The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition from a group of Israeli universities that had hoped to nullify the formal recognition last year of Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank.
A panel of three judges, led by court president Asher Grunis, ruled that there was no cause to intervene in the controversial step that saw the Ariel academic institute elevated to full university status.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who was education minister at the time that the Ariel University was upgraded and one of the move’s staunchest backers, applauded the court’s decision. Sa’ar also took a shot at the other universities by noting that they did not go through the same long approval process that was required in the Ariel case.
“Right from the start it was an unnecessary petition,” he said. “Ariel University was approved in an appropriate way, based on criteria and standards that did not exist for the approval of its predecessors.”
The Association of University Heads, which objected to the upgrade in the school’s status, said it accepted the court’s decision.
“We regret the influence that the decision will have on higher education, but we respect it,” the organization said.
Presidents of other universities, which strongly opposed the move, argued at the time that it would funnel state funds away from their institutions to Ariel. Left-wing Israelis said upgrading the school’s status would intensify Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and prompt censure from the international community.
In August 2012 Israel’s established universities, excluding the Orthodox-affiliated Bar Ilan University, filed a petition against upgrading the Ariel institute to university level. Among the reasons given was that the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria had overstepped its authority by approving the Ariel school as a university because it only has jurisdiction over the West Bank, whereas the new university would be recognized on a national level.
However, Grunis said that the court could not find any problem with the procedures followed in redefining the Ariel campus as a university.
The academic institution, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, was granted the enhanced status in July 2012, and the decision was ratified by the Cabinet in September of that year. Conferral of university status to the Ariel college was the subject of fierce domestic debate and prompted international criticism.