ISRAEL: Controversy over upgrading college to university

Controversy has erupted over a decision to upgrade an Israeli college in the West Bank and give it university status. Described by one critic as "an academic settlement in occupied territory", the move to have the college in the West Bank town of Ariel officially recognised as a university centre has been vehemently opposed by Israel's Council for Higher Education which contends there is no academic need for another university.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently ordered the college be recognised as a university centre - after theYisrael Beitenu party, one of the government's coalition partners, threatened to hurt the Labour Party's political interests if Barak did not do so. The order went through the Israel Defense Forces Ground Operations Coordinator in Central Command to which all institutions in the West Bank are subordinate.

There are already eight research universities in Israel - the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute and the Open University. If the college in Ariel is upgraded to the status of a university, it would make the ninth.

Yaron Ezrahi, a professor at the Hebrew University, described the Defense Minister's move as a "dangerous precedent, in which a general is establishing a university. Such a thing only exists in totalitarian countries".

The move follows earlier decisions by the Israeli government, then led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which passed a resolution in 2005 saying it "saw national importance in converting the college to a university".

Unlike all accredited universities and colleges inside the Green Line in Israel, the college in Ariel in the West Bank is subordinate to the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, and thus answerable to the Israel Defense Forces GOC Central Command.

But the college, even with its college status, received NIS75 million (US$20 million) last year from the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee out of the college's total budget of NIS240 million.

It is generally thought the decision by Ehud Barak to upgrade the status of the college in Ariel to that of a university could motivate supporters of an academic boycott of Israel.

"The upgrade underlines the [fact that the] entire Israeli university system is complicit in illegal occupation and theft of Palestinian lands," according to Mike Cushman, one of the leaders of the academic boycott campaign in the UK. "It will galvanise efforts to boycott not only Ariel College but other universities."

A source at the Council for Higher Education said the council had been asked by the GOC Central Command to give its "point of view" about upgrading the college. It stated that "responsibility for the academic accreditation of the college" rested with GOC Central Command and that there was no way to finance it beyond the current 75 million shekel level of support.


Having visited Ariel in the Occupied West Bank, it is important to note the racism and danger inherent iin the location (occupied territory). To pass into the settlement visitors are subjected to machine gun jabbing and interogation. Potential students living in villages surrounding Ariel couldn't set foot in the college. I was under the assumption that intellectual freedom and knowledge go hand in hand.

Roxanne Ward


Gee. How surprising that Barak's upgrading of a college built illegally on stolen land would be a virtual gift to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) efforts. Shocking. What is this world coming to? Why it MUST BE the "New Anti-Semitism". Yes. That must be it, not the fact that Israel denies not simply academic freedom but the very basic of educational rights to Palestinians.

Deborah Gordon