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Ariel becomes first Israeli university beyond Green Line

Ariel University Center of Samaria. Credit: Michael Jacobson/Wikimedia Commons.
Ariel University Center of Samaria. Credit: Michael Jacobson/Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the order on Monday to officially accredit Ariel University Center of Samaria as a full-fledged university, making it the first Israeli university to be located beyond the 1949 Green Line.

Barak instructed Israel Defense Forces GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon to approve the Judea and Samaria Council of Higher Education’s recommendation Monday night.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ruled Monday night that nothing stood in the way of making Ariel University Center a university. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar praised the decision, while representatives of Israel’s other universities hope that the High Court will overturn it.

The Green Line was drawn in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Ariel is situated on land beyond the Green Line that Israel won during the 1967 Six-Day War. Located 11 miles east of the Green Line, Ariel is the fourth-largest Jewish community in the West Bank, and its university’s accreditation came under fire from Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists.

Likud-Yisrael Beytenu Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin called Monday’s ruling a “righteous decision that sends a clear message that Ariel will forever stay part of Israel.”

The Israeli government recognized Ariel University Center as an accredited university in September, and asked the attorney-general to review it, before passing the decision to Gen. Alon, who has the final say in matters in the region.

Ariel University Center’s recognition follows a ruling by a committee from the Judea and Samaria Council of Higher Education, which operates in accordance with regional councils. The committee monitored the academic progress of the school before making its recommendation.

The decision to upgrade Ariel University Center’s status was met with harsh resistance from the presiding heads of the other universities as well as from the budget and planning committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

Sa’ar, the education minister and chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, said the decision brought one of the “biggest campaigns I have led” to completion, and that “despite countless irrelevant objections, this [decision] sends an important message to the academic community as a whole.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Ariel University Center President Yigal Cohen-Orgad to congratulate him. “After many decades the state of Israel finally has another university. This is a big day for higher education in Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Ariel University Center posted a statement following the decision, saying, “We are happy to see that those involved were not derailed by baseless claims made by people with foreign interests. First and foremost, we thank Education Minister MK Gideon Sa’ar, who faced incredible pressure and persevered to inaugurate Israel’s eighth research university.”

Some were less enthusiastic about the decision. Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On called the decision “disheartening.”

“The fact that Ehud Barak decided to adopt it is a flawed political decision on his part meant to help Netanyahu in the elections,” Gal-On said. “The recognition of this university will cost Israel further international isolation and academic boycotts.”

The committee representing the presidents of Israel’s other seven universities criticized the decision as well.

“We were sad to see the attorney-general back a flawed decision tainted by political interests, one that will spell catastrophe for Israeli higher education,” the committee said in a statement. “At no point were credible evaluations made of the university’s academic level. The matter is now in the High Court’s hands and we believe the decision will be overturned.”

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