Cabinet ministers on Sunday voted in favor of approving an upgrade in status for the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, making it a recognized institute of higher education, and allowing it to open a program that has been widely touted as Israel’s “first liberal arts college.”

The vote, proposed by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), gave the institute the right to offer two bachelor’s degree courses

The Shalem Center first requested recognition as a non-state-aided institution of higher education in 2009, and in 2010 a panel of experts was established to review the matter. In December the Council for Higher Education approved the request, leaving the final decision in the hands of a ministerial vote.

The Shalem Center was established in 1994 and describes itself as having “a unique core curriculum that integrates the founding texts of the Jewish and Western traditions.” Its board of directors includes Yair Shamir, the son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who is fourth on the Likud-Beytenu election list, and businessman Ron Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress.

The new Shalem Academic Center will offer its liberal arts courses from the beginning of the coming academic year, and the new faculty will be presided over by Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank, and at the Shalem Center.

The institute will not be funded by the state and will continue to operate by raising its own finances, but the academic courses will be under the supervision of the Institute of Higher Education. The approval given by the Council for Higher Education is contingent on the fulfillment of financial conditions, including budgeting and the presentation of financial reports.