Ever since it was established in 1982, the Judea and Samaria College in Ariel (now called the Ariel University Center of Samaria), which is expected to be granted full university status shortly, has been a political institution masked in academic disguise. Much like the entire settlement enterprise, the move under discussion cannot be stopped. Both alike constitute one of the biggest sins perpetrated by the State of Israel against the Zionist idea, casting doubt on the very existence of the state, as well as on its Jewish and democratic character. From day one, the Judea and Samaria College was developed and consolidated in an aggressive manner frought with legal maneuvering and misleading legalese designed to exclude it from the process of ratification by the Council for Higher Education in Israel, which oversees all colleges and universities in the country, and grant it the required certification anyway.
It is the only college in Israel set up in the absence of preliminary planning and approval by the bodies in charge — the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) of the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and the council itself — and the only one founded by public figures of the same political color and by a specific ideological movement committed to the notion of the Greater Land of Israel, to the crime of the settlements and to their creeping annexation. Due to its exceptional status, the Council for Higher Education in Israel refused to be involved in its ratification, fearing, and justifiably so, that such involvement on its part would imperil Israeli academia at large and undermine its international standing, presenting it as an accomplice to the settlement crime.
Consequently, a bizarre concept was invented — the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS), in charge of semi-academic Jewish institutions in the West Bank. And guess who was forced to confirm the status upgrade of the Judea and Samaria College to "the Ariel University Center of Samaria," approved by the CHE-JS back in 2007? It was none other than the Israel Defense Forces' GOC Central Command, which is answerable to the defense minister. The latter, so it seems, is the only one entitled, by virtue of his "academic authority," to order the GOC to confirm actions that consolidate civilian control by military means (as Defense Minister Barak actually did in January 2010 when giving the GOC an order to this effect).
Like any other settlement, the Ariel University Center of Samaria enjoys a preferential standing in the order of budgetary priorities and is granted substantially higher PBC allocations in comparison to other colleges in Israel proper. The PBC, which is in charge of planning and budgeting for the higher-education institutions in Israel, and which was set up in the first place to keep the financing of the academic system away from the reach of politicians and Treasury officials, has never been asked to consider or answer questions concerning the need for such a college, let alone the need for upgrading its status to that of a university. Indeed, the very opposite is true: Both the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel and the Council itself had already determined in the past that there was no academic or economic need for another university in Israel.
In the PBC, they are well aware of the distinction between a university and a college and of the magnitude of investments in terms of personnel and infrastructure required for each. It is also well known that the universities in northern and southern Israel, as well as the periphery colleges, are still in the process of consolidation, and thus require adequate resources for further development. What's more, it is understood in the Council for Higher Education in Israel and in its Planning and Budgeting Committee that once the Ariel University Center is granted full university status, all other colleges in Israel, some of them by far surpassing it, will demand to be similarly recognized as universities. The PBC, along with the Council for Higher Education in Israel, would not be able to resist such demands, nor would they be able to justify the rejection of such demands when challenged by the Supreme Court of Justice and asked to explain why the Ariel University Center is any better than the Tel Hai college in northern Israel or the Sapir college in the south of the country and other colleges like them.
The outcry by the Ariel University Center and its advocates calling for an objective, non-political consideration of the college based on its academic merit alone is an act of hypocrisy, typical of its very existence, since it is in fact no more than "an academic settlement." Their deeds are politically contemptible, yet they request reward in the form of academic recognition, as if they deserved it. Had a proper, purely academic planning procedure been employed to examine the rationale for its establishment, the Ariel University Center would not have come into being at all.
Is there still any chance of stopping the move in the present government? Will the PBC dare insist on its principles and wield the power invested in it to stand firm against the politicians seeking to trample its rights? The answer to both questions is apparently negative. And the entirety of Israeli academia will inevitably be stained, its image forever tarnished.
The author is a senior lecturer at Haifa University and its former rector.