West Bank Council Unanimously Approves Ariel University Medical School

'The good of the state triumphed over the petty politics of the university cartel,' education minister says

Ariel University in the West Bank.
\ Moti Milrod

Ariel University in the West Bank will be allowed to establish a medical school, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria decided on Wednesday.

All 11 of its members unanimously reached the decision, which comes after the Council for Higher Education in Israel's Planning and Budget Committee, responsible for funding higher education in the country, objected to the plan.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit allowed the West Bank council to make the decision just hours before it dissolved. On Thursday, the council’s authority was transferred to the Council for Higher Education in Israel. 

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Mendelblit also said that it would be appropriate for the Council for Higher Education in Israel to discuss the matter, adding that the discussion should take place within two months, so that the university, its lecturers and the medical school’s applicants have adequate time to prepare.

However, Education Minister Naftali Bennett – who is also the chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Israel – is expected to delay holding the discussion unless he can be assured of a majority, various people suspect.

In response to the West Bank council's decision, Bennett said in a statement: “This is a huge victory for Israeli medicine. The good of the state triumphed over the petty politics of the university cartel. We won.”

Meanwhile, a number of national council members are demanding that it holds a “professional” discussion to address the opinion of three members of the Planning and Budget Committee who rejected Ariel University’s request.

Their opinion dismissed many of the university's statements and warned that the medical school would cause Ariel University to operate at a large deficit. It also also expressed doubt that opening the school is the only way to increase the number of doctors in Israel, as Bennett and the university claim.

The opinion noted that it was unclear how many senior staff and outside lecturers had been recruited. It also stated that “Other critical problems are the number of places for doctors who finished their studies to further specialize and the intolerable crowding in the hospitals, which precludes proper teaching.”

“The picture presented by the university was misleading,” the opponents wrote.

The university’s argument that it is relying on investments following approval of establishing the medical faculty should not preclude a look at the future ramifications of the decision, the opinion said. It gave as an example Bar Ilan’s medical school in Safed, which has needed extra funds.

Sources at the university have been arguing that a lot of money has already been invested, but those involved in planning say that no significant investment has been made in teaching infrastructure yet.

On Ariel University’s claim regrading heavy investment in the medical faculty building, the opinion noted that the planning committee has not even approved its construction. Ariel University only had permission to construct a building for nature and health studies, the opinion said.

The opponents rejected the university’s position that not allowing the medical school to open would hurt candidates interested in studying there. No students have been accepted yet, the opinion pointed out, and no one has been tested for the year to come, as is the norm.

The opinion stated that other medical schools' registration is still open, and the those institutions also haven’t held tests for the next school year, allowing any potential candidate to apply. It also noted that most students apply to more than one school.

Amos Altshuler, the chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, said the council addressed all parts of the opinion and rejected them. Earlier in the week he said that the decision by the Planning and Budget Committee is “just a recommendation.”

Legal sources had described the West Bank council's decision as “a blatantly underhanded move before this body dissolves in the midst of an election campaign.” The council operates under orders from the commander of the army’s Central Command, whose members are primarily aligned with the right wing.

Ariel University welcomed the outcome, saying: “Launching studies and growing the [medical] school in the future constitutes a significant part of resolving the shortage of study options for young doctors in Israel.”

The statement added that “the university is grateful for the attorney general’s decision, which shed proper light on the authority of the Planning and Budgeting Committee as an advisory body, and the authority of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria as the body to approve the opening of the medical school.” 

Shira Kadari Ovadia contributed to this report.