Two Israeli academics filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday challenging the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University in the West Bank.
The petition seeks a court order invalidating this month's decision by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria giving permission to the university in the Israeli settlement of Ariel to open the school. The petitioners are also seeking to block the allocation of government funds for the medical school.
Justice David Mintz said the petition would be heard as soon as possible.
The petitioners are David Harel, a computer science professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and vice president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and Alon Harel, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The petitioners cite alleged irregularities when the decision on the medical school initially came before the planning and budgeting committee of the main agency overseeing the country's institutions of higher education, the Council for Higher Education in Israel.
The petition notes that the planning and budgeting committee of the council voted in July in favor of establishing a medical school at Ariel at the same time that a member of the committee, Rivka Wadmany Shauman, was under consideration as a candidate for a position as an education professor at the university. After the alleged conflict of interest was initially reported by Haaretz in December, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ordered a second vote on the issue.
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In the revote, the council voted against opening the school of medicine. The issue was then considered, however, by the separate Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. In its last act before it was dissolved, that council, which oversaw higher education in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, voted to approve the medical school.
The petition states that the decision “casts a heavy shadow on the decision-making processes in the area of higher education” in Israel. It alleges that approval of the school was made based on questionable authority and extraneous considerations, in a process that constituted “a gross breach of the wall separating the government from the higher education system.”
Proponents of the medical school cite the need for the school to ease Israel's doctor shortage, but the petitioners allege that the school at Ariel was approved without considering the option of increasing enrollment at Israel’s five existing medical schools and say “vested interests acted in a manner that made Ariel [University] the sole candidate for ... a sixth medical school.”
The petition also claims that, in a departure from past practice, “no in-depth examination was made of [Ariel University]’s ability to train physicians, nor was it asked to meet demands made of other medical schools.” Internal documents disclosed by Haaretz revealed that the decision to approve the creation of the school was the result of an expedited, incomplete decision-making process, due in large part to pressure from Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Mendelblit permitted the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria to have the final word on the Ariel program, after the planning and budgeting committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel rejected the plan on its second vote. The petition states, however, that the planning and budgeting committee has “sole authority for budgeting” funds for higher education.
Following the second vote, Bennett issued a statement referring to the opposition to the Ariel medical school by Israel’s other universities, and said: “I will fight the university cartel until we establish the medical school at Ariel University."
For his part, Amos Altshuler, the chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, had said that the decision by the planning and budgeting committee was only a recommendation.
Funding for the school was committed by the American-Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.