Grapevine: Zionist hero Aaron Aaronsohn remembered

Aaronsohn is credited with the discovery of wild wheat, as well as running the influential espionage organization during World War I.

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May 18, 2019 22:48
Aaron Aaronsohn

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Atlit at the 100th anniversary commemoration of the passing of Zionist hero Aaron Aaronsohn. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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A ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the death of agronomist and spy Aaron Aaronsohn was held last week at the Aaronsohn Agricultural Station in Atllit. Among those attending were: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara; Aliyah and Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant; Environmental Protection Minister and Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin; and Guatemalan First Lady Patricia Morales, who was visiting Israel as the guest of Sara Netanyahu.
 
The Prime Minister spoke of Aaronsohn as a scientist, a man involved in intelligence and as a statesman. “The combination of his actions in these three areas is what makes him such a powerful figure and so esteemed from a historical perspective,” said Netanyahu. His success in the first area, as a scientist, brought him success in intelligence matters, and his success here in service to the British brought him success as a statesman.
 
Together with his assistant Avshalom Feinberg and various family members, Aaronsohn formed the Nili espionage ring which informed British headquarters in Cairo on the operations of the Turkish army in Palestine during WWI.
 
Aaronsohn is also credited with the discovery of wild wheat.
 
“100 years after Aaronsohn’s time, the State of Israel is truly marching in the same direction,” said Netanyahu. “We have Israeli experts in California whom [former] California Governor Jerry Brown asked to help solve California’s water problem. Does this sound familiar to you? This was Aaron Aaronsohn 110 years ago, Israeli innovation at its best. This, of course, we are doing in many countries. We are helping them to improve food, utilize every drop of water, defeat desertification on every continent; however, the first to do this was Aaron Aaronsohn.”
 
Netanyahu added that Aaronsohn’s death in an airplane crash over the English Channel on May 15, 1919 “cost our people dearly because were it not for that awful tragedy, I have no doubt that Aaronsohn would have become one of our greatest leaders of the 20th century. With the strength of his vision and ability to get things done, he could have hastened the establishment of our state before World War II. We all understand that the fate of our people would have then been completely different.”
 
■ THE TEL AVIV INTERNATIONAL SALON helps immigrants in their 20s and 30s network with each other and integrate by providing them with activities to enhance their knowledge of Israel.
 
Among these activities are meetings with major decision makers including ambassadors of countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations. On Tuesday, May 21 the guest speaker will be Spanish Ambassador. Manuel Gómez-Acebo, who will discuss Israeli-Spanish relations, the EU and beyond. The ambassador will be hosting the event at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.
 
Born in Malaga, Spain, Gómez-Acebo entered the diplomatic service in 1988 after studying law at Madrid’s Complutense University. He has served at Spain’s embassies in Algiers, Buenos Aires and Lima, and at Spain’s permanent representation in the United Nations in New York. In Madrid, he has held various positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this month celebrates two years since his posting as his country’s ambassador to Israel.
 
The program will be a conversation with Ami Levin, the director of the European Department of the Foreign Trade Administration in the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and head of Cyber Security. Levin is a former minister-counselor at the Israel Embassy in Madrid. During his four-year tenure in Spain, he focused on promoting bilateral and trade relations, with particular attention to technology and innovation.

The Abraham Initiaives last week announces the establishment of a $12 million endowment fund for the benefit of Jewish-Arab equality organizations. Pictured here: Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, Orni Petruschka, Howard Sohn, and Thabet Abu Rass. Credit: ALEXIS SILVER
 
■ DESPITE THE stalemate in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the facts on the ground are somewhat different to those in political circles. Many organizations and institutions are working towards promoting relations on a people to people level. Among them are the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, the Parents Circle, the Alliance for Middle East Peace and the Abraham Initiatives, to name but a few.
 
Last week the Abraham Initiatives announced the establishment of a $12 million endowment fund for the benefit of Jewish-Arab equality organizations.
 
The announcement was made at the organization’s 30th anniversary gala event, held at the Harvard Club in New York City.
The Fund was initiated by Howard Sohn, Fohs Foundation chairman, former Abraham Initiatives co-chair and current board member. Its success is guaranteed by commitments from the organization’s four leading donors – the Fohs Foundation, Abraham Initiatives co-chair Orni Petruschka, Abraham Initiatives board member Claude Ghez, and the Alan B. Slifka Foundation, representing the Abraham Initiatives’ visionary founder.
 
The fund, which was announced in conjunction with the organization’s 30th anniversary is planned to enhance the organization’s stability, and enable it to implement long-term goals towards a vision of an equal and truly shared Jewish-Arab society in Israel, inclusive of all its citizens.
 
When such a goal is reached, it will hopefully lead to mutual confidence between Israel and the Palestinians which will enable progress towards peace.
 
Dr. Thabet Abu Rass and Amnon Be’eri Sulitzeanu, co-CEOs at the Abraham Initiatives, said: “In light of the worrisome developments of increased alienation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, this commitment of our leading supporters is an important source of hope. This tremendous investment makes our vision more achievable. We are grateful and proud of this vote of confidence.”
 
The Abraham Initiatives is Jewish-Arab organization, striving to fulfill the promise of full and equal citizenship and complete equality of social and political rights for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, as embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. It also works towards a two-state solution whereby a Palestinian state fulfilling the national aspirations of the Palestinian people exists peacefully alongside Israel. Its focus is on stimulating policy change in both national and local government, as well as state institutions.
 
■ ARAB CITIZENS of Israel today have a much better opportunities to attain a higher education than in the past. They will continue to do so based on the initial success of the Council for Higher Education’s (CHE) 2017-22 multi-year plan to double the representation of Arabs in higher education.
 
The CHE’s goal, set on the basis of the proportion of Arabs in Israeli society as a whole, was met three years early. According to data for the 2007-08 academic year, the number of Arab undergraduate students was 21,534, about 10% of the total number of undergraduates in Israel. A decade later, in 2017-18, 39,160 Arab students are studying for a bachelor’s degree. Currently, Arab students make up 17% of the student body, and the CHE is very close to reaching its target of 21%, which is the percentage of Arabs in the country’s population.
 
Thanks to the broad support system provided, the number of Arab students almost doubled within a decade. The number of Arab students pursuing master’s degrees grew by 228%. The number of doctoral students increased by 115%.
 
The CHE’s holistic approach for integrating Arab students in Israeli higher education includes the Rowad program and 800 Irteka scholarships per year, which provide assistance both before acceptance to universities and colleges and while enrolled.
 
The Rowad (“Gate to Academia”) program for high school students functions in approximately 45 regional clusters and exposes young people to available options in higher education. The program provides information, counseling and academic guidance, as well as support for relevant courses (e.g. preparation for the psychometric aptitude test), college tours and a higher education fair in cooperation with local educational institutions.
 
Special programs are offered for Arab students in pre-academic preparatory programs. Assistance is also available in language enrichment in Hebrew and English, as well as offering academic, economic and social support for students enrolled in academic institutions.
 
The CHE’s planning and budgeting committee (PBC) supports academic excellence and gives scholarships to outstanding Arab-Israelis who are studying for master’s degrees, doctorates and post-doctoral fellowships.
 
Once students graduate, they face the challenge of finding employment. The CHE funds career centers at academic institutions to guide and integrate them into the labor market. The PBC also supports the hiring of Arab staff by offering scholarships for the integration of outstanding faculty in teaching positions.
 
PBC chairperson Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, said, “The revolution of integrating Arab students into higher education is very good news for Israeli society in general, and for Arab society in particular. Thanks to a comprehensive, holistic program, personal accompaniment and guidance, we have successfully opened the gates of higher education to Arab students, and removed barriers that have existed for decades. Academia is the key to reducing gaps, social leadership, employment and integration into Israeli society.”
 
■ THE TIMES Rich List published annually in London has several members of the Jewish faith in the top 10 positions. A perusal of the list indicates that Jews and Indians are among the most affluent of British citizens.
 
Ranking in second place are David and Simon Reuben, with Sir Leonard Blavatnik, a generous donor to several causes in Israel, coming third, Roman Abramovich, another generous donor who now lives in Israel, is ninth and Mikhail Fridman 10th.
 
To contact author email greerfc@gmail.com

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