Weizmann Institute Won't Cooperate With Bennett on Higher Education Council

The institute's president, Prof. Daniel Zajfman, refuses to nominate an alternative member to the top academic body after last week's mass resignations.

Daniel Zajfman of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Alon Ron

Prof. Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute of Science, said Wednesday he would not propose an alternative member for the Council of Higher Education after the institute's Prof. Eli Zeldov resigned earlier this week.

Alongside Zeldov, five other members of the council resigned earlier this week, leaving only 16 members. The minimum number required by law is 19.

The resignations came in protest of the changes Education Minister Naftali Bennet made in the council's leadership. Bennet dismissed the council's deputy head, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, and instead appointed Dr. Rivka Wadmany Shauman, a move that sparked considerable criticism from academics.

Bennett needs three more members to restore the council to full activity. He is not obliged to appoint members from the same institutions as the ones who stepped down, but it is customary for representatives of the leading universities to be on the council.

The chairman of the University Heads Committee, Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, announced that the committee was going to give Bennett a list of leading academics who could serve on the council on the day the six members resigned. This move would help Bennett restore the council's activity. However, Zajfman's announcement to the effect that he won't cooperate with the move will make it difficult for Bennet to do so.

Zajfman told staff members in a letter that he does not believe the problems faced by the council can be solved by the immediate appointment of new members.

"The council members' resignation is a symptom of the loss of security between the council and the institutions of higher education in Israel," he wrote. "I think we must first reinstate the confidence and I believe that our efforts should focus on that, before making any decision about choosing new representatives for the council."

The university presidents in the Committee of University heads are expected to meet Thursday to discuss their next moves.

A senior source in one of the universities said that although they have no power to decide on the issue, the universities' rectors are also inclined to think it would be wrong for them to suggest candidates to replace those who resigned.