Right-wing MKs called Tuesday’s decision to give Ariel University Center university status a triumph for the settlement movement, while those on the Left slammed the move.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), who serves as head of the Knesset Lobby for Higher Education, praised the education and finance ministers and the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS) for “failing to give in to the brutal pressure of the university heads.”
“The university heads have always desired to keep the club closed, but today justice has been done in a historic process that transformed Ariel into an Israeli university,” Elkin said.
MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) and MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), co-heads of the Knesset committee for granting Ariel university status, welcomed the CHE-JS decision.
Miller said the decision “strengthened Israeli academia and gave a crushing response to those who wanted to thwart AUC’s development.”
The Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker added that Ariel University Center’s management worked hard to achieve university status, calling the educational institution an “academic lighthouse” that would “lead the world of academia in research and development.”
Hotovely said the decision to establish a new university would create jobs and high standards for Israeli researchers, which would maintain the country’s strong position in world academia.
“This is a happy day for Israeli academia, and for Ariel’s students – Jews and Arabs, religious and secular – and for the city of Ariel, which is at the heart of the Israeli consensus,” she said.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman also welcomed the decision, calling it an “important step in both strengthening Israeli academia and strengthening Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.” Students would also benefit, Liberman added, as the new university would make “worthy and great contributions to research.”
State Control Committee chairman Uri Ariel (National Union) said the decision had been made despite pressure, and declared it a “holiday for Israeli academia.”
MK Yariv Levin (Likud) called the decision a “major step toward strengthening the academy and further proof of the spiritual power and physical health of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria.”
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who is also a member of the Knesset’s Education Committee, dubbed the move a “triumph for the settlements over the Left.”
“The new university combined with the Levy report [on the settlements] vindicates the settlement enterprise, which will grow international recognition of Judea and Samaria as an inalienable part of Israel,” he said, adding that university heads should “concentrate on their studies and get out of politics.”
MK Haim Katz (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, also hailed the decision, which he said would strengthen Israeli academia and Ariel’s status.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said the decision merited a “day of celebration.”
“For the first time, we managed to overcome the leftist junta in academia. Leftists need to understand that not all the intelligentsia hang out between Sheinkin Street and Ramat Aviv,” Ben-Ari added, referring to the Tel Aviv thoroughfare that in past years was known as a liberal hotspot, and the site of Tel Aviv University.
The Im Tirtzu – Rebuilding a Zionist Society movement also welcomed the council’s decision, saying that present and future students would be the “big winners” of the move.
“This will add competition between academic institutions and improve academic excellence and research in Israel,” a spokesman for the movement said, adding that academic freedom would help balance “anti-Zionist trends” in Israeli academia.
Meanwhile, MK Einat Wilf (Independence), chairwoman of the Knesset Education Committee, slammed the decision.
“If the ministers of finance and education have tens of millions of extra shekels for higher education, they should use them to strengthen existing universities that have barely recovered from a decade of cuts,” she said.
Wilf said the proper solution would have been to delay the decision in order to reexamine the entire structure of higher education in the country, with the possibility of adding an intermediate level to several deserving colleges.
MK Amir Peretz (Labor) said the decision to make AUC a university reflected a policy of favoring the West Bank over the Israeli periphery.
“[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s time in office will be remembered as a time of abandoning the periphery and the weak in favor of the settlers and the haredi population,” Peretz said, adding that the decision weakened the rest of the universities and colleges and would hurt Israel’s international standing.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) attacked the move as “a negative message to the Palestinians and the Arab world and an overriding of academic considerations in order to establish the settlement project.
“The Netanyahu government has ridden roughshod over the academic system and academic considerations in order to entrench the settlement movement,” Henin said, adding that there was no substantive justification to establish Ariel as a university, that it was contrary to international law and that it would deepen the isolation of Israeli academia.
Earlier on Tuesday, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On warned that the move to make AUC a university would lead to an academic boycott of Israel.
Maintaining her academic theme, Gal-On added, “The CHE-JS was appointed by the defense minister who specializes in the science of occupation, which has brought Israel to the immorality of creating an institution on stolen land, which does not let those it dispossessed through its gates.”
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