Israel Dragging Its Feet on Recognizing Social Work Degrees From Palestinian University

Al-Quds University, located in both Jerusalem and West Bank is still a center of controversy; Social Affairs Ministry denies Jerusalem municipality's claim of shortage in social workers

The Al-Quds University campus in Abu Dis, just outside of Jerusalem.
Majdi Mohammed / AP

The Social Affairs Ministry is dragging its feet on recognizing hundreds of Palestinian social workers who graduated from Al-Quds University, in order to officially avoid recognizing the university.

The Jerusalem municipality says the city has a shortage of Arabic-speaking social workers and the Al-Quds graduates could help fill the gap. But the Social Affairs Ministry denies that any shortage exists.

For years, state agencies, led by the Prime Minister’s Office, have tried to push Al-Quds out of Jerusalem. Most of the university’s facilities are actually in Abu Dis, which lies just outside Jerusalem’s municipal borders in the West Bank. But the university still maintains some facilities inside Jerusalem.

Unlike Israeli universities, Al-Quds does not fall under the auspices of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, and it operates as a foreign university. But it cannot receive Israeli recognition as a foreign university the way universities in the West Bank do, because of its location in Jerusalem, which Israel considers its capital and its sovereign territory.

Attorney Shlomo Lecker, who has been representing the university and its graduates, waged lengthy legal battles with the Health and Education ministries that have ended under pressure from the High Court of Justice, recognizing the degrees of doctors and various paramedical professionals from Al-Quds. In exchange, the university promised that all its medical studies would take place outside its Jerusalem facilities. On average, the university’s graduates have passed the Health Ministry’s licensing exams with higher marks than have graduates of other foreign universities.

But hundreds of Al-Quds graduates in social work have had trouble getting hired by the Jerusalem municipality or private agencies over the last few years because the Social Affairs and Education ministries refuse to recognize their degrees.

Over a year ago, Lecker asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to order the ministries to recognize the social work degrees, just as was done for Al-Quds’ medical degrees. At a meeting convened six months ago by Deputy Attorney General Ran Nizri, several speakers noted the shortage of Arabic-speaking social workers.

The meeting ended with a decision that the Al-Quds degrees should be recognized as long as the Social Affairs Ministry concluded that they met its professional standards. But since then, the ministry has done nothing whatsoever on the issue.

Moreover, in response to Haaretz’s questions, the ministry denied that there is any shortage of Arabic-speaking social workers. Municipal officials in Jerusalem, however, emphatically disagreed.

“We have significant difficulties filling social workers’ jobs, and many residents who studied the profession are employed in other jobs under worse conditions,” the city’s welfare department said. “Many of them are graduates of Al-Quds. As for the professional level of Al-Quds graduates, our professional impression is that these graduates’ training doesn’t fall short of that of graduates of many other institutions recognized by the government.”

Jerusalem, Lecker said, has about 12,000 Al-Quds graduates who are Israeli permanent residents.

“In an effort to bring about the closure of the Jerusalem campus, a political directive was given not to recognize degrees granted by the main campus in Abu Dis,” he said. “As a result, most Al-Quds graduates who are Israeli residents are denied the possibility of working in Israel.

“After a legal battle that lasted about six years, [court] rulings were handed down which led the Health Ministry and the Education Ministry to recognize degrees in the medical professions,” he added. “In the hope of making another legal battle unnecessary, I asked the attorney general to recognize all academic degrees for which the studies take place at the Abu Dis campus.

“More than half a year ago, a decision was made to recognizing the teaching and social work degrees, but the decision hasn’t yet been implemented. Apparently, the various ministries understand the ‘spirit of the commander,’ which is not to recognize the degrees.”

The Social Affairs Ministry said: “The claim that there is a shortage of Arabic-speaking social workers is incorrect. Nevertheless, in the coming days, the degrees committee will meet to discuss the issue of Al-Quds University, and the ministry will act in accordance with its conclusions.”