Barak orders IDF general to approve Ariel academic institute as a university

Heads of Israel’s other universities say upgrade for West Bank facility made for political reasons and will harm the rest of the higher education system

Ariel University in the West Bank (CC-BY Michael Jacobson/Wikipedia)
Ariel University in the West Bank (CC-BY Michael Jacobson/Wikipedia)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered IDF Central Command chief Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon to approve full university status for the Ariel University Center of Samaria on Monday, after the Attorney General’s office said that Alon, as the state authority in the Israeli-controlled West Bank, is legally empowered to make such decisions.

The academic institution, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, was granted the enhanced status by the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria in July, and the decision was ratified by the Cabinet in September, but recognition of the promotion was held up by Barak until the legal matter was cleared.

The question of the institute’s status has been a hot-button issue in recent months. Presidents of other universities opposed the move, arguing 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 objections from the international community.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the Center’s president, Yigal Cohen-Orgad. “After decades, the State of Israel has another university. That will give additional strength to higher education in Israel,” Netanyahu told him.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar also greeted the announcement enthusiastically, calling it “good tidings.” Sa’ar took credit for the move, which he said he was passed despite “endless irrelevant objections.”

“Turning the Center into the eighth university in Israel was great news to the [country’s] higher education system,” said Sa’ar.

Heads of Israel’s other universities said they were sorry to hear of the decision “to support a move contaminated by political interests, and motivated by extraneous considerations.” They recently filed a petition against the status upgrade to the High Court of Justice.

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