Put policy in the service of ideology

Ben-Gurion Day is an opportunity to look at the ideas of our first prime minister and to learn from his personal example.

Ben-Gurion meets with UNSCOP members at J'lem YMCA 311 (photo credit: Israel National Archives)
Ben-Gurion meets with UNSCOP members at J'lem YMCA 311
(photo credit: Israel National Archives)
The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets from Kiryat Shmona to Beersheba calling for social justice have gone back home, but not disappeared.
The powerful image of regular Israelis rallying for a better life has left an indelible mark. Now the battle to turn symbolism into reality swings to the government and the Knesset for changes to the budget and the crafting of a socially responsible fiscal policy.
Rising prices have undercut the purchasing power of many, but they’re not looking for government handouts or welfare. They’re looking for changes that will enable them to earn an honest wage and support their families.
Ben-Gurion University professors stood just behind the organizers providing cogent advice at the forefront of the expert committee established by the protest organizers. Profs. Yossi Yona and Avia Spivak brought their decades of experience – as activists, educators and economists – to bear.
BGU’s Student Association and its leadership vocally and fully supported the national student union and the pivotal role it played in the call for social justice. It was natural for BGU students to answer the national call as they are, themselves, heavily involved in social justice on the local level on a daily basis.
Today, Ben-Gurion Day, it is worthwhile to look back at the ideas of Israel’s first prime minister, and one of its most powerful visionaries, David Ben-Gurion. As we mark his passing 38 years ago, his vision of a just society and the sustainable development of the South has never been more relevant.
AS HE declared in 1955, just seven years after the founding of the state, “Only through a unified effort by the state in planning and execution, by a people ready for a great voluntary effort, by a youth bold in spirit and inspired by a creative heroism, by scientists liberated from the bonds of conventional thought and capable of probing deep into the special problems of this country, shall we succeed in carrying out the great and momentous task of developing the South and the Negev.”
Much can be learned from Ben-Gurion’s personal example. He was a man of simple tastes. His house in Sde Boker was not a villa, but instead a very modest home, filled with what he treasured most – his books and the mementos given to him by those he corresponded with around the world.
A man with an avid interest in the statistics and minutiae of governance, Ben- Gurion managed to keep his feet on the ground while aiming for a higher ideal.
He understood that Israel’s future lay in the breathtaking vistas of the Negev.
Yet, as Ben-Gurion himself learned, it takes more than a grand vision to effect sweeping social change.
There is a chance in the coming years to truly move from vision to reality in the South of Israel. The Negev region has vast untapped potential. Encompassing 60 percent of the landmass of Israel, but barely 10% of the population, it is ripe for sustainable development.
Even as the center of the country becomes overcrowded, there’s a breath of fresh air coming from the desert.
Bulldozers are now churning the earth outside the university’s gates to build the Advanced Technologies Park (ATP).
When complete, it will house state-ofthe- art facilities for hi-tech and biotech companies, with BGU providing a steady source of high quality, creative manpower – an overflowing pool of potential employees. Intern a t i o n a l telecommunications and hi-tech companies such as Deutsche Telekom and EMC have already reserved the first building.
Recognizing the potential of the South, many of the IDF’s bases are slated to be moved here in the coming years. Training, communications and intelligence bases will be moved to the south bringing with it the thousands of intelligent and motivated soldiers who serve in the IDF. And, of course, BGU has been a hub of academic excellence with a decidedly community-focused outlook for the past 41 years.
It is not enough to declare that the Negev and the Galilee will be the recipients of government development strategies.
It is time to get down to the nuts and bolts: to cut through the red tape, issue building permits and licenses and connect the Negev to the center via highspeed and frequent public transportation.
Ben-Gurion hoped to lead by personal example, leaving his home in Tel Aviv to settle in the periphery. While he did so, few followed. Forty-eight years later, now is the time for the nation to pull together and put policy in the service of ideology to sustainably develop one of the most beautiful and underutilized areas of our country.
The writer is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.