Until now it was more than a college, not quite a university. But on Monday, the
institute of higher education located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel
officially graduated to full university status.
Under orders from Defense
Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Central Command chief Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon approved
giving the Ariel University Center of Samaria the status of “university” after
receiving legal approval from the Attorney- General’s Office. Back in July, the
16-member Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria voted in favor of
upgrading the institute’s status, and the cabinet ratified the decision in
Unfortunately, controversy has plagued the entire upgrading
process. And a High Court petition has been filed against Ariel University’s
change in status. Heads of all seven incumbent universities fought the move from
the beginning, though Bar-Ilan University’s President Moshe Kaveh has since
withdrawn his opposition. These heads have claimed that the already
cash-strapped universities, which are suffering a brain drain because they
cannot compete with salaries offered abroad, will be hurt if Ariel is granted
university status. An already inadequate budget will be spread even
But the fact is that increased competition among the
universities will not harm academia. If anything it will foster growth and
cross-fertilization. Already, thousands of academics have been forced to leave
Israel to find work at universities abroad. The creation of an eighth university
will create additional jobs and might even bring home Israelis presently working
in foreign institutions.
Nor will Ariel University take funds from the
other universities as claimed. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz sent a letter
Sunday to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar in which he said that if Ariel
University Center is recognized as a university, he will transfer a grant of NIS
50 million to the institution over a two-year period.
established universities have also claimed that Ariel has not reached the
requisite academic excellence needed for upgraded status.
But the center
has nearly 30 departments for BA, MA, BSc and BArch studies in three faculties
and three schools.
It has doubled its number of peer-reviewed
publications, has established cooperative efforts with dozens of universities
and research institutions, and has hosted numerous international academic
conferences. As a result, a committee at the Council of Higher Education
concluded that the center has met all of the academic criteria required to
justify an upgrade to university status.
Another reason for opposition is
politics. Last year, hundreds of professors declared an academic boycott against
Ariel because it is located beyond the Green Line. In June, Weizmann Institute
of Science President Daniel Zajfman declared at a gathering of university heads
that he would cancel any academic or professional cooperation with Ariel if it
were declared a university. Such declarations seem to be motivated by a belief
that kowtowing to anti- Israel sentiment abroad will somehow appease the
But the fact is professors in some American and European
universities have already called for academic boycotts against Israel regardless
of the Ariel decision, because of the “occupation.”
should not make the mistake of placing their political agendas before the more
important ideal of academic freedom. It is perfectly legitimate to oppose Ariel
as an obstacle to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. But opponents
should also recognize – and respect – the fact that a majority of Israelis views
Ariel as one of the settlement blocs that will remain part of Israel in any
two-state solution reached with the Palestinians.
And for the sake of
true and lasting peace and an end to the conflict, a majority would probably
support moving Ariel University.
Forty years have passed since the last
time a university (Haifa) was established. Over that time, Israel’s population
has grown by 230 percent. Ariel University, first established three decades ago
as an extension of Bar-Ilan University, has come to perform an integral role in
Israel's academic world. Its student body of 13,000 is diverse and includes Jews
and Arabs. The upgrading of its status to full-fledged university should be a
cause for celebration, not infighting and threats of academic boycott.