A week ago the school year began with customary declarations of commitment to
education from leaders across the political spectrum. The founding of a new
university should be a similar rallying point for unified educational
enthusiasm. Yet, absurdly, the upgrading of Ariel University Center to a
fully-fledged university remains stalled in the hands of Defense Minister Ehud
Barak, despite the backing of the education minister, the finance minister and
various other government bodies.
Barak’s foot-dragging has nothing to do
with academic standards and everything to do with politics. Not only does his
procrastination stand in the way of a university degree for thousands of
students, it is also a stance which endangers our very security.
University Center (as it has been known since 2007) has met the academic
criteria required to upgrade its status to that of a university. It is already a
member of the International Association of Universities, university
accreditation has been approved by the Education Ministry and the Council for
Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, and this decision was ratified by
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
Yet rather than embrace Ariel in the
spirit of academic camaraderie, the heads of Israel’s existing universities have
launched an appeal to the Supreme Court. In doing so, they have chosen a skewed
political agenda which opposes all development in Judea and Samaria, rather than
throw their weight behind the pursuit of academic excellence as you might
It is telling that the president of Bar-Ilan University, Prof.
Moshe Kaveh, withdrew his support for the legal maneuver. Although Kaveh still
has concerns over the potential budgetary impact of an additional university, he
sensibly found no other reason to oppose the upgrade, especially through such
extreme legal measures.
And yet, although this dispute falls far outside
of his jurisdiction, Defense Minister Barak has taken center stage, requesting
that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wait for the High Court appeal verdict
before making a final decision on Ariel’s university status.
involvement and the hold-up that he has orchestrated has nothing to do with
education but is instead, like the opposition of university heads, rooted in
Ariel’s location across the so-called Green Line. As defense minister, Barak
technically has the final word on any such decision in an area under the control
of the IDF.
However, as a cynical leader motivated by misguided policies
and personal political gain, Barak also understands that sanctioning the first
university in Judea and Samaria would be popular in some quarters and resented
There is little doubt that a university in Ariel would benefit
all our citizens – with a diverse student body of 14,000 students, just 15
percent live in Judea and Samaria, while 600 are Arab-Israelis, making Ariel an
elite education hub for the entire country.
However, rather than consider
the public good and simply rubber-stamp Ariel University, Barak is stalling to
see which way the political winds will blow.
Not only is Barak’s
hesitancy a betrayal of educational excellence in favor of miscalculated
political expediency, it also casts dangerous doubts over what has previously
been a consensus with regard to Ariel itself. The city of almost 20,000
residents has long been thought of as one of the “settlement blocs” which
leaders on both the Left and Right have argued would remain part of Israel in
the event of an agreement with the Palestinians. Indeed, Barak himself has
previously argued that “the settlement blocs are an inseparable part of Israel
in all future negotiations with the Palestinians.”
He himself has
authorized building in Ariel and argued for the city to be annexed by Israel at
the Camp David negotiations. But Barak’s current malice sends a dangerous
message of doubt to the world, indicating a governmental schism over the status
of Ariel itself. It would be remarkably foolish to think that the international
community will divorce the standing of Ariel’s nascent university from the city
itself. And when it comes to Ariel, uncertainty is unaffordable.
high above the Sharon plain and the Dan region, Ariel enjoys a perfect vantage
point overlooking key infrastructure including Ben-Gurion Airport, the Hadera
power station and the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. Ariel is simply
indispensable to our security, something which Barak of all people should be
acutely aware of.
Yet, even when it comes to security, our defense
minister is prepared to trade it in for cheap political gain.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are busy
making the kind of commitment to higher education that our country needs by
delivering a new university, Barak stands as an obstacle in their way. Brushing
aside the public’s educational needs and the very security considerations that
he claims to hold dear, the delay over Ariel represents perhaps the lowest point
in Ehud Barak’s self-centered career.
Ari Harow served as bureau chief to
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and is currently president of 3H Global.