Bar-Ilan's way

Why our university is so appropriate a venue for Netanyahu's speech today.

bar ilan logo 88 (photo credit: )
bar ilan logo 88
(photo credit: )
T o paraphrase one of Natan Alterman's most famous poems, Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver today at Bar-Ilan University his "response speech" to the speech President Barack Obama delivered, 10 days ago, at Cairo University. The symmetry seems quite apparent here. The ideas put forward by the US president at an institution of higher learning deserve an in-depth examination and public response on the part of Israel's prime minister at a similar forum. However, a larger issue appears to be at stake here. The fact that these two leaders have chosen to address large audiences throughout the world from academic platforms clearly signals the importance and uniqueness of these venues in the public discourse. In an era of dynamic globalization, high-technology and materialism, it is commendable that the media spotlight is at times turned towards the fountain of philosophy and knowledge. At a time of economic crises, crushing market forces, and powerful pressures, it is appropriate that the discussion of fateful issues be conducted not only in recognized political arenas, but also in the institutions which nurture a broad, intellectual vision. In the State of Israel of the 21st century, we should certainly emphasize that the Knesset is the symbol of our national sovereignty but also, that research universities represent a clear expression - and glorious product - of this sovereignty. There is no dispute on the centrality and the authority of the Israeli parliament ( the Knesset). As dictated by the rules of the Israeli democratic process, the members of the Knesset are the ones who will approve, reject or amend whatever political initiative the prime minister will propose today at his Bar-Ilan University speech. However, a university offers an appropriate forum for the speech because the academic atmosphere can only enhance and improve this vital political process. The university setting, accustomed to methodical and well-thought presentations of ideas, should help our honored guest present his ideas and views and impart - so we hope - an inspiration for a studied and measured statement. THE CHOICE of Bar-Ilan University as a forum offers a unique dimension to this process. This is a university which was founded on the ancient tradition of Torah and derekheretz, and of the harmonious fusion between the roots of Jewish faith and freedom of the human spirit, between basic moral values and ebullient intellectual curiosity, between the humanities, the exact sciences and the natural sciences. This is a university whose identity is grounded in the Zionist enterprise and whose laboratories and lecture halls are open to proponents of all views and cultures. This is a university whose unceasing dialogue among promoters of opposing views, and also between religious and secular, represents a mainstay and inseparable part of the justification of its existence. Bar-Ilan University appears to be unique in its affinity to the two basic sayings of the Rambam. The first is: "He will not acquire knowledge of God except after [he acquires] the natural sciences" - meaning, a complete reliance on natural sciences. The second is: "If a man will always carefully discriminate as regards his actions, directing them to the medium course, he will reach the highest degree of perfection possible to a human being" - meaning, there is a need to constantly pursue the "golden way." These two sayings bear supreme importance in view of the complex reality in which we live. Scientific research conducted by various disciplines can play an essential role in resolving the difficult problems that cloud the skies of the Middle East. Its contribution to developing the region's resources and to improving the quality of life of all its inhabitants will reduce tensions and alleviate hunger and sickness. And the clear acknowledgment of the possibility of negotiations, of replacing fundamentalism with mutual understanding, and of moving towards the middle ground will enhance people's awareness and challenge prejudices. Today, Bar-Ilan University is hosting the prime minister of Israel, at the Begin-Sadat Center, one of its most important think-tank centers of activity, named after two leaders who put an end to a longstanding bloody conflict with the declaration of "no more wars." It is my hope that the spirit of this place will imbue those who enter it. Prof. Kaveh is the President of Bar-Ilan University.