Outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday ordered the upgrade of Ariel
University Center in the West Bank to a fully accredited university, a move that
will make it the eighth such Israeli institution.
Once OC Central Command
Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon signs the order, an issue of formality, it will be the
first time in close to 40 years that an Israeli institute of higher learning has
Left-wing politicians, academics and activists, as well
as Palestinians and the international community, have in the past heavily
criticized the push to accredit the university because it is located in the
Ariel settlement in the Samaria region of the West Bank.
But on Monday
night Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar
(Likud) hailed Barak’s decision, which came just hours after Attorney-General
Yehuda Weinstein formally recommended and reiterated his support for the
Netanyahu called the university’s chancellor, Yigal Cohen-Orgad, to
“After decades, the state has an additional
university,” he said. “It further strengthens higher education in Israel.”
Earlier in the
day, Weinstein penned a letter to Alon, recommending that he proceed with the
process of recognizing the university, which had gone under the name of Ariel
University Center of Samaria. The attorney- general advised that there was no
reason to delay the accreditation process, which needed only Alon’s
On Monday night Barak ordered Alon to sign the accreditation,
which is in line with a July decision by the Council for Higher Education in
Judea and Samaria.
Typically, university accreditation can be granted
only by the Council for Higher Education, which is made up of the presidents of
the seven existing universities, all of which are located in areas of the
country under full Israeli sovereignty.
But the process for upgrading the
Ariel University Center has been different because it is located in the West
Bank and is under the auspices of the IDF and the Council for Higher Education
in Judea and Samaria.
The only remaining obstacle to the facility’s
accreditation is a petition pending before the High Court of Justice to block
the move. It was filed by the Council for Higher Education.
indicated that the fact that the petition was still in play left one last
possible variable. While theoretically the court could still cancel the
decision, in past cases it has leaned toward deferring to the
Another possibility is for the petitioners to amend the
petition in light of the changed circumstances.
Barak’s order comes in
the midst of the election season, in which right-wing opponents of Netanyahu
have criticized the government’s failure to accredit the school. In addition, it
was issued on Christmas Eve, when international governments are shut
Ariel University Center, which has 14,000 students, was first
created in 1982 as a branch of Bar-Ilan University.
It became an
independent college in the 1990s and was upgraded to the status of a “university
center” in 2007. Only 15% of its student body lives in the West Bank; 6% of its
students are Israeli Arabs.
Sa’ar expressed “satisfaction” over the
“An important process has been completed during the current
government term – a process I led despite numerous irrelevant objections,” he
said. “Making AUC Israel’s eighth university is the right move for the country’s
higher education system.”
The university said Barak’s order proved once
and for all that it was equal in status and stature to the country’s other
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