Our strength derives from the balance between the particular and the universal
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Israel is witnessing an unprecedented “witch hunt” targeted against the Wexner Foundation, which is motivated by the cynical political agenda of the non-liberal right wing, aiming to serve the attempts of the Prime Minister to avoid his trial. Among these condemning voices, we heard a surprising voice to which I would like to address this article.
In an interview with Erel Segal on 103FM on July 14th Major General res. Gershon Hacohen claimed that the State of Israel should take exclusive responsibility for educating and enriching her officers and senior public officials. He added that Israel should definitely not send them to Harvard, since the universal content taught at foreign universities is not relevant to Israel's unique purpose, mission and context.
To offer full disclosure, Major General Hacohen was my commander when I was a company commander and deputy regiment commander in the reserve forces of the IDF. I greatly appreciate his intellectual abilities and curiosity, despite our contrary political persuasions.
If implemented the exclusive and isolationist approach that Hacohen presented, could prove dangerous and potentially turn Israel into a backward state like North Korea.
The greatness of Judaism and of the State of Israel has always been in the ability to combine our distinct character as the people of the book together with our creative spirit and pair this with a global perspective and orientation. These unique qualities probably account for the remarkable fact that more than 20% of the Nobel laureates are Jews and that Israel became the "Start Up Nation".
These results were not achieved through close mindedness, but rather through openness and broad vision. It is difficult to find representatives from the closed versions of Judaism among the Nobel Laureates or leaders of our innovative eco-system. It is precisely the Jewish values, which emphasize education, education open to debate and criticism, framed within a universal and global perspective, which bring about these achievements. Such accomplishments do not come through rigid dogmatism.
In fact, the officers and senior civil servants that went to Harvard through the generosity of the Wexner Foundation, are graduates of the Israeli education system, were members of youth movements and served time in the military. The Wexner fellows arrive at Harvard instilled with values acquired through their experiences and education in Israel. These are Israelis with years of experience and expertise, dedicated to serving the State of Israel. The Israeli fellows have a great influence on their classmates which is no less than the influence exerted upon them. This is also true about PM Netanyahu who went to MIT and his brother Yoni who went to Harvard.
The leading universities in Israel are rated by their ability to publish in international publications, conduct joint research with foreign scholars and combine their unique expertise with global insights. The case of Iran demonstrates what happens to a talented public with a remarkable culture that was halted by the isolation forced upon it by the Ayatollahs regime. Iranians with academic aspirations are now forced to immigrate to the west.
The concern articulated by Major General Hacohen that our officers and senior civil servants will be over influenced by the universal attitudes and will forget our unique circumstances resounds as non-Zionist and a reflection of the Shtetl mentality when we were not confident in our ability to cope with foreign influences. We established the State of Israel to terminate fear from what the gentiles think or say, as an embodiment of our confidence in who we are, what we have and, in our ability, to cope and to contribute to the world.
We have tremendous strength. From this position of strength, we can both learn from the world and teach the world. This can only be achieved through engagement and not isolation. Every Professor in Harvard can attest to the great contribution of the Wexner fellows both in and out of the classroom. The Jewish community of Greater Boston can attest to the enriching experience of engagement of the fellows with the community. All the fellows can attest to the tremendous impact of this life changing year, where we learned the importance of mutual commitment between Israel and the American Jewish community.
Another claim that was raised in that interview was that a private foundation should not be the one who sends the fellows to Harvard, but rather they should be sent by the state. The appropriate reply is that Israel is a joint venture between Israel and world Jewry, just like “Birth Right”, the activities of private funds such as Shusterman, Rothchild, Mandel and numerous others as well as projects led by the Jewish federations in Israel. All are a Zionist collaboration that attests to the fact that we are the homeland of the Jewish people.
On its own the state could not afford Harvard and we would have to settle for a more mediocre university. Just like other joint ventures, the State monitors and regulates the process to assure that it is professional and not political, and that the fellows who apply for the fellowship indeed represent the whole spectrum of Israeli society.
I assume that Major General Hacohen does not complain that the IDF use American aircrafts and that the IDF is constantly improving its interoperability with NATO militaries and especially with the American military. I am sure that Major General Hacohen also doesn’t oppose “Iron Dome” and the “Arrow” which are a joint venture with the Americans.
I am appalled when the attack against the Wexner Foundation comes from those who present the public servants in Israel as a dangerous leftist elite trying to steal the seat from the acting Prime Minister. However, when a Zionist intellectual such as Major General Hacohen is recruited to the efforts to end this patriotic Zionist program that contributes so much to the State of Israel I wonder – “E Tu Brute” my friend and mentor Gershon?
Nadav Tamir, is the Chair of the Israel Wexner alumni association, he was chosen as a Wexner fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2003. Nadav was an Israeli diplomat and a foreign Policy adviser for many years.