The first Arab dean of an Israeli institution has taken up his post at the University of Haifa, the target of an abortive academic boycott urged by activists in the Association of University Teachers in the UK.
Majid al-Haj, an Israeli Arab, has been appointed dean of research at Haifa for three years. He will be responsible for promoting academic research at the university, as well as international scientific contacts and co-operation.
Professor al-Haj expressed delight at the appointment but said: "We have had to wait 57 years for an Arab to be appointed to such a post. It shows that Israeli Arabs are victims of discrimination but it also shows that nothing is impossible."
Israel has about 80 Arab Israeli lecturers, accounting for about 1 per cent of the academic workforce. Some commentators suggest there may be more to the appointment than Professor al-Haj's academic credentials.
One columnist in the daily Haaretz writes: "Through this appointment, the University of Haifa intends to fight a renewed call for boycotting the institution in Britain. What could be better than a scholarly Arab placed in charge of its research and international contacts?"
Professor al-Haj holds a PhD in sociology from the Hebrew University and postdoctorate qualifications from Brown University in the US. He is a professor of sociology and head of Haifa's Centre for Multiculturalism and Educational Research.
He has been a member of the Council for Higher Education and chaired the Committee for the Advancement of Higher Education in the Arab population in Israel.