Israel from the Horizon 2020 scientific research program worth hundreds of millions of euros.

“To sacrifice Israel science and research on the altar of applying Israeli law to Judea and Samaria would be a disastrous result,” he said.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the council, has been pushing for the bill’s approval in recent weeks – and has even clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the matter. Bennett even threatened to block other coalition-sponsored bills until the council bill advanced.

Members of the committee of university presidents and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities were invited to the committee session but declined to appear. The two groups have yet to provide their views on the bill. The committee of university presidents said it was not a party to the matter.

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is responsible for three institutions of higher learning in the West Bank: Ariel University, Orot Israel Academic College of Education in Elkana and Herzog College in Alon Shvut.

A section of the bill requires the Israeli council to automatically recognize these three institutions. The council in Judea and Samaria was established in the early 1990s because the previous law did not apply to academic institutions in the West Bank, which at the time included only Ariel College.