Far From a Joke, Minister Zeev Elkin Came to Work

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Zeev Elkin is seen in the Knesset on the day of swearing-in of the 35th government, May 17, 2020.

Many wondered how gifted people agreed to serve as ministers in fabricated ministries and be ridiculed by the public. One of the prominent ones among them is Zeev Elkin.

Elkin quickly set out to prove he’s far from being a joke. He has an agenda and is determined to carry it out. Let’s put aside “water resources” – a rather neglected vital strategic field, which should be thoroughly shaken up – and focus on what raised the ire of the universities, which stated, according to TheMarker, that the minister of higher education’s intention is “to weaken the veteran universities.”

Haaretz hastened to join this accusation stating, in an editorial among other places, that “Elkin is dangerous to academia.”

The higher education institutions’ budget is close to 12 billion shekels. Its goals are set by the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Israel Council for Higher Education. The Planning and Budgeting Committee consists of seven members: four representing the veteran universities, two public figures and only one representing the colleges. As a result 8 billion shekels are allocated this year to universities. The number of colleges, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, is 82 (only about 50 are financed by the Planning and Budgeting Committee), while the number of universities is nine. The number of students in the budgeted colleges is about 150,000, almost as many as the students in the universities.

Elkin probably felt it was necessary to make some correction in the discrimination in allocation and representation. The universities are outraged, and are accusing Elkin of “politicizing academia.” They also strongly object to his plan to speed up the foundation of a university in the Galilee, which would be (de facto) the first Arab university in Israel.

In recent years Haaretz has been – and I’m proud of it – the strongest (and most influential) voice against centralism and monopolies in any field. It also didn’t prevent publishing op-eds against the universities’ monopoly, like the higher executives’ exorbitant wages, the scandalous pensions that consume a considerable part of the research and instruction resources, and the exaggerated allocations – almost unequaled in the world – for sabbaticals.

But when a minister who wants to heal even a few of the illnesses comes along, Haaretz declares him “dangerous to academia.”

Isn’t it disingenous of Haaretz to state, for example, that the Planning and Budgeting Committee’s members carry out their work “without political motives” and only on the basis of “statesmanship and a broad vision”? Never mind their war – with a broad vision, of course – against admitting Ariel University to the closed club, or its candidate to the committee. What about the committee’s previous wars against setting up universities in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, and recently the stubborn struggle against recognizing the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya as a university. Aren’t they clear cut proof that the universities’ monopoly isn’t fighting for the future of higher education?

I regret to say, but the reason Haaretz ignores the colleges’ discrimination and supports, unreservedly, the universities, isn’t based on pure motives. The academic establishment – certainly in the humanities, social studies and law – is one of the influential mouthpieces of Israel’s political left, which this newspaper loftily (as is its full right, of course) champions.

But in order to champion the cause of justice in this case, the newspaper should have looked carefully into what really motivates the academic freedom fighters in their war against the corrections Elkin wishes to make. A not too difficult examination would have revealed that the “politicization” that triggered Haaretz’s conditioned reflex was a stunt the universities pulled to raise support for the monopoly – at the expense of true academic freedom – that is gnawing at the larger part of higher education’s budget. The “redundant” minister, it appears, has a full-time, necessary and challenging task in store.

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