The Ariel Academic Center in the West Bank smells like political corruption. Their aim is to use public funds unreasonably and in a discriminatory way, contrary to the recommendations of the committee of the State’s Council for Higher Education, in order to assist the self-promotion of elected officials within their party. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar are using state money to support the Ariel Academic Center and turn it into a university in order to curry favour with Likud members, and secure their place on the Likud list for the next Knesset. A thin line runs between an ideological decision and self-interested political decision. In the case of Ariel College this line is clearly crossed.
Only a few days ago, the Planning and Budgeting Council for Higher Education declared that there is no room to make a change in the status of the college and make it into a university. This recommendation of the PBC officially joins the letter of the seven heads of universities, including Bar-Ilan University (which is not regarded as leftist), calling to stop the process and avoid having Ariel College recognized as a university. The only committee to recommend this move was established by Council of Higher Education of the West Bank which acted despite a conflict of interest without any real ability to examine the announcement’s implications on other higher education institutions in Israel. Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg elaborated today in Haaretz: “You can not take seriously the conclusions of the committee, established in lack of objectivity by people responsible for Ariel College Center.”
With all due respect to Haifa University, Ben Gurion University and even Technion – The Ministers of Finance and Education have a different personal and political agendas. Both of them need the voices of lecturers, students and doctoral candidates in institutions of higher education; their political future is entirely dependent on Likud members and many of them are settlers. The Minister of Education asked the West Bank Council of Higher Education approve the move. The Minister of Finance sent an urgent letter guaranteeing 50 million NIS to support the college. The national interest is marginalized, public money is stolen, and this satisfies the settlers and their supporters. If the settlers were the wealthy who pull the string, there would be an outcry against a bribed election and political corruption.
The other colleges – Sapir, Tel Hai, etc. can only watch with envy and wonder why the government chose, once again, to discriminate against their students. Why, again, those who cross the Green Line are going to enjoy better conditions at the public expense. This is not the first time Ariel College has been favoured. The law passed by Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel to provide a year’s free tuition to discharged soldiers in the periphery includes Ariel College, located 20 km from the center of Israel, but omitted the Ben Gurion University, located in the capital of the Negev, 90 km from the center. The funding Ariel College receives from the government is greater than other public colleges operating in Israel.
We need to remove the mask – and say what should be clear: Ariel College is no longer an academic institution. Ariel College is a political-ideological institution, based on a worldview that supports the settlement enterprise. The College exists in order to strengthen the entire settlement enterprise and assist the heads of the Gush Emunim gain legitimacy. No wonder that, just this week, the Yesha Council chairman was sent as a representative of the college on to a mission trip in South America. This is the college and there are its representatives.
Therefore Knesset members and ministers going the extra mile to receive credit and work towards the “academic” settlement in the heart of Ariel. This is not for the common good, not the betterment of the higher education system nor the students’ behest. Only narrow considerations stand before their eyes: The desire to please the representatives of the settlers in the various parties, and ensure their chair in the next Knesset.
This editorial was originally published 16.7.2012 by Haaretz in Hebrew.