The newest threat to peace in the Middle East is a college–at least according to the government of the United Kingdom.
The educational institution in question is Ariel College, now Ariel University, in the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Ariel was founded in 1978 and now has about 20,000 residents. Ariel College was founded in 1982 as a branch of Bar Ilan University, became independent in 2005, and now has a remarkable 14,000 students from all over Israel and even a branch in Tel Aviv. It also has the largest group of Ethiopian-born immigrant students of any university in Israel, and hundreds of Israeli Arab students. The university has five faculties as of now: architecture, natural science, engineering, health sciences, and humanities and social sciences, and plans to add more. In 2008 Ariel College applied for upgrading from college to university, and despite strong opposition in some parts of Israel’s educational establishment, that change was just approved.
Here is a comment on the college from last summer:
Speaking to the BBC, the Israeli Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann stated that there was “a really strong need” for an upgraded institution in Ariel. He was a member of a committee that evaluated the performance of the Ariel University Centre. “I was very impressed by the quality of the place as an academic institution and I think Israel needs another university,” said Mr Aumann, a mathematician. “The last time when an additional university was added to the roster of Israeli universities was in 1972. At the time the population was three and a quarter million. The population of Israel today is almost eight million.”
In the social science faculty they teach “political behavior” and “international relations,” which ought to be useful this week as students try to figure out what just happened in London. Here is what The Guardian of London reported:
The British government has warned that the official authorisation of Israel’s first settlement university will create another hurdle in the peace process….In a statement released on Thursday, the British foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the UK was deeply disappointed by the decision.” Ariel is beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law. This decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace,” the statement said.
Now, British opposition to settlement activity is well known, and no one was surprised by British condemnation of recent Israeli announcements of more planned construction in West Bank settlements and in Jerusalem (for the British draw no distinction between building in West Bank settlements and building in Israel’s capital). But is it not stretching things more than a bit to call an upgrade from “college” to “university” an “obstacle to peace?” If education is an obstacle to peace, how about ignorance, and prejudice?
When the British reach out to criticize not just settlement activity but the change of status of a college to a university, when they insist on condemning improvements in what has been Israel’s largest public college, when they ignore that institutions’s role in educating students who are immigrants, they betray a hostility that itself is an “obstacle to peace.”