Ariel University in the West Bank officially won a seat on the university presidents’ commission on Sunday, ending a years-long struggle for acceptance.
Due to its exclusion, until now, the university could not participate in national decision-making processes related to higher education and found it difficult to be part of shared research programs and other university collaborations.
“After considering a motion on the matter and based on the legal advice given to us, it was decided to include [l’université d’Ariel] in the forum,” reads a statement released by the commission.
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Ariel University will join the other eight members of the commission, namely: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Bar-Ilan, Weizmann Institute, Technion and Open University (which has of observer).
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who spearheaded the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University in 2018 when he was education minister, welcomed the move.
“Ariel University is now ‘part of the family,'” Bennett tweeted. “She was officially accepted into the university presidents’ committee. Everyone knows how much I love Ariel University. At the time, I fought and managed to get the creation of his medical school accepted, despite strong opposition. »
Bennett also initiated a failed attempt to get Ariel University accepted on the commission in 2018, and even called the commission a “cartel” at the time.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and MK Sharren Haskel, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, also welcomed the announcement.
Shasha-Biton praised the university’s “excellent researchers and impressive academic achievements”.
Haskel, for his part, praised the decision as a significant step in the face of international boycotts. “We cannot fight boycotts in the international arena and find that within the State of Israel, Zionist institutions are openly boycotted,” she said.
Joining the university presidents committee “is an important step for the academy and another step towards the unity of the nation,” said Ariel University President Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld.
“This decision is another step towards recognizing Ariel University’s significant contribution to academia and science,” he added.
The Commission of University Presidents, established in the 1960s, is responsible for policy issues common to all universities in Israel, such as faculty salaries, tuition fees, research budgets, and academic policies. It is currently chaired by the president of the Hebrew University Asher Cohen.
Although it is a voluntary body, its mandate has far-reaching implications for higher education in Israel and the education system as a whole. The commission is known for its comments on current events and its recommendations on various education-related issues.
The commission has refused to accept Ariel University as a member since gaining university status in 2012 – a move it has also strongly opposed.
At the time, the commission said that recognizing the institution as a university would only strain academic budgets, arguing that Israel did not need another university. Left groups also opposed the move, saying that granting university status to an institution in a West Bank settlement would damage Israel’s international reputation.
The other universities in the group were also concerned that the inclusion of Ariel University would make them the target of boycotts.
Israel’s Council of Higher Education also opposed the proposed reclassification, which had political and security implications but was eventually passed under increasing pressure from ministers and right-wing politicians.
In October 2020, the United States under the Trump administration and Israel under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement removing all previous restrictions based on geography, with the aim of preventing future scientific cooperation, involving increased budgets and investments in academic institutions in the West Bank and mainly in Ariel University.
Stuart Winer contributed to this article.