Academics threaten legal action against university process for Ariel college

A group of senior Israeli academics is attempting to derail efforts to determine if the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel should be classified as a university. The group appealed Sunday to the OC Central Command to disband the academic evaluation committee appointed last year by the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, claiming that the committee had not been legally appointed. The committee is evaluating whether the status of the College of Judea and Samaria should be changed to that of a university. The appeal argued that since the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria is not legally overseen by Israel's Council for Higher Education, but by the IDF command, former Education Minister Limor Livnat did not have the legal authority to instruct the Judea and Samaria council to appoint an evaluation committee. The appeal also argued that the members of the evaluation committee, which include recent Nobel Prize winner Prof. Robert (Yisrael) Aumann and Prof. Yuval Ne'eman, "were identified directly or indirectly with parties on the right of the political map, sometimes even the extreme right." The appeal was filed by attorney Dan Assan, who represents the group of academics. "What is at stake here is an authority that does not belong to the education minister, but to the military command in the territories," Assan told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. If the evaluation committee is not disbanded, the group said, they would take their appeal to the High Court of Justice. Last May, the government's approval, in principle, of transforming the College of Judea and Samaria into a university was followed by a series of protests staged by left-wing academics and political organizations. Yigal Cohen-Orgad, chair of the college's executive committee, argued that the appeal made Sunday was motivated by a similar political agenda. "This is a purely political act," he told the Post, arguing that the academics who signed the letter "were extreme left-wingers." Among the academics who signed the appeal letter were Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, Weizman Institute scientist Ron Na'aman, Hebrew University Indian studies professor David Shulman, and Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Anat Biletzky. "The Israeli government recommended turning the College of Judea and Samaria into a university and creating a university in Galilee, and charged the education minister with examining the ways in which this could be done," continued Cohen-Orgad. "The government made a decision in principle, and the council of higher education is now charged with examining the college's academic standards." Prof. Amos Altshuler, who chairs the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, told the Post that the committee would continue its work, which he expected would conclude within approximately two months. The appeal made by the academics, he said, had one goal - preventing the committee from examining whether or not the college should be turned into a university. Ben-Gurion University Prof. Neve Gordon, one of the academics who signed the appeal, told the Post that it was not made for political reasons, but on the contrary - was made to "protest the politicization of the academia." "Livnat turned to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria in order to circumvent the authority of the Israeli Council for Higher Education," Gordon said. "Let them decide whether the country needs another university, and if so, what kind of university. The infrastructure and future of the state are based in part on its academic institutions, and we have to consider such decisions seriously. Livnat only took on the initiative in order to bolster her status and political agenda." In response, Livnat said: "The argument made by the group of academics is not logical. The decision to transform the Ariel college into a university is a government decision, not my personal whim. Whoever opposes it can turn to the high court. It's a democratic country. If the reason they are appealing is that the university is in Palestinian territory, they are politicians and not academics. In that case, let's talk politics, and argue about Judea and Samaria." The Council for Higher Education noted that it had already elected a committee, headed by Professor Shlomo Grossman, which is considering the question of whether or not it is necessary to create another university in Israel. "The committee has yet to submit its conclusions," a council spokesperson said. "When it does, the issue will be discussed by the council."