Hundreds of prominent Israeli university professors and lecturers have blasted their government’s decision to recognize the first university built on occupied Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, warning this fans international boycott of Israeli universities.
"It was a mistake from the start to allow the creation of a college outside the borders of the State of Israel and to give it Council for Higher Education recognition," they wrote in a letter to the Council of Higher Education cited by Haaretz on Wednesday, February 10.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has decided to upgrade the College of Judea and Samaria, located in Ariel settlement in the occupied West Bank, to a university center.
This is a step toward recognition as a full-fledged university and will entitle the college to significant extra funding, allowing it to expand its student population.
The college is the largest Israeli public college and has grown dramatically since its founding in 1982 as the West Bank campus of Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, close to Tel Aviv.
Its association with Bar-Ilan University lapsed in the 2004-05 academic year with the school administration’s decision to become independent and pursue university status.
In 2007, the College declared itself a ‘university center’, a decision that the Ministry of Education and the Council for Higher Education had vowed to block.
In 2008, the Council announced that it would not recognize degrees awarded by the college.
The letter, signed by over two hundred fifty professors and lecturers, urged the Council for Higher Education to instruct "universities in Israel not to work with the college in Ariel as they do between themselves."
"The Council’s clear opposition to recognizing the college in Ariel as a university would show that Israel’s academic establishment is not participating in tightening hold on the West Bank."
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
The academics asserted that not recognizing the College as a university is needed to avoid an international boycott for all Israeli universities.
"(It) would aid us in thwarting attempts to impose an academic boycott on Israel’s universities."
Last November, a Norwegian university, Trondheim, voted on boycotting Israeli universities, though the motion was rejected.
In 2007, Britain’s largest association for professors and lecturers, the University and College Union (UCU), backed a call by Palestinian trade unions to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
More than 100 British doctors have also called for a boycott of the Israeli Medical Association.
Ariel College found itself at the centre of a diplomatic row last year when Spain disqualified its researchers from the finals of a competition to design a solar-powered house.
Spanish officials said the institution could not participate because it was built on occupied Palestinian land.