Top higher education official quits, compares minister’s policies to Turkey

Slamming Ze’ev Elkin’s decision not to keep on director of Higher Education Council, the chair of the Committee of University Heads warns of danger to Israeli democracy

Then-environment protection minister Zeev Elkin attends the Likud Party's election campaign opening event in Jerusalem, on January 21, 2020.  (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Then-environment protection minister Zeev Elkin attends the Likud Party's election campaign opening event in Jerusalem, on January 21, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

The chairman of the Committee of University Heads announced his resignation on Tuesday, lashing out at the new higher education minister and comparing governmental trends in Israel to those in Turkey.

“We are witnessing attempts to take over the sciences in Israel, which are aimed at intimidating, weakening, censoring, and allowing political interests to dictate the research agenda,” Ron Robin wrote in a letter to students and faculty at Haifa University, where he serves as president.

“There is a clear and immediate danger to the State of Israel and to the future of us all,” he added.

Robin said his decision to resign followed a series of steps taken by Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin, the most serious of which was his decision not to keep on Michal Neumann as director of the Higher Education Council. Neumann replaced Matanyahu Englman six months ago when the latter was appointed state comptroller. Her term ends this week.

Robin claimed Elkin’s decision to get rid of Neumann was motivated by intentions to weaken the independence of the Higher Education Council — “the holy of hollies whose role is to be the critical buffer between politics and science.”

Ron Robin (Haifa University)

He added that Elkin was seeking to “paralyze” the country’s academic gatekeepers.

Robin said that in Turkey, “as in other places where there was an attempt to eliminate democracy,” institutions of higher education were among the first to be targeted. “The State of Israel is marching in the direction of those same very dark places.”

Responding to the letter, Elkin appeared to dismiss Robin as part of a “cartel of people here who feel that someone wants to move their cheese.

“The Higher Education Council is trying to have exclusive control over all budgets, to have exclusive control over NIS 12 billion ($3.5 billion) without any transparency,” Elkin wrote, adding that funds deserve to go to colleges as well, which are not part of the HEC.

“There is no shortage of reports from the State Comptroller indicating deficiencies in the management of funds in the various HEC institutions,” Elkin added.

The sentiment echoed that of one of Elkin’s predecessors, Naftali Bennett, who similarly claimed that a “cartel” ran Israel’s Higher Education Council, preventing reforms and the addition of a new university in the settlements.

Elkin is serving in a post that was established upon the formation of the current government earlier this year, which takes responsibilities away from the education minister and the environmental protection minister (Elkin is also the Water Minister).

Since assuming the role, he has clashed with members of the HEC over his support for halting on-campus exams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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