Zionism is in our DNA

Israel’s first pioneers were optimists who believed in the power of people to change the course of history.

israel flag draped 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
israel flag draped 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The history of science and Zionism are intricately related. Both are movements rooted in the rationalism of the 19th century that placed humanity at the heart of its own destiny.
Israel’s first pioneers were optimists who believed in the power of people to change the course of history. Their tools would be science and technology.
This was to be the New-Old Land, a utopia envisioned by Theodor Herzl that would transform the desert region into a land of milk and honey.
This is the force and strength of Zionism that led to the creation of Israel and it is this unbounded energy that has turned the country into the world’s leading “Start-Up Nation.” It is not by chance that Israel’s first and fourth presidents – Chaim Weizmann and Ephraim Katzir – were first and foremost scientists, or that a number of world class research institutions were founded during the early years of the Jewish Yishuv, long before it was even clear if there would ever be a sovereign Jewish nation in this far away land.
This year the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology marked its 100th centennial, while the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is only a few years younger.
There are those who claim that Israeli higher education is “threatened” by “anti-Zionist” faculty members.
Over the next few weeks, we can expect to see advertisements in the English-language press calling upon members of all the university boards to take action against these people.
But the truth is that all of this attention has transformed a few academics with extreme views into a symbol for all of Israeli academia. This approach does a genuine disservice to the significantly larger, silent majority who is busy at the work of teaching and research, more often than not in ways that will be to the country’s benefit.
In February of this year the Foreign Ministry released a report that showed that the Israeli and Jewish press was distorting the importance of Israeli Apartheid Week – an annual event that is organized on college campuses around the world – by “magnifying the issue rather than playing it down.”
According to the study, initiated by the ministry’s director of civil society affairs, “Taking the apartheid framework [and the IAW activity itself] as the starting point for our actions paradoxically may strengthen the IAW brand and message, rather than weakening it.”
A similar process is going on here.
In the name of “saving Israeli academia,” some groups are doing real damage to the image of many of the country’s most successful universities.
In a world where Israel already has enough enemies, it is distressing to see time and resources dedicated to fighting this non-battle.
The Israeli university system is always checking itself and being checked by the Council of Higher Education and the various funding bodies that grant competitive peerreviewed research grants. By all international standards, Israeli universities are a huge success story that is in no way threatened by the political views of some people.
As president of the only university in Israel created by a decision of the Israeli government to be a catalyst for development of the Negev region, I know that Ben-Gurion University of the Negev integrates the highest standards of intellectual discourse and research with the pioneering spirit that has defined its very development.
As chairperson of the Committee of University Heads, I have had the privilege to see the same spirit and commitment on campuses across the country.
I encourage you to visit an Israeli university today and learn more about how higher education has and is transforming this country. Let’s face it: Zionism is in our DNA.
The writer is a professor and geneticist who is currently serving at the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and as chairwoman of the Committee of University Heads in Israel.