On Wednesday, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is expected to convene to approve the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University, in defiance of the position of the Israeli Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee.
This will evidently be the last decision of the agency, which derives its power from orders issued by the head of the army’s Central Command: It is slated to be dissolved Friday, its authority over academic institutions in the West Bank assumed by the Council for Higher Education in Israel. The attempt to approve the medical school is thus a last-minute power play.
Some members of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria also belong to the national body. But their political commitment to the battle to annex the occupied territories overrides any other consideration.
The appeal to this biased agency, whose sole purpose was to develop Jewish academic institutions in the West Bank, came after the Planning and Budgeting Committee rejected last Thursday Ariel’s application to open a medical school. This decision was the result of a revote, ordered by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit after Haaretz found that Rivka Wadmany Shauman, a committee member, had a conflict of interest when she supported the new med school last year.
The Planning and Budgeting Committee is responsible for the financial aspects of higher education. The fact that the establishment of the Ariel medical school would benefit from a generous donation by Sheldon Adelson cannot absolve the regulator of this responsibility.
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In a country governed by the rule of law, the committee’s latest vote should have settled the matter. But Ariel University and its supporters, above all Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have ways to circumvent the committee. We will soon find out whether Mendelblit will approve this move, enabling Ariel to overcome the professional objections of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, the opposition of the other universities and Wadmany Shauman’s conflict of interest.
This hasty resort to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria - which has never dealt with budgetary issues, only ideological ones - should set off alarm bells. After the Planning and Budgeting Committee’s previous vote, approving the med school, no one demanded reaffirmation from the council. That’s not how the higher education system should operate. The Planning and Budgeting Committee steers its course, including the disbursal of its 11 billion shekel ($3 billion) annual budget.
The chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, Prof. Amos Altshuler, said Monday that the Planning and Budgeting Committee’s decision was “merely a recommendation."
Its chairwoman, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershatz, has kept mum, emptying her position as a gatekeeper of all content. It’s not just the question of a medical school in Ariel that hangs in the balance. What’s at stake here is an academia free of political pressure.