Only Two Women on List of Candidates for Seats on Top Israeli Academic Body

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, January 10, 2016.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett in the Knesset, January 10, 2016.Credit: Alex Kolomoisky

Only two women are included in the list of candidates for seats on the Council for Higher Education drawn up by the country’s universities, according to sources affiliated with the committee of university presidents.

The list of 13 candidates was submitted yesterday to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who will choose seven of them for seats on the council.

The seven will replace council members who recently resigned, six of them in protest at Bennett’s policies. Under an agreement between Bennett and the university presidents, the new members will remain on the council when its current five-year term ends next February.

Of the seven council members who resigned, five were women. Thus, regardless of which candidates Bennett chooses, the number of women on the council is guaranteed to drop.

The committee of university presidents, known by its Hebrew acronym VERA, declined to respond to Haaretz’s questions about the gender distribution of the candidate on its list, saying only that, “the recommended list is confidential, and the minister will publish the names of those chosen when the time comes.”

Erez Biton, head of a new committee established by Bennett to empower the identity and heritage of Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin, asked VERA about two weeks ago to also include Mizrahim on its list of candidates. Biton proposed several Mizrahi academics from several different universities.

A VERA representative initially told Biton that the candidates recommended by the university presidents “are chosen solely on the basis of their academic experience and seniority, out of a belief that anyone serving on the Council for Higher Education is committed to the general welfare and must focus on strengthening, improving and nurturing Israel’s higher education system.”

Later, however, Biton was informed that VERA had contacted the people he proposed, all of whom declined to be included on the list. Yet, when Biton himself questioned the people in question, they said they had not been asked to submit their candidacies.

VERA told Biton that a misunderstanding had occurred: The university presidents had asked different Mizrahi academics, not those proposed by Biton, and all of them had refused.

It’s still not clear whether the universities’ candidate slate includes any Mizrahim. VERA declined to respond to Haaretz’s question on the issue.

Prof. Haviva Pedaya, a member of Biton’s committee and head of Ben-Gurion University’s Elyachar Center for Studies in Sephardi Heritage, said she was furious about the conduct of the universities regarding the issue.

“There were committees that determined how to act with regard to the representation of women and Arabs, but on the Mizrahi issue, this doesn’t exist,” she said. “People think Mizrahim are the majority in Israel because they’re prominent on ‘A Star Is Born,’ for instance,” she said, referring to a popular television talent show. “But we don’t exist in the history books, or sufficiently on high-level bodies like the CHE.”

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