Editorial

Academic Loyalty Test

Education Minister Bennett has endangered Israel's academic world by deciding to put it to a test of loyalty as a condition for receiving funding

FILE Photo: Israel's Education Minister Naftali Bennett
Emil Salman

The scent of elections is in the air and Education Minister Naftali Bennett is determined to attract voters at any cost, even at the expense of his direct area of responsibility. His target is the Committee of University Heads, which is against Ariel University joining it.

Like Minister Miri Regev in the realm of culture, Bennett, too, has decided to put the academic world to a test of loyalty as a condition for receiving funding. Like Regev, Bennett is abandoning all other considerations or hints of responsible conduct; for example, with regard to the academic boycott of Israel. If the settler university is brought onto the committee, it will receive funding; if not – it won’t.

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At the beginning of the week, a threatening letter was published that Bennett had sent to the Committee of University Heads. The refusal “to add Ariel University to [the committee] constitutes prohibited discrimination,” he wrote. “I do not intend to accept the reality in which a body that is essentially funded from public money enjoys full government cooperation while it severely discriminates for irrelevant reasons.” If the representatives of Ariel are not brought onto the committee immediately, Bennett added, he will ask the attorney general to “order cooperation with government institutions stopped.”

The presidents of Israel’s eight research universities are members of the Committee of University Heads. This is a voluntary body intended to promote and streamline issues common to all the universities and represent them to government ministries. The Council for Higher Education in Israel and its subcommittee for budget and planning were established to separate the political and the academic worlds, but they have gradually lost their independence and in recent years have become a government apparatus. Now Bennett is demanding that the universities also become a branch of Habayit Hayehudi.

The Committee of University Heads’ opposition to bringing Ariel University on board stems from the belief that such a move will undermine the separation between academic institutions in Israel and those over the pre-1967 border. The blurring of the Green Line puts at risk huge research funding that is the fruit of sensitive cooperation with foreign countries and international organizations. But Bennett doesn’t care about possible damage to the status of academe; the occupation is more important than higher education. He is prepared to sacrifice the universities on the altar of his dreams of annexation.

Last week, to mark the opening of the academic year, Bennett boasted that he had been able to break the “cartel of the universities.” These violent words were well planned. Like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with B’Tselem, like Regev against the cultural institutions, Bennett also wants to mark an “internal enemy,” those “dangerous” and “subversive.” There was a time when the universities in Israel were a source of pride, but Bennett has made clear by his statements that he has declared war on them. The education minister is endangering the academic world in Israel.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.