Be a catalyst, Mr. President, not a tourist
American influence, ingenuity and financial resources can help cultivate a cadre of scientists from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the wider Arab world.
Hebrew University's ‘Ardon Windows’ Photo: Reuters
Mr. President, thank you for coming to Israel.
You don’t need me to tell
you you’ve come at a difficult time. Next door, Syria’s tragic violence drags
on, Iran drives relentlessly toward nuclear breakout capacity, and in Egypt, the
Arab Spring gives rise to unemployment and violence. Here in Israel, our peace
process with the Palestinians shows no signs of life.
There is general
agreement that your trip will be of little game-changing consequence. “Low
expectations,” a BBC News headline declared.
You could be “the first
sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist,” New York Times
columnist Tom Friedman wrote. In an interview on Israeli television, you
declared, “My goal on this trip is to listen...
to hear from them what is
their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?” Mr.
President, listening is a luxury. Rather than a tourist, you have the
opportunity to be a catalyst.
How can you create meaningful change when
expectations are so low, in a region mired in strife? Your domestic agenda
points the way forward, showing that solutions and progress are achieved not
solely through politics, but also through science.
In your first term as
president, you proposed a budget that would triple the number of US National
Science Foundation graduate research fellowships. And in your recent State of
the Union address, you pledged to expand investment in American energy,
materials and medical research.
“Now is the time to reach a level of
research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” you
If applied here in the Middle East, your support for science
and research could open up an alternative path to progress between nations. With
the area in crisis and the peace process stalled, regional scientific
cooperation, backed by the United States, could provide a framework for building
tolerance and understanding.
American influence, ingenuity and financial
resources can help cultivate a cadre of scientists from Israel, the Palestinian
Authority and the wider Arab world who will cooperate, not on the basis of
nationality or politics, but through the shared pursuit of scientific progress
for the benefit of all.
Imagine for a moment establishing Israeli-Palestinian centers of excellence, backed by generous funding, where researchers
collaborate in the natural and social sciences. Working together to solve
problems they have in common, people living on opposite sides of armistice lines
could engage in mutually beneficial work, characterized not by fundamentalism or
violence, but by reason and the desire to lead better lives.
together, Jewish and Arab scientists can improve the lives of our citizens as
well as people the world over.
At the same time, they may discover that
the scientific process provides a model for the peace process.
you visited a technology showcase in Jerusalem featuring some of Israel’s
leading innovations – among them a car safety system, developed at the Hebrew
University, that will save some of the 33,000 Americans who die on US roads each
year. You no doubt heard about the “Start- Up Nation,” a name we earned through
chutzpah, improvisation, risk-taking and no small measure of genius.
Israelis take no pleasure in being the sole engine of innovation in the Middle
As President Shimon Peres said in a recent speech to the European
Union, “The whole Middle East can become a ‘Start-Up Region.’” Indeed, science
is a universal language that knows no race, color or creed. It transcends
borders and offers a working model of interpersonal and international
cooperation that is desperately needed in this neighborhood.
scientific disagreements peacefully can serve as a template for resolving other
kinds of conflicts. For this reason, I urge you to promote and support regional
scientific research and collaboration in the Middle East.
now is your moment to make that vision a reality.
The author is president
of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.