Smotrich says university 'radicalises' Palestinians following higher education funding freeze
Extreme-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Tuesday justified his freezing of higher education funding for East Jerusalem Palestinians by claiming that university studies "radicalise" them, adding that such financial support is "contrary" to Israeli principles.
Last week, Smotrich cancelled funds for Palestinians living in the city, which has been illegally annexed by Israel, who seek to attend pre-college preparatory programmes operated by the Hebrew University and the Hadassah and Azrieli colleges, according to Israeli media.
The minister also annulled funds meant for Palestinian municipalities in Israel, putting marginalised Palestinian citizens of Israel at a further disadvantage.
Smotrich's spokesperson Eytan Fuld justified his comments on "radicalisation" by showing examples of what he called Palestinian student protests at Israeli universities.
However, Fuld wrongfully gave examples from Tel Aviv University and not the Hebrew University according to Haaretz, with some of the demonstrations even showing Jewish students chanting "death to Arabs", rather than Palestinian students protesting.
The Hebrew University's officials slammed Smotrich’s claims, stating that there are "a falsehood and a lie."
The funds amount to 600 million shekels ($160 million).
450 million are allocated for higher education, while the rest are designated for primary and secondary education. 500 Palestinians are said to have to joined the educational programmes annually.
The move drew condemnation from a number of Israeli politicians, including Likud member Gila Gamliel who said that the "integration of the Arab population into academia holds social, economic, and security importance."
Meanwhile, Israel education minister Yoav Kisch said he has "reluctantly accepted" the annulment, Haaretz said, in a bid to "prevent additional budget cuts for other schools" in East Jerusalem.
A further delay in greenlighting the budget – which should have been approved months ago according to the Israeli newspaper– could force a stop to the ongoing education programmes which began running under a previous five-year plan in 2018.
"OK, let’s move forward, as long as the [entire] allocation remains within the five-year plan and doesn’t go somewhere else," Kisch said.
Smotrich has reportedly opposed the East Jerusalem higher education funds since the plan was submitted to the cabinet in May this year.
Palestinians students are often discriminated against in Jerusalem. The Israeli education ministry has a history of providing insufficient funds to schools in the area.
Smotrich, who is a key member of Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right cabinet, has made numerous anti-Palestinian comments in the past.
The minister, who holds key powers concerning Israel's illegal settlement activities in the West Bank, previously called for the Palestinian town of Huwara to be "wiped out," among other inflammatory remarks.