Officials Checking Possible Ties Between West Bank University and Overseer of Its Medical School

This is the second case in which Ariel University contacted people involved in approving its faculty of medicine for potential positions in the institution

The inauguration of the medical school at Ariel University, August 2018.
Meged Gozani

The Council for Higher Education is looking into possible ties between Ariel University and the people involved in approving a new faculty of medicine at the university. This comes after it turned out that a member of the committee that looked into approving the new faculty, Prof. Jonathan Halevy, had received an offer to serve as head of the university’s board of governors six months earlier, a few months after the committee finished its work with a recommendation approving the new faculty.

According to Halevy, he rejected the offer. Ariel University had previously denied any connection to people on the committee.

This is the second case in which Ariel contacted people involved in approving its faculty of medicine. The head of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, one of the biggest supporters of the new faculty, refused to comment on this matter. Next month the High Court of Justice will hear a petition against the establishment of a faculty of medicine in Ariel.

>>Read more: A new medical school that will benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike | Opinion

Until recently, Halevy was director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. In December 2017 the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria – a separate body from CHE – appointed a committee to look into all aspects of the medicine faculty’s curriculum. Chairing the committee was Prof. Arnon Afek from Sheba Medical Center. Halevy was his deputy. In April 2018 the committee recommended establishing the new faculty.

A few weeks later, Zilbershats invited Afek and Halevy to a decisive meeting about Ariel University. “Opening this faculty will ensure immediate growth in the required number of medical students,” said Halevy at the time. “The academic committee looked at the list of faculty members and found them suitable. Naturally, at the beginning there is a dependence on retired professors with much experience.”

In response to a question by Haaretz, Halevy said that in October 2018, Ariel University’s chancellor, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, examined the possibility of his serving as the head of the university’s board of governors. “There were two phone conversations and one meeting,” said Halevy. “During that call I already said that even after I finish at Shaare Zedek, I’ll remain committed to that institution and will not be able to join Ariel. Cohen-Orgad asked me to come to a meeting with Ariel University’s president. At that meeting I reiterated that I would not be able to fulfill a voluntary role either.”

Halevy emphasized that “there was no discussion with me during the professional committee’s work. They did not talk to me about any position at that time. Otherwise I would have disclosed this to committee members and the body that appointed me. That’s how I’ve always conducted business.” Cohen-Orgad confirmed that he met Halevy, but “that option was off the table due to his schedule. The approach to him did not occur before or during the committee’s work. We may be crazy, but we’re not stupid,” he said.

Following Halevy’s announcement, CHE is checking whether Ariel University had contacts with four other members of the professional committee, whose recommendation was crucial in approving the new faculty. Other parties to the discussions may also be examined.

According to Afek, “I received no offer to teach at the new faculty. I wouldn’t agree to do so based on my values. Moreover, I signed that I would not teach there.” He said that “many years ago I was given an offer to teach a course on medical administration there, but that didn’t work out. This was before the medical school was built. Since I was appointed to the committee, I have no intention of teaching in Ariel.”

The ties between Halevy and Ariel are not suspected of constituting a conflict of interest at this point, unlike the case of Dr. Rivka Vadmani-Shauman, who approved the new faculty while the university was considering her promotion, as disclosed by Haaretz last December. After determining a conflict of interest, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Planning and Budgeting Committee to take a new vote. This led to a revoking of the earlier decision. In response, Education Minister Naftali Bennett gave the decision to the Judea and Samaria council, which approved the first decision shortly before being disbanded.