In a harsh letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Council of University Presidents (CUP) demanded Tuesday that the security establishment stop intervening in the enrollment process at Israel's higher education institutions.
"This constitutes blatant and harmful intervention on the part of military elements in considerations that are strictly academic," the university heads said in the letter, which was drafted in protest of the disqualification of students, particularity Palestinian, from taking certain courses or from enrolling in Israeli academic institutions altogether.
"Since its inception the State of Israel has adamantly upheld the tradition of academic freedom," the letter said, "we expect the security establishment to preserve this tradition and deal solely with security-related matters.
"Israeli universities open their gates to all those who meet the academic demands, irrespective of race, sex, religion or nationality," the CUP told Barak.
Meanwhile, five professors have turned to the High Court of Justice and asked that their names be added to a petition filed by Gisha –Legal Center for Free Movement – against the restrictions on the entrance of Palestinians looking to enroll in Israeli universities, saying such restrictions "assist those who support the academic boycott of Israel".
In October 2006 Gisha filed a petition on behalf of Sawsan Salameh, a West Bank resident who was accepted to a doctoral program at Hebrew University of Jerusalem but was denied entry into Israel by the IDF. In accordance with the court's ruling, the Defense Ministry lifted its restriction on the entrance of Palestinian students into Israel, but set strict criteria for their entry permits.
Entry denied. Sawsan Salameh (Photo: AFP)
The security establishment determined that Palestinians will be prohibited from enrolling in studies that "may be used against the State of Israel" and limited the number of Palestinian students to 70. In addition, universities were obligated to state why they wanted to accept each Palestinian enrollee.
The position of the university heads and that of Education Minster Yuli Tamir Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior is that any Palestinian student who is accepted to an Israeli university should be allowed entry pending security clearance.
"For many years Jews in Europe suffered from restrictions on their academic freedom, which manifested themselves in Numerus clausus (one of the many methods used to limit the number of Jewish students at universities," Tel Aviv University Professor Zvi Mazeh said in the request.
Hebrew University Professor Ehud de Shalit said, "Once a student is accepted, he must be treated just as any other student would, regardless of whether he or she comes from China, France or the West Bank."