US ambassador toasts opening of new Israeli medical school in West Bank
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US ambassador toasts opening of new Israeli medical school in West Bank

Inaugural class of 70 students begins semester at Ariel University med school, which overcame years of legal hurdles, international pressure ahead of launch

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

(From L-R) US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. chairman  of Ariel University's management committee Marc Zell and Professor Yehuda Danon make a toast at a ceremony marking the start of the school year for the inaugural class of students at Ariel University's medical school on October 27, 2019. (Josef Photography)
(From L-R) US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. chairman of Ariel University's management committee Marc Zell and Professor Yehuda Danon make a toast at a ceremony marking the start of the school year for the inaugural class of students at Ariel University's medical school on October 27, 2019. (Josef Photography)

US Ambassador David Friedman lauded the opening of the first Israeli medical school in the West Bank on Sunday after years of legal battles and international pressure.

“A new medical school has opened in Samaria. It’s worth saying that again: A new medical school has opened in Samaria! How many people ever thought those words would be spoken?” said Friedman at a ceremony marking the start of the school year for the inaugural class of 70 students at Ariel University in the northern West Bank.

“The lives of people everywhere, in this region, whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian — they have now been improved and will continue to be improved in so many profound ways,” the envoy, who is known for his close ties to the settlement movement, continued. “The United States Embassy enjoys warm relations with Ariel University, and we are inspired by its contributions to Israeli society and to the scientific world.”

Last April, Israel’s Council for Higher Education approved the establishment of the medical school in the panel’s third vote on the matter.

(From L-R) Professor Yehuda Danon, Sheldon Adelson, Miriam Adelson and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a ceremony marking the start of the school year for the inaugural class of students at Ariel University’s medical school on October 27, 2019. (Josef Photography)

That came two months after the council overturned a decision to open the school due to issues of funding. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered an additional vote after discovering that one of the voting members had a conflict of interest.

There are five other medical schools in Israel, which supporters of the Ariel University program said fell short of filling the need for doctors in the country.

American casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson donated $20 million to the university in 2017 for expansion purposes, including building the medical school, which is being named for him and his wife, Miriam, an Israel-born physician.

They were in attendance at Sunday’s ceremony along with MK Naftali Bennett, who, as education minister, was instrumental in the Knesset’s passing of legislation last 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. It meant the dissolving of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which had been tasked with supervising Israeli universities in the West Bank.

Critics in the opposition said the legislation further normalized Israel’s presence well beyond the Green Line in territory that Palestinians hope will be part of their future state.

At the time, the Palestinian Authority called on parliaments around the world to boycott Knesset members who supported the Bennett-backed bill.

Ariel University had fought for many years to be considered a full-fledged university, and faced opposition from Israel’s other public universities, which feared splitting government funds more ways, and an increase in calls for academic boycotts of all Israeli professors because of its West Bank location.

Since being put on par with other Israeli universities, Ariel has faced a boycott from various academics abroad and its professors have even lamented discrimination by other universities within Israel, which they claim refuse to recognize its legitimacy.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whom police recommended be put on trial for using his office to prevent the extradition to Australia of alleged sex offender Malka Leifer, also participated in Sunday’s ceremony.

“The Health Ministry’s professional position has always been that politics and medicine should not be mixed,” he said in reference to pressure against establishing a school in the a West Bank settlement. “The State of Israel invests in its health [care system], which is among the best in the world.”

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