Print Edition
Students listening to a lecture at an Israeli university.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Media Comment: Ariel – the media misses out again
The real 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.
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.

In a 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.”

Prof. 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.

THE HEBREW 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 professionalism.

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.

Yael Dan 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 Center.”

Dan: “This means what?” Barak: “An increase in budgets, in research and the development of the city of Ariel.”

Dan: “Mostly increasing the budgets at the expense of the other institutions.

Barak: “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 territories.”

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.

These 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 bill.

Reportedly, the pension rate at Hebrew University is 120 percent.

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
print gohome Arab-Israeli Conflict | Israel News | Diaspora | Middle East | Opinion | Premium | Blogs | Not Just News | Edition Francaise | Green Israel

Copyright © 2014 Jpost Inc. All rights reserved • Terms of UsePrivacy Policy