The history of science and Zionism are intricately related. Both are movements
rooted in the rationalism of the 19th century that placed humanity at the heart
of its own destiny.
Israel’s first pioneers were optimists who believed
in the power of people to change the course of history. Their tools would be
science and technology.
This was to be the New-Old Land, a utopia
envisioned by Theodor Herzl that would transform the desert region into a land
of milk and honey.
This is the force and strength of Zionism that led to
the creation of Israel and it is this unbounded energy that has turned the
country into the world’s leading “Start-Up Nation.” It is not by chance that
Israel’s first and fourth presidents – Chaim Weizmann and Ephraim Katzir – were
first and foremost scientists, or that a number of world class research
institutions were founded during the early years of the Jewish Yishuv, long
before it was even clear if there would ever be a sovereign Jewish nation in
this far away land.
This year the Technion – Israel Institute of
Technology marked its 100th centennial, while the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
is only a few years younger.
There are those who claim that Israeli
higher education is “threatened” by “anti-Zionist” faculty members.
the next few weeks, we can expect to see advertisements in the English-language
press calling upon members of all the university boards to take action against
But the truth is that all of this attention has transformed
a few academics with extreme views into a symbol for all of Israeli academia.
This approach does a genuine disservice to the significantly larger, silent
majority who is busy at the work of teaching and research, more often than not
in ways that will be to the country’s benefit.
In February of this year
the Foreign Ministry released a report that showed that the Israeli and Jewish
press was distorting the importance of Israeli Apartheid Week – an annual event
that is organized on college campuses around the world – by “magnifying the
issue rather than playing it down.”
According to the study, initiated by
the ministry’s director of civil society affairs, “Taking the apartheid
framework [and the IAW activity itself] as the starting point for our actions
paradoxically may strengthen the IAW brand and message, rather than weakening
A similar process is going on here.
In the name of “saving
Israeli academia,” some groups are doing real damage to the image of many of the
country’s most successful universities.
In a world where Israel already
has enough enemies, it is distressing to see time and resources dedicated to
fighting this non-battle.
The Israeli university system is always
checking itself and being checked by the Council of Higher Education and the
various funding bodies that grant competitive peerreviewed research grants. By
all international standards, Israeli universities are a huge success story that
is in no way threatened by the political views of some people.
president of the only university in Israel created by a decision of the Israeli
government to be a catalyst for development of the Negev region, I know that
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev integrates the highest standards of
intellectual discourse and research with the pioneering spirit that has defined
its very development.
As chairperson of the Committee of University
Heads, I have had the privilege to see the same spirit and commitment on
campuses across the country.
I encourage you to visit an Israeli
university today and learn more about how higher education has and is
transforming this country. Let’s face it: Zionism is in our DNA.The
writer is a professor and geneticist who is currently serving at the president
of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and as chairwoman of the Committee of
University Heads in Israel.
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