Ariel University in the West Bank.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee on Wednesday approved for a first reading a bill that would grant the Council for Higher Education authority over higher academic institutions in Judea and Samaria.
The bill was initiated by committee chairman MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Bayit Yehudi). It passed by a vote of nine in favor and five against.
The explanatory notes to the law stated that the Council for Higher Education, responsible for overseeing higher education in Israel, “is unable to exercise its statutory powers in areas where the law and administration of the state have not been applied, including in Judea and Samaria.”
As such, this has led to the creation of parallel legal systems dealing with the regulation of higher education.
In effect, alongside the CHE, which operates under the Council for Higher Education Law, a parallel council was established to operate in Judea and Samaria.
“[The bill] aims to create a single authority that will combine the administrative and budgetary powers,” Moalem-Refaeli explained. “Whoever is in favor of students in the State of Israel should vote in favor of the bill.”
Currently, there is one research university operating in Judea and Samaria – Ariel University, which is in the midst of establishing a school of medicine.
Yigal Cohen-Orgad, a representative of Ariel University told the Knesset panel that the bill was a “necessity” for the institution in order for it to advance and establish itself as a leading research university.
He noted that students from around the country, including many Arab students, are enrolled in the university.
A representative from the legal department of the CHE told the Knesset Committee that the council supports the bill.
“The supervision of the Council for Higher Education is on the institutional level – we examine how the institution is built and who manages it,” he said. “The Planning and Budgeting Committee, which operates alongside the CHE, funds the institutions in Judea and Samaria but we are unable to supervise them. Today, two separate bodies are dealing with this issue and it is an undesirable situation.”
Despite this,several opposition MKs expressed their objection to the bill and questioned its real motives.
MK Yossi Yona (Zionist Union) said that his party would not support the bill.
“This represents a clear agenda that is not hidden.
I speak out of a Jewish and Zionist fear for the future of the State of Israel. A project like this lends legitimacy for continued control and occupation. Control of the Palestinian people does not serve us.”
Joint List MKs echoed his sentiments. MK Youssef Atauna (Hadash) said there is a “dangerous ideology” behind the bill that goes hand in hand with the Likud central committee’s proposal to apply Israeli law in the occupied territories.
“We strongly oppose the situation that exists because the occupation must end,” he said. “There is a Palestinian people that has the right to an independent state.”
However, MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said he would support the bill because Ariel was a part of Israel and would remain so in any peace deal.
Following the committee vote, Education Minister and CHE head Naftali Bennett thanked the opposition members who voted for the bill and said it was “not to be taken for granted.”
He tweeted: “I welcome the members of the opposition who support the law in Ariel, which places the institutions of higher education in Judea and Samaria under the Council for Higher Education. This will advance Ariel University.”