The decision to turn the Ariel University Center into the eighth university in
Israel has raised a storm in our local media, within Israeli academic circles
and the foreign media.
That the local media was to a large extent unhappy
with the decision goes almost without saying. After all, Ariel is in the
so-called occupied territories.
Ynet, for example, in a subtitle had it:
“As thousands wait for housing,” implying that the decision regarding Ariel
would harm the social fabric of Israel. The outrage against this yellow
journalism was so strong that the subtitle was later removed.
scathing piece in Ma’ariv
this past weekend, Kalman Liebskind lashed out at what
he considered illegitimate behavior by certain journalists “whose political
views they find difficult to hide, [who] will accept every little thing someone
throws against Ariel and gallop forward, no questions asked.”
Manuel Trachtenberg, chairman of the Council of Higher Education’s planning and
budgeting committee, was portrayed as an objective voice whereas Professor
Israel Aumann, Nobel Laureate, was treated as a “fool who knows
nothing... because there’s a kippa on his head.”
Yet one of us
(EP) heard Professor Trachtenberg proclaim loudly and clearly already last
November that he would do all he could to prevent the accreditation of an eighth
university – even before he received the report of the Council for Higher
Education in Judea and Samaria (CHEJS). This is an example of the intellectual
honesty of those who led the campaign against Ariel.
University provided fodder for the media via a paper presented by Dr. Zeev Rotem
and put on the desk of the other university heads. His conclusions were such as
to instill fear in any freedom-loving academic. As reported on the NRG website,
he warned that turning Ariel into a university would lead to the transfer of
3,000 students from other colleges to Ariel, with Bar-Ilan University and Ruppin
college being the biggest losers.
It would supposedly create havoc with
the research budgets of the universities and would create further competition in
recruiting new faculty members.
Interestingly, not a word was said about
Dr. Rotem’s political views – that is, until Mr. Liebskind did his homework. He
found that Rotem was a signatory to Yesh Gvul petitions containing statements
such as: “we declare that we do not take part in the continued oppression of the
Palestinians in the occupied territories,” and “we express our willingness to
help as best we can students who, as a result of their refusal to serve in the
territories, will encounter difficulties.”
A typical reaction from within
academia came from Prof. Akiva Cohen of the Communications Department of Tel
Aviv University. Cohen, who is supposed to teach his students how to become
fair-minded and ethical journalists, sets a rather sorry example of
Writing on the Social Sciences email inter-university
list, he claims that the document presented by the CHEJS was “shallow” and that
not a single department in any university would have been accredited based on
the CHEJS recommendations – this without having read the CHEJS report; no
detailed account of its deliberations has been published.
anchors the Army Radio station’s noon news program. Her questions in response to
correspondent Ya’ara Barak are perhaps representative of the politicized
antipathy of our media: Barak: “This is the big day of the Ariel University
Dan: “This means what?” Barak: “An increase in budgets, in
research and the development of the city of Ariel.”
increasing the budgets at the expense of the other institutions.
“Yes...,” Dayan: “At their expense – they [the other universities] are angry
since it will be at their expense.”
Later on Dan had this to say: “It is
quite absurd that the CHEJS will decide, since they will make a decision on
their own destiny.
Dan obviously has no idea what she’s talking about.
The CHEJS is appointed by the head of the IDF Central Command and was formed
because Israel’s Left, among others, insists that Israeli law does not apply in
Judea and Samaria. Israel’s CHE has no jurisdiction in the “occupied
But there’s more. Consider the “financial argument.” Prof.
Trachtenberg is responsible for a budget of NIS 7.5 billion – of which today
only 1.3 percent goes to the Ariel University Center. Yet 10% percent of it –
more than the total sum reserved for research – goes to pay the pension funds of
the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and the Technion.
institutions provide their professors with what is known as a budgetary pension
– that is, the university guarantees the pensions of its staff. As also
delineated in scathing reports by the State Comptroller, these universities,
over a period of many years, did not set aside sufficient funds to assure the
financial health of their pension funds. As a result, we all have to foot the
Reportedly, the pension rate at Hebrew University is 120
Imagine if the Finance Minister were to force the Universities
to lower their pension expenses by 10 percent.
This alone would more than
cover the amount allocated today to Ariel. Yet our reporters swallow the dire
warnings of financial meltdown.
THE STORY is actually much deeper than
the question of money, students or research. The Ariel University Center is the
only institute of higher education in this country which dares to say proudly:
“We are Zionists.” It is the only university which has an annual conference
dedicated to research about Judea and Samaria. It was the venue for the Annual
David Bar-Ilan Media Conference, in which serious media criticism and issues
were raised. All Ariel students must take a course in Zionist- Jewish studies.
Ariel University’s Social Sciences faculty do not toe the Israel-bashing line of
many of their colleagues in the other universities.
In fact, the real –
and justified – fear of Israel’s universities is that the university in Ariel
spells the beginning of the end of their hegemony on social thought, culture and
humanistic studies. Israeli students will have the option to learn something
about Israeli history from teachers who do not fully agree with Professors Neve
Gordon or Oren Yiftachel of Ben- Gurion University. They might even learn that
Israel’s existence as a Jewish state has some moral and legal basis. Ariel has a
large Communications Department, whose students might understand that the media
in a democratic country must be accountable.
It is these factors that
create real fear among those who have been used to dominating the academic
scene. Yet this aspect was hardly mentioned in the discussion – for obvious
reasons.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of
Israel’s media Watch www.imw.org.il