ARIEL, West Bank — Israeli leaders boasted of the advancement of higher education in the West Bank on Sunday, at the inaugural ceremony for Ariel University’s new medical school.
President Reuven Rivlin, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman were among the various state representatives present at the northern West Bank university to honor the school’s billionaire financiers, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
Rivlin and Bennett both acknowledged the various obstacles in establishing and sustaining an institution of higher education in a disputed territory.
Ariel University faces a boycott from various academics abroad and its professors have even lamented discrimination by other universities within Israel, who they say refuse to recognize its legitimacy due to its location in the West Bank.
Praising the academy’s leaders and supporters for nonetheless persevering in their effort to expand the university, Rivlin gushed: “Look how much you toiled and dreamed so that we could stand here today at Ariel University.”
“When others rolled their eyes, you all built. When others boycotted, you proved that an excellent academy could be established here — an academy that has room for every student, regardless of race, color, religion or gender,” said the president.
Addressing the university’s location in the West Bank, Rivlin said the institution’s legitimacy can best be boiled down to a quote from former president Ephraim Katzir: “Where there are Jews, there will be studies.”
Though technically also open to Palestinian students, the university primarily serves Jewish Israeli students, along with a small cohort of Arab Israeli and Druze students. The new medical school is not expected to draw many Palestinian applicants, for whom studying in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank would be socially taboo.
Bennett compared the establishment of the medical school to “pulling teeth.” He referred to the Council for Higher Education as a “university cartel,” for what he suggested was the body’s effort to block Ariel University’s membership.
The education minister 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 for Higher Education.
The move allowed Ariel University to move forward with the establishment of its new medical school, which is set to welcome its first class of 70 future doctors next fall.
Ariel University, located in the city-settlement of Ariel in the central West Bank, plans to double in size (currently 15,000 students) within the next five years, according to a plan promoted Bennett. The Adelsons, longtime supporters of West Bank settlement projects, will provide roughly $20 million for the major expansion. Part of the project, which includes an additional 10 to 12 facilities, was the construction of the four-year medical school named after the couple.
Miriam Adelson also underlined opposition to the school’s establishment in her remarks to the crowd of some 200.
“It may seem strange that anyone would oppose the establishment of a new medical school in a country where there is a shortage of doctors… But maybe we Israelis should be used to this strangeness,” she said.
“True Zionism is to know what belongs to us by virtue and to use it for the benefit of the entire world,” Adelson said, referring to what she deemed as the Jewish right to develop the West Bank.
Speaking at a dinner following the ceremony, Sheldon Adelson said the new school would help rectify the current trend whereby a growing number of Israeli doctors choose to practice abroad, creating a shortage of medical professionals in the Jewish state.
“Who would have thought, a Jewish state lacking doctors when every mother brags about their child being a doctor,” he quipped. “That’s crazy. Certifiably crazy.”
Adelson, a donor to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, then appeared to use some of the US leader’s rhetoric.
“How appropriate that here in the Shomron [Samaria], here in Greater Israel that we are helping to make Israel greater.”