Israel grants full university status to West Bank college


IN A controversial decision, Israel has for the first time granted full university status to a West Bank settlement college.

Yesterday’s 11-2 vote by the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) council for higher education upgraded the college in the city of Ariel, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank, to a university. This officially makes it Israel’s eighth university.

The decision, a milestone for the settlement movement, followed years of campaigning by the college, which changed its name in 2007 to the Ariel University Centre.

Influential members of the right-wing Israeli coalition, including education minister Gideon Sa’ar and finance minister Yuval Steinitz, who promised additional funds, backed the move. This was despite opposition from existing university heads.

In a letter to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the committee of university presidents said it would be “a fatal blow to the higher education system”.

The university presidents said Israel’s existing universities were cash-strapped. “There is no place today for another research university in Israel. It is only appropriate that all additional funds be allocated to the existing universities, which have been desperate for such funds for years.”

However, Ariel college faculty members and right-wing politicians suggested that the real reason behind the opposition was the fact that Ariel is a West Bank settlement and the decision cemented Israeli control over the disputed area. Israeli academia has long been considered by the right as a bastion of the left-wing intelligentsia, hostile to the settlement movement.

Pro-Palestinian groups worldwide have encouraged an academic boycott of Israel, with only partial success. Opponents of the Ariel upgrade argued that the decision would provide a boost to the academic boycott movement.