An internal committee of the Council for Higher Education voted Thursday to reverse its decision to establish a medical school at a university in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General’s Office ordered that the budgeting committee hold a re-vote, after two of its members who supported the project were deemed to have been in a conflict of interest.
The updated decision is seen as a significant blow to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who had boasted the establishment of the settlement medical school as one of his most significant accomplishments in the role.
In a Thursday statement, the New Right co-chairman called it “unbelievable” how the council “was placing sticks in the wheels of the establishment of a new medical school at Ariel.” He called the council, which is under his ministry and and made up of representatives from the country’s other universities, an “academic cartel.”
“Israel is crying out for doctors, and all they’re doing is preventing this!” Bennett said, adding that he had reached out to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and that additional steps would soon follow.
The medical school had been seen as a significant boost in the standing of Ariel University, which fought for years to be recognized as a university because of its location in the West Bank.
The medical school has been heavily funded by the school’s US-based billionaire financiers, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, who were honored at a ceremony in August marking the inauguration of the new program, which had been slated to welcome its first class of 70 future doctors next fall.
The school has faced a boycott from various academics abroad and its professors have even lamented discrimination by other universities within Israel, who they claim refuse to recognize its legitimacy due to its location in the West Bank.
Bennett at the August ceremony compared the establishment of the medical school to “pulling teeth,” accusing the council of trying to block the move.
In December, the Haaretz daily revealed that one of the members of the council’s budgeting committee, Dr. Rivka Wadmany-Shauman, had voted in favor of establishing the medical school at the same time that the university was considering hiring her for a teaching position.
The report led deputy attorneys general Dina Zilber and Raz Nizri to freeze the July decision, in which the committee had voted 4-2 in favor of the opening of the medical school.
On Monday, the deputy AGs ordered a re-vote, but barred the participation of Wadmany-Shauman as well as fellow committee member Zvi Hauser, who is running for Knesset as a candidate on the Israel Resilience party’s slate.
The shrunken panel voted 3-2 to reverse its decision to approve the medical school.
With Thursday’s decision, it will be up to Mandelblit to decide whether the budgeting committee’s decision is binding or whether it is merely a recommendation to be taken into consideration by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which is slated to be dissolved into the council in eight days.
Bennett was instrumental in the Knesset’s passing of legislation in February that places Israeli colleges and universities in the West Bank on par with institutions located inside Israel proper and under the auspices of the council. It meant the abolition of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which had been tasked with supervising Israeli universities in the West Bank.
It would have been the sixth such program in Israel.