Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar on Wednesday lauded Israel’s recent recognition of the Ariel college as a full-fledged university and said the newly upgraded institution was set to become a major part of Israel’s academic infrastructure.
Speaking at Ariel University’s inaugural event, he praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his leadership in establishing the university and said the move would boost higher education outside Israel’s population centers and increase competition and knowledge.
Conferral of university status to the Ariel college was the subject of fierce domestic debate and prompted international criticism. Last month it became the first Israeli institution located in the West Bank accorded such standing.
Sa’ar called on Israel’s other universities — which vehemently opposed the move to make the Ariel University Center a full-fledged university — to “rise above pettiness” and “hug their newborn little sister.” He urged them to withdraw a petition to the Supreme Court against the upgrade.
“In the future, no one will remember this fight… It will be impossible to imagine Samaria without Ariel University, just as it’s impossible to imagine Beersheba without Ben Gurion University,” he said.
Last Thursday, UK Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt harshly condemned Israel for conferring university status on a college in the West Bank city of Ariel, employing damning language rarely used by government officials.
Burt called on the Israeli government to “urgently” reverse its decision to upgrade the Ariel University Center to a full-fledged university. “Ariel is beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law. This decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace,” he said.
Speaking at a cultural event in Nes Ziona Saturday, Sa’ar responded by saying Burt’s critique was “detached from reality.”
“Our connection to Ariel is at least as strong as the UK’s connection to the Falkland Islands,” said Sa’ar. “I do not accept the British condemnation…. The true impediment to peace is the Palestinians’ incitement and pro-terrorism education.”
“How can it be that a university is an impediment to peace, and when it was only a college peace was attainable?” retorted Sa’ar.
Sa’ar also praised Ariel University, calling it a “glorious institution, which hundreds of Arab students attend and which cooperates with British academic institutions on important studies.”
Raphael Ahren and Ron Friedman contributed to this report.