Education c'tee finds no discrimination at Haifa college

The Knesset Education Committee on Tuesday rejected allegations of discrimination against Arab students at the Carmel Academic Center in Haifa, after a professor who taught at the institution claimed that a decision to cancel an accounting class had been made because the majority of students participating in it were Arab. In October 2008, the college administration announced plans to cancel the class due to low enrollment, and the fact that only one student had paid the tuition. 13 students had signed up for the class, 10 of whom were Arab. "But we found room for most of these students in other classes," Carmel Academic Center President Prof. Yecheskel Taler told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "It's not like we told them to leave the institution. We wanted them to stay with us and study at Carmel, there just wasn't enough interest in that particular accounting class." Taler also explained that another business course - tourism management - had also been cancelled, for similar reasons. "But no one was upset about that," he said. However, someone was upset about the cancellation of the accounting class - Dr. Amos Baranes, who taught accounting at Carmel. After the cancellation was announced, Taler said Baranes began making allegations of racism and discrimination on an institutional level. "He was the only one saying these things," Taler said. "Not a single student from the class, or from anywhere else, made such allegations." But Baranes began secretly recording his conversations with the college's administration, which he admitted to at Tuesday's committee hearing, and later took his claim to the Council for Higher Education, which also rejected it. "The council decided that the root cause of the class cancellation had to do with the low number of students who signed up for it," a spokesman from the council said on Tuesday. "We looked at the numbers, we saw that only one student had paid her tuition, and were unable to find any reason to believe that discrimination was at play here." "It's also worth noting that Carmel Academic Center is one of most progressive institutions in Israel when it comes to mixed student population," he continued. "Thirty-two percent of their student body is Arab, which is almost double the national average of 18%." After it was revealed that Baranes had taken the matter to the Council for Higher Education and had been recording Carmel staff without their knowledge, he was fired. Nonetheless, Baranes insisted that he had tape recordings proving discrimination, and after filing an NIS 200,000 lawsuit against the college in worker's court, he contacted MKs Ahmed Tibi (Balad) and Muhammad Barakei (Hadash), who brought the issue to the Education Committee. As the committee heard the story from both Arab MKs and Carmel staff on Tuesday, Taler, along with an Arab professor and two Arab students from the college, made statements categorically rejecting the claims of racism or discrimination on campus. "I have never felt discriminated against or even an atmosphere of discrimination at the college," said Suzzane Nour, one of the students. "I don't understand what all the excitement is about." Prof. Abu Ramadan said to the Arab MKs, "Don't you have enough work with Lieberman?" That comment set off fury in the committee room, and drew loud condemnations from both Tibi and other Arab MKs. But by the end of the meeting, committee head Zevulun Orlev (Likud) announced unequivocally, "We have found no indication whatsoever that there was discrimination or racism involved in this case." This prompted Baranes to storm out of the room, yelling, "Shame! Shame on you!" at Orlev, and the professor was subsequently removed from the Knesset grounds. After the committee's conclusion, Taler said he was satisfied with the ruling, but was now worried about the next round of legal battles in worker's court. "I'm hopeful that this will be proof enough that his claims are unsubstantiated," Taler said of the Knesset's decision. "But I just hope that no further damage will be done to the college."