The last excuse given for Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s decision not to award the Israel Prize in mathematics and computer science to Professor Oded Goldreich of the Weizmann Institute is the professor’s signature on a petition calling on the EU to halt funding for Ariel University. Beyond the baseless disqualification and McCarthyite conduct by the education minister with his comments in recent days, Goldreich reminds us of something that is often forgotten: The academic institution in the territories was born in sin and only continues to exist thanks to laws that seek to erase the Green Line.
In keeping with a trend to legitimize the settlement enterprise, the Committee of University Heads has changed direction and is seeking to add the institution in Ariel as a member institute of higher learning and cooperate with a move that perpetuates the occupation. This is a worrisome policy shift, after, for the past decade, the committee waged an ongoing fight against recognition of the university in Ariel. At its upcoming meeting in less than two weeks, the decision to add the university in Ariel to the ranks of the organization is expected to pass without significant opposition, even if faculty members who’ve inquired about it were told that “nothing has been settled,” perhaps in an effort to silence criticism.
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In recent years, the question of recognition of the university in Ariel has become a source of tension between the university heads and right-wing cabinet ministers who exerted pressure to erase any distinction between the university located across the Green Line and the universities that are inside Israel. The university heads attribute their current surrender to fear of renewed pressure from the next education minister and a potential petition to the High Court of Justice. They feel it is preferable to take the initiative rather than wait for a blow to come. “The fight against Ariel is the last war. We fought and lost,” one top university official acknowledged. And his colleague added: “We wanted to take the matter off the agenda and perhaps neutralize a little of the hostility towards us” (Or Kashti, April 9).
The body of university heads, whose composition has changed in the last three years, is now less willing than in the past to keep fighting an institution that was established by virtue of force and won approvals by means of dubious academic processes. However, no seal of approval, including amendments to the law such as the one Naftali Bennett put forward two years ago, will erase the fact that this is a political tool, part of the military rule that denies millions of people basic human rights.
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Academia mustn’t voluntarily cede its role as a moral beacon and gatekeeper. The university heads ought to bear in mind similar cases in history where institutions of higher education toed the line with the demands of the ruling authorities. The principle of academic freedom cannot tolerate an ideology of occupation and oppression. If the university presidents are having trouble understanding this, the faculty and students should explain it to them.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.