With it likely that the University Centre of Samaria (UCS), the higher education institute based in Ariel colony in the West Bank, will be upgraded from college to university status, public opposition to the move from within Israeli academia has increased.
Various university heads in Israel have expressed strong opposition, with varying motives. Some have spoken about financial concerns – as the head of the Weizmann Institute put it: “It will be interesting to see if adding a university will be met with an increased budget for higher education”.
While others have previously resisted the upgrade on the basis that Ariel is a West Bank settlement, there is also a concern expressed today by the Hebrew University President, who warned that “this is a strategic risk to the state”, and that by granting Ariel university status “we are jeopardizing the next Nobel prize”.
The inference here is with regards to the international reputation of Israeli academia, and the issue of boycott. Earlier this month, Meretz chair Zahava Gal-On worried in similar terms that “those who want to turn [UCS] into a university are single-handedly bringing an academic boycott on us”.
Professors who signed a petition against the upgrade endorsed a statement that argues the new university will mean “an inevitable identification between the entire Israeli academic community and the policy of settlements and occupation”. In the context of “ties between the Israeli academia and our counterparts around the world”, this identification of “the entire Israeli academia with the policy of settlements will place it in grave danger”.
One of the more interesting pieces about the Ariel furore was by Sara Hirschhorn in The Times of Israel, who, while making a case for ‘embracing’ UCS, calls out the hypocrisy of those who want to pretend that Israeli academia is not already complicit.
Second, the idea that the creation of an institution of higher education in the occupied territories will fundamentally realign Israel’s research universities with the occupation is a chimera. While it may make some Israeli and Diaspora Jewish academics more comfortable to believe that a kind of cordon sanitaire separates scholarship from the settlements — between the halls of Hebrew University and the human rights crisis in Hebron — this is an inaccurate representation of Israeli reality. The entire nation is complicit in the occupation, and there is no safe haven in the libraries and laboratories within the Green Line. Whether it is the research dollar spent on a security algorithm, the professor serving guard duty as a reservist in the territories, or even the Bagel-Bagel snack (produced in Ariel!) purchased in a cafeteria, Israel’s educational network — regardless of the political persuasions of faculty — is already entrenched in the occupation. Yet, members of this group persist in pretending that as long as UCS doesn’t exist, their own reputations remain intact.
To read more about the links between Israeli academic institutions and human rights abuses, see this excellent 2009 report: “Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories”.