A little less than two weeks ago, a committee headed up by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy and appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu released the Levy Report. The Levy Report attempted to define, once and for all, the legal standing of settlement activity in the West Bank. It found that settlement expansion was not against Israeli, or international, law. It therefore declared that there was no “occupation” by Israel of the West Bank.
Just over a week later, the college in Ariel, a large Israeli town/settlement (depending on your perspective) was awarded university status. Ariel serves Israeli students, both Jewish and Arab, but is surrounded on all sides by Palestinian neighbors who are ineligible to enroll.
The decision to upgrade Ariel from college to university is both a significant and a controversial one. It is significant because the title brings it easier access to funding. It can now establish itself as a research institution and enjoy the accompanying financial perks. It is controversial for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that this decision was not made by Israel’s Coordinating Committee for Higher Education, the committee normally tasked with such decision making authority. Rather, because in this case Ariel is not classified in Israel but in “Judea and Samaria,” this decision was made by the Coordinating Committee for Higher Education for Judea and Samaria, a committee that answers to the Civil Administration of the IDF.
The move is being cheered by many Israelis and condemned by many others. Those in the opposition include Israel’s actual Committee for Higher Education. In some ways, this decision makes sense within the context of the Levy Report: There is no occupation by Israel of the West bank, so why should Israel not move forward with accrediting a prestigious institution of higher learning with the otherwise appropriate title of University?
I, however, would argue that this move actually undercuts the findings of the Levy Report. If there is but one Israel, and it extends from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, why then should an institution established in the West Bank answer to a different authority than one built in Tel Aviv or Haifa? If Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes that the Levy Report will lead to international acceptance that Israeli expansion into the West Bank is legitimate, he should be the first to call for this decision to be overturned and to be pursued again, this time through the channels that apply to every institute of higher learning within Israel.
Israel cannot deny that there is an occupation and then allow decisions of such importance to be made under the guise of occupation. It needs to pick one and stick with it. Anything less undermines the vitality of Israel’s governing institutions and ultimately their ability to govern by creating separate administrative processes and dividing its people into units with different responsibilities to the state. This past week Israel’s massive majority coalition crumbled when Kadima pulled out over disagreements regarding the drafting of the Orthodox Jews into the military. Israel oversees the borders of millions of Palestinians who are ineligible to carry Israeli passports. Creating yet another unbridgeable divide between Israeli citizens in “Israel” and Israeli citizens in “Judea and Samaria” is an additional division, each one further weakening the authority that a state must hold to govern. All laws of Israel must apply to all citizens of Israel. Anything less is a disservice to the state.
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