Editorial

Israel's Education Minister Demands Loyalty to the Occupation

Education Minister Rafi Peretz at a government meeting, Jerusalem, July 14, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

The decision by Education Minister Rafi Peretz not to extend the term of Prof. Yossi Shain on the Council of Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee proves that promoting Ariel University is more important to the interim minster than concern for the higher education system. Distancing Shain from the council’s most important committee removes another obstacle to the medical school at the university in the territories, and it repeats a practice we’ve seen in other instances – appointing loyalists, weakening the gatekeepers and bending decades-old rules and procedures to satisfy random political needs.

Shain, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University, was among the members of the Planning and Budgeting Committee, known by its Hebrew acronym Vatat, who objected to the unbridled haste of former Education Minister Naftali Bennett to approve a medical school at Ariel University. This included unprecedented pressure exerted on Vatat, which is responsible for financing the higher education system and is meant to act as a defense mechanism against interference by politicians.

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Bennett managed to celebrate the medical school’s approval a few times until Haaretz revealed that one of the Vatat members had voted in favor of Ariel while the institution was weighing her promotion. In a second vote, clear of conflicts of interest, Shain and two of his colleagues reversed the approval given to Ariel to open a medical school. In response Bennett moved the vote to the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, which, only days before it was disbanded, approved the opening of the faculty.

When several academics petitioned the High Court of Justice several months ago against the warped approval process, the justices ruled that Vatat would determine the funding of the Ariel medical school. This was bad news for Ariel supporters, since the balance of power on Vatat had not changed. The solution: In an unprecedented move, Shain’s Vatat membership was not extended for another second three-year term, as had been customary.

“Prof. Shain represented independent opinions,” Tel Aviv University heads wrote to Peretz. “Periodically his positions were not congruent with the positions of the minister who preceded you. We fear that this is the reason his term wasn’t extended.” To protest Peretz’s decision, another Vatat member, Prof. Yeshayahu Talmon of the Technion, resigned. “The politicization of Vatat, as expressed by the appointment of members based on their adherence to a certain ideological path … has never occurred in such a blatant fashion,” Talmon said.

The “revenge” taken by Peretz against someone acting according to his professional judgment is a worrisome sign. The message conveyed by the education minister’s bureau is crystal clear: In education and academia, loyalty to the occupation and annexation project has become a decisive criterion.

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