On Wednesday, November 10, I had the privilege of speaking at the dedication of the new home for the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis. I believe deeply in the message I shared with the 30-plus people in attendance and wanted to post my remarks here as well. I hope you find them worthwhile and in return will share with me your thoughts on this very important topic.
Good afternoon and shalom! It is a pleasure and an honor to have you with us today to celebrate the dedication of our new home for the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.
I especially want to thank President Jehuda Reinharz, Dr. Ilan Troen, Dan Feldman and the entire Brandeis team for their tireless efforts to build a vibrant academic environment where modern Israel can be studied with the energy, thoughtfulness and intellectual rigor it deserves.
I also want to thank all the supporters of the Center, as well as the Advisory Council and Mort Mandel and the Humanities Center, all of whose generous contributions of time, resources and insight make this important work possible. I could not be more proud or more excited about the hope and promise these walls embody
But my friends, as happy as I am today, I also stand before you deeply concerned. One need not be an alarmist to sense at this moment that the issues facing Israel are as grave as any in her history.
All of us here are painfully aware of the international campaign to paint Israel as a human rights violator, to question her very right to exist. It is an effort that occurs daily in university classrooms, on campuses, in media outlets, in parliaments across the world, in the chambers of the United Nations and elsewhere.
The strategy to undermine the very legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is already clear: demonize and isolate Israel through boycott, divestment and sanctions. It fills me with despair to think of how disastrous these attacks could prove for Israel. We cannot allow what has failed on the military battlefield to gain credence in the realm of ideas.
I believe that education is key to countering these attacks and to building understanding of Israel. Knowledge requires learning about and appreciating the complexity of situations. It empowers people to struggle with difficult concepts and new information. And it enables students to synthesize what they have learned in order to form their own conclusions.
The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis is, and must remain, the preeminent institution devoted to promoting exemplary teaching and scholarship about modern Israel. It must be at the vanguard of nurturing and catalyzing the sophisticated study of Israel in all its richness and complexity.
We must lead the way in countering the darkness of lies, distortions and misinformation with the light of better facts, deeper knowledge and firsthand experience. We must provide a more complete and accurate picture of Israel than the embattled image so often portrayed on college campuses, in the media and in international fora today.
We must invest deeply in a range of efforts to educate young people about Israel, both inside the classroom and out. We must provide a model for engaging people both intellectually and emotionally with contemporary Israel, its history, its politics, its diverse society and its fertile cultural landscape.
In this vein, one aspect of the Center that I believe holds great promise, and which we are celebrating here today, is its investment in Israeli art. As someone who has been involved for many years with supporting the Israeli art scene and now helping to spearhead the Jerusalem Season of Culture, I believe deeply in art as a vehicle to engage people with the beauty and nuance of Israel.
Today, I want to congratulate the distinguished Professor and Israeli art expert Gannit Ankori as she is inaugurated as the Center’s first chair and to celebrate the budding partnerships between the Center and two programs I hold close to my heart, Artis and the Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artists Program.
This remains a critical time for Israel, both internally and on the global stage. We must educate ourselves and our young people, and use this knowledge to combat delegitimization, to create a fuller understanding of Israel and to ensure that Israel is welcomed as an integral part of the family of nations.
Much work remains ahead, and I can think of no better time and place to re-commit ourselves than here in our new home—a beacon of light where Israel Studies will continue to blossom into a vibrant, multi-faceted field, devoted to truth and rooted in academic integrity.
I believe that through this work, we will see a time when Israel will be a natural, positive part of academic discourse; when Israel will be taught from diverse perspectives by growing ranks of outstanding and exciting scholars; when every major institution of higher learning in this country will offer courses related to Israel; and when tens of thousands of students will appreciate Israel as the Jewish homeland, as a key ally of the United States and as a full and legitimate modern state.
Never doubt the importance of our mission, and know how deeply I respect and value the work that you are doing.
I thank you all again for coming today and especially want to thank the Schusterman Center team, Ilan and Rachel, together with Rivka and Marge, for planning this wonderful event and for hosting us in this beautiful venue. I also want to recognize Israeli artist Nelly Agassi who will be performing for us tonight.
I look forward to working together in the years ahead as we strive to advance understanding of Israel now and for generations to come. Todah rabah!