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Y.U. Prez ‘Outraged’ Over Israel Snub

Yeshiva University President Richard Joel is slamming the Israeli education ministry for refusing to recognize bachelor’s degrees from the school more than a year after a government vow to reverse the policy.

“Last year I expressed patience. This year I’m expressing outrage,” said Joel, who voiced his objections at a crowded June 26 meeting of the Knesset’s education committee.

It emerged last year that the ministry was no longer recognizing Y.U. degrees because the Modern Orthodox institution gives full credit to incoming college students who spend a year studying at Israeli yeshivas after high school. Then-education minister Limor Livnat gave assurances that she would rescind the practice. Livnat wrote in a March 2005 letter to Joel that the education ministry would come to a “comprehensive solution whereby all Yeshiva University degrees are certified by the ministry.”

But the ministry has yet to act.

In Israel, where salaries for public sector teaching jobs are determined by the applicant’s level of education, the discounting of an undergraduate degree — which voids subsequent advanced degrees — puts Y.U. graduates in the same salary bracket as someone without a college degree. Some critics say that the situation is particularly startling in light of the fact that Y.U. boasts the largest alumni contingent in Israel of any American university, with about 3,000 former students living there.

The tussle over the Y.U. diplomas is the latest in a series of clashes that have erupted in recent months between Israel and the American Jewish community. In early May, Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua said in public remarks that a Jewish life could not be fully lived outside of Israel, inciting harsh rebukes from some corners of the Diaspora community. Next, Israel’s chief rabbinate declared that Orthodox conversions and divorces performed by most Diaspora rabbis — including Orthodox ones — would not be recognized. And in a final slap, Israeli President Moshe Katsav two weeks ago found himself in the middle of a public feud over his past refusals to address the president of the Union for Reform Judaism as “rabbi.”

The latest flare-up in the Y.U. debate erupted when Jonathan Snowbell, a Canadian immigrant who teaches high school in Jerusalem, acknowledged that he is getting paid as if he hasn’t been educated beyond high school. Snowbell, who testified at the education committee meeting, earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Y.U., as well as a master’s degree from Y.U.’s graduate school of social work.

According to Joel, while Livnat’s previous assurances resulted in the recognition of some graduate degrees from Y.U., no systematic changes appear to have been implemented. “Last year it changed on the superficial level, but in the labyrinthian depths of the bureaucracy it was never solved,” Joel said. “I told the committee that if this were happening in any other country, I’d call it antisemitism.”

In response to the recent testimony, the education committee’s chairman, Michael Melchior, gave education ministry staff one month to implement the change. “Not recognizing Yeshiva University degrees is a scandal that prevents [immigration] to Israel,” Melchior said.

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