Education Minister Naftali Bennett did not hesitate to use any means at his disposal in his unrestrained rush to get a new medical school approved at Ariel University, while corrupting Israeli higher education along the way. Professional staff are cast aside; universities are labeled as enemies to be neutralized with tempting offers or threats; and confidants are placed at entities that were supposed to be protecting and guaranteeing academic freedom.
Professional considerations are subordinated to a political goal: settling the status of an institution located in the occupied territories that was established and still operates by virtue of orders from the head of the Israel army’s Central Command.
Over the weekend, it was revealed that in the space of four months in 2017, the president of the University of Haifa, Prof. Ron Robin, made a 180 degree shift in position from his request for a bidding process for the establishment of a new Israeli medical school. He went from firmly opposing the Planning and Budgeting Committee at the Council for Higher Education giving the opportunity to open a medical school to Ariel University without bids to surprisingly forgoing his desire to establish a medical school at the University of Haifa (as reported in the Haaretz Hebrew edition, Jan. 4, 2019). Such a major shift from criticizing a procedure that was not “competitive, fair or equal” to reporting “a number of interesting developments that have diverted us from the original plan” requires internal housekeeping.
The Haaretz investigation raises the suspicion that Bennett and staff in his office “offered” Robin a tempting plan. The University of Haifa would back down from its intentions in return for financial support for its merger with the ORT Braude Engineering College. The sums to carry this out jumped substantially. A few weeks later, Robin announced that various developments “have led the university administration to rethink its steps” – and forgo its desire to establish a medical school.
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“No one recommended or asked us to withdraw our candidacy,” the University of Haifa said, but the matter was discussed at a meeting between Bennett and Robin. An external investigation is necessary to verify that Bennett did not condition aid to the university on its withdrawing the threat to an institution that was so important to him. The thought that this is how the cooperation of the University of Haifa president was secured is terrifying. When Bennett is in command and the spirit of the times is that of collaboration with the occupation, it is also no wonder that a Planning and Budgeting Committee member closely associated with Bennett voted to support establishing the Ariel medical school at a time when the university was considering a promotion for her. That issue is now being examined by the Justice Ministry. If a conflict of interest is found, it is possible that approval for the medical school in Ariel will rescinded.
The president of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Joseph Klafter, recently said that Bennett told him the establishment of the medical school in Ariel was vital to him. “Nothing will stop it,” he said. Klafter broke his silence only after he finished his tenure as chairman of the committee of university heads. Academics need to wake up. The occupation continues to corrupt and Bennett is a clear danger to academia in Israel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.