Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray joined a delegation of university presidents from across the United States on a trip to Israel in early July, on a program sponsored by Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee.
The week-long program was designed by Project Interchange in consultation with the participating university heads. It was conducted in an intensive seminar format, offering the group broad exposure to the various complex issues facing Israel and the region.
Strong thematic emphasis was given to higher education, and the delegation met with their executive counterparts at such institutions as Tel Aviv University, Technion, Hebrew University, and Al-Qasemi College. They received in-depth briefings on state-of-the-art research initiatives being undertaken and discussed opportunities for academic collaboration and exchange at the undergraduate, graduate, and faculty levels. Participants expressed particular interest in discussions on turning technology research at the university level into marketable products – an area in which Israeli institutions have seen marked success.
On the agenda were also meetings with senior government officials, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and US Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham.
“Given the centrality of Israel’s creation and development to much of post-World War II history, this trip will provide an extraordinary opportunity to meet individuals who have participated in making history, to visit places where it played out and to learn how education is helping to shape the future there,” said President Ray, before he left. “I think for everyone participating in this visit, this will be a tremendous learning opportunity.”
Also emphasized during the visit was a dedication to welcoming Israeli academics in the United States, despite isolated incidents of hostility toward Israel on American campuses, reported the Jerusalem Post this week.
“Whether it’s disinvestment or a boycott against Israeli academics, it’s inappropriate and not worthy of any educational institution. I know of no American university that would support such a boycott,” said University of Miami president and former U.S. health secretary Donna Shalala in the Post.
Shalala also said in the Post that it was crucial to explore opportunities with Palestinian academic institutions as well, which in no way has been opposed by Israel. “One of the things we were doing here, the college presidents, is looking for opportunities, and we met with some of hte heads of Palestinian institutions, and we are going to look for some opportunities where we can be helpful,” she said.
Sam Witkin, Executive Director of Project Interchange, said before the conference, “We are tremendously pleased to host this exceptional delegation of university presidents for their first of hopefully many trips to Israel. The world-class research and educational facilities at Israeli universities, many of which will be visited during the program, provide a fitting setting for great minds to share information, discuss research partnerships, and explore opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration.”
The group also participated in briefings by Israeli and Palestinian experts on a host of political and societal matters, including Israel’s diverse makeup and efforts toward interfaith co-existence. Aharon Barak, former President of Israel’s Supreme Court, and Daniel Reisner, former Head of the International Law Department of the Israel Defense Forces, led discussions on various legal topics, including human rights and international law.
Recent Project Interchange delegations have included North African leaders, the Presidents of the Pacific Island nations of Micronesia and Nauru, college newspaper editors, American Latina leaders, Indian-American leaders, and journalists from the United States, Scandinavia, and Latin America, with upcoming seminars for global leaders in such fields as counter-terrorism and public health.