Now We Are All Ariel

Israeli university heads will pay a high price for staying silent as academic institutions in the settlements are annexed to Israel

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Ariel University, in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Ten days ago, shortly after the Knesset passed legislation authorizing the addition of academic institutions in the territories to the Council for Higher Education, the Israeli Sociology Society issued a statement of condemnation. This move, the statement said, “drags the men and women of academia in Israel into supporting the occupation and annexation initiatives” and “invites an academic boycott due to our involvement in scientific activity in the occupied territories.”

This public statement, and a similarly worded petition published by several dozen professors, only serves to underscore the public silence of the university heads. Fear of the government’s reaction and of the universities being labeled as leftist strongholds has frozen out any trace of criticism.

The proposal to have Israeli law apply to the academic institutions in the territories – the university in Ariel, and colleges of education in Elkana and Alon Shvut – was put forward by MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Habayit Hayehudi. Education Minister and party chairman Naftali Bennett pushed for a quick legislative process. It is not a mere technical or administrative matter. “There’s a clear element of applying sovereignty,” Moalem-Refaeli proudly declared, while Minister Ze’ev Elkin, in a tweet following the Knesset vote, called it a prelude to “applying sovereignty to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.” The bill was also supported by MKs from Yesh Atid.

Currently, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria falls under the jurisdiction of the OC Central Command, who is responsible for appointments to the council. Now the Israeli Council for Higher Education will take over that responsibility. Now we are all Ariel.

However, at a conference at Tel Aviv University a few weeks ago, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg warned that the move would be a violation of Israel’s signed commitments with the European Union concerning the Horizon 2020 agreement for scientific cooperation. These commitments say that a separation will be maintained between the academic institutions in Israel and those over the Green Line.

While the right rejoiced over the law’s passage, the reaction in Israeli academia, which was sacrificed for its sake, was much less enthusiastic. The cooperation agreement with the EU provides Israeli researchers with a significant amount of funding, which is especially vital given the shrinking government funding for university budgets. Trajtenberg, a former Zionist Union MK, wasn’t the only one to warn of the inherent danger of violating the agreement.

The Committee of University Heads of Israel also objected, though rather meekly – in the form of just a few lines in an article in Yedioth Ahronoth by committee chair and Tel Aviv University President Professor Joseph Klafter.

In the weeks preceding the bill’s passage, the university heads avoided taking any action. They didn’t even bother sending a representative to the Knesset Education Committee hearings on the matter. “The position of the Committee of University Heads was clearly presented to the education minister, including the negative financial implications, i.e., putting hundreds of millions of dollars in international support at risk,” Klafter said this week.

This dramatic warning never reached the public. Klafter’s explanation for the universities’ silence ought to concern anyone who cares deeply about academic independence: “Since the public discourse has become totally political, the universities cannot take part in it.”

Im Tirtzu’s ongoing campaign appears to be paying off: Senior figures are now censoring themselves lest they be accused of taking a position on a controversial subject.

The university heads have a public duty to do more than just guard their own small preserve in the hopes that the commissars will leave them alone.

By remaining silent, they are not distancing themselves from politics. Their silence is no less political than the law to annex the academic institutions in the territories. This is what castrated academia looks like.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: