Israeli University in West Bank Withdraws Accusation of Vice President in Scholarship-for-kickbacks Scandal

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Ariel University in 2018.
Ariel University in 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti

Ariel University has walked back its claim that the official in charge of donor relations had promised to obtain a generous scholarship for a medical student in exchange for part of the stipend. The West Bank institution and its former Vice President Yakov Gaon agreed that Gaon’s tenure would be terminated and that an injunction he requested from a labor court would be dismissed.

Gaon, who served for three years as vice president for development and external affairs, was fired in early June following a claim that he had promised a medical student at the university that they would obtain a 50,000 shekel ($14,400) scholarship for him in exchange for an 18 percent cut of the funds.

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Following a recommendation by Tel Aviv Labor Court Judge Ofira Dagan-Tuchmacher, the institution agreed to settle Gaon’s severance pay, which it initially said it wouldn’t pay. The university also retracted the letter of dismissal issued to Gaon, with a new one omitting any reference to the claim against him.

Gaon said in response to the university's withdrawal of his letter of dismissal that he is glad “the university walked back all of its claims that harmed my reputation.”

University heads had sought to quash publicity about the incident, which involved a few of Ariel’s biggest donors. They included the Falic family, which operates the Duty Free Americas chain of airport stores, and Dr. Miriam Adelson. She and her casino-magnate husband Sheldon Adelson are the main benefactors of the university’s new medical school, which bears their name.

Ariel University said it “follows the court’s orders, and Gaon’s work for the university ended.”

At Gaon’s university hearing last month, the committee conducting the hearing found the student’s version of events “acceptable and more reasonable than that offered by Gaon.” 

Documents obtained by Haaretz this month, showed that in December Gaon was sent to raise money at a Friends of Ariel University event in the U.S.

In internal discussions held at the university, its president, Prof. Yehuda Danon, said “many important people” attended the Florida gathering and that Miriam Adelson was the central figure.

Danon said that in late April the Adelson Foundation informed him that a medical student at the university claimed that at the conference Gaon had promised to obtain a 50,000 shekel ($14,400) scholarship in exchange for a cut of the funds.

Gaon denied the accusation against him, calling it a “baseless accusation backed by no evidence.” 

He also denied discussing at the conference a potential donor who wanted to award scholarships to three medical students who met the criteria of being “an upstanding, very Zionist person who had served in an elite military unit,” according to the student’s claim. The student said Gaon had at first asked for a 25 percent commission but finally agreed to 18 percent.

“We reached the conclusion that Gaon had indeed asked the student for part of the scholarship which he had obtained by Gaon’s active help,” the committee concluded. It added that the vice president for development “inappropriately exploited his position and authority over the student to receive a personal favor (which he ultimately did not receive).”

The committee also found that Gaon had “hurt the university’s reputation at least with regard to two donors, two families one of whom is the university’s largest donor.”

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