Light unto the nations: How Israel contributes to the world

Dr. Ruth Wolf discusses how Israel and the UN are working together to put an end to poverty and promote sustainability.

WIND TURBINES pictured in the Golan Heights. (photo credit: REUTERS)
WIND TURBINES pictured in the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In today’s increasingly globalized society, it’s important for nations of the world to work together for the benefit of the planet. The United Nations understands this, and has presented us with a platform for international collaboration on a global scale, unlike anything seen before.
As an international effort, the global body published a list of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that need to be achieved to the sake of improving the welfare of the world, and ensuring a sustainable and positive future for generations to come.
The goals are varied, including equal rights, ending gender discrimination, eradicating poverty, ending hunger and improving sanitation.
However, an essential part of the goals are the partnerships between nations to achieve them, and Israel has contributed to these international efforts on several levels.
Several noted academics in Israeli universities teach about sustainability and the SDGs in their curriculums, and The Jerusalem Post was lucky enough to sit down with one, Dr. Ruth Wolf of Bar-Ilan University, who explained her work.
Born in Tehran, Wolf is an accomplished scholar in the fields of business ethics, management and mediation with a 30+ year career in higher education. She has written several academic books and articles, and is also a poet and a published author of children’s books.
For the past three years, Wolf has been working with a UN-affiliated organization called Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME). Its goal is to educate in colleges and universities about sustainability, the 17 SDGs and ethical management, because there isn’t enough awareness or knowledge about these subjects.
“The students we educate are the leaders of the future,” Wolf said, “so it’s very important that we educate them.”
She has also participated in academic councils that discuss these issues. These include meetings of a group of German-speaking nations such as Switzerland, Austria and Germany, which afterward sat with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and presented their suggestions.
The main subject Wolf has dealt with in her work with the UN is the eradication of poverty and the ethical obstacles that prevent us from doing so. However, another subject she dealt with was human rights, especially toward minorities.
It was one of these papers that got her invited to PRME.
“There were three editors, one was Milenko Gudic [from Serbia], one was from China, and one, I believe, was American,” Wolf explained. “I wrote a paper about human rights in China, and the Chinese editor demanded corrections.
“So, I corrected what I could without changing my core argument, and he demanded even more corrections,” she continued. “As a matter of fact, he wanted me to make a new paper and not mention the problems in China. You know, there are a lot of problems in China regarding human rights, especially after they were getting ready for the Olympics. So, I refused to correct it. I said, ‘It’s my paper and if you want it, take it, and if you don’t want it, don’t take it.’ And that was after a year of corrections.”
After they refused to accept her paper, Wolf wrote to Gudic, who three years ago sent her an invitation to a PRME conference in Krems, Austria.
“I think it was compensation,” Wolf went on to say, “or maybe he just wanted to know who [with] this chutzpah causing all this trouble was, but later on we became friends.”
AN IRRIGATION system sprays recycled waste water on a field in Kibbutz Magen in southern Israel. ( Credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)AN IRRIGATION system sprays recycled waste water on a field in Kibbutz Magen in southern Israel. ( Credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The lecture she gave at the conference was about how everyone, even a single person, can create positive change in the world.
“They invited me again,” she said. “We did great work, and I refused to change my work regarding my conception of human rights.”
WOLF HIGHLIGHTED that Israel has done a lot of humanitarian work on the international stage, and gave the example of contributing to the eradication of poverty in Africa.
“They taught the people there agriculture and irrigation techniques. They especially put emphasis on women’s roles and educating them, because they saw that women develop the families and have a lot of responsibilities,” she said.
There are many ways to work to eradicate poverty, Wolf explained, and gave the examples of two notable individuals: Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, who built the Grameen Bank to fight poverty through economics, and José Antonio Abreu from Venezuela, who taught kids music and took them out of poverty that way. These are two cases she gives to her students.
“But Israel is doing a lot – especially in Africa – through education and knowledge,” she said. “And as a cyber-empire, we are guiding a lot of countries in this world through our hi-tech. We’re Or laGoyim, the light of the nations.”
MIRRORS USED by Israeli start-up NewCO2fuel reflect sunlight back up to a reflector (unseen) to make a useful fuel gas mixture called syngas, which can be made into methanol, an alternative fuel for vehicles. (Credit: NIR DISTELFELD/ ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY + MIKI PELEG/IAA)MIRRORS USED by Israeli start-up NewCO2fuel reflect sunlight back up to a reflector (unseen) to make a useful fuel gas mixture called syngas, which can be made into methanol, an alternative fuel for vehicles. (Credit: NIR DISTELFELD/ ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY + MIKI PELEG/IAA)
Wolf’s primary academic specialty is ethics, and the eradication of poverty is one example of dealing with ethics because, as she says, we all want a better world, where the welfare of the people will be more highly prioritized. “There are many strong, powerful and wealthy countries in the world that have a lot to offer, and Israel tries to share their knowledge and advances to others,” she said. “This is the most important lesson I can teach my students: Don’t keep knowledge for yourself.”
When asked about China’s human rights issues and if China and Israel could ever collaborate, Wolf responded, “It’s a very complicated subject.” However, she went on to say that she has met with – and even collaborated with – several people from China, adding that there is a lot of appreciation and admiration of Israel within China.
“They admire our tiny country and everything we do,” she said. “I think there can be a collaboration between us in the future because, although we are a tiny country, we have a lot to give. And like Israel, China also has a very powerful and meaningful culture and history.”
When asked to name places, other than Africa, where Israel can work and contribute toward a sustainable future, Wolf answered “India and Brazil,” large countries rich in raw materials. “I think exchanging knowledge in technology, agriculture and culture is very good. For instance, a lot of Israelis admire Indian culture and Indian art. So I think that to enrich one another is wonderful and can be interesting work,” she explained.
“It’s important for us to be Or laGoyim, and the UN is one of the ways to do it. It’s a way that I can give examples of my country’s knowledge and advances.
“I’m so proud of my country,” she added.
However, Wolf still thinks Israel can still do more in the academic realm.
Organizations such as PRME “ask the deans of universities to get their academics to apply to PRME conferences, and to put the activities of the UN in their curriculum,” she explained. “For example, the UN is making partnerships between countries, they share knowledge and they published the 17 SDGs, which cover much more than just poverty.
“So, more Israelis should apply to these conferences and go,” Wolf emphasized.
“We are getting there,” she said, and there are several universities in Israel that have opened new departments of sustainability.
“Sustainability is a very important subject,” Wolf concluded. “I just had a grandchild recently, and I want to maintain and sustain the Earth now for the benefit of the new generations, for my all of my grandchildren.”