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The latest in a series of missions in which Canadian academics make the rounds of Israeli universities was concluded this past week, culminating in results that are more than just academic. The visit included a lunchtime ceremony in which the presidents of the Hebrew University and the University of Manitoba put their signatures on research and exchange agreements involving the U. of M. and Hebrew U.s Braun School of Public Health and Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace.

The cutting-edge research and the outstanding quality of Israels seven major universities combined to leave a profound impression on the team of visitors from Canadian academia. The visits have been an ongoing project of Canadian Jewish Congress, and this one comprised representatives from Bishops, Manitoba, McGill, Ryerson, Saskatchewan, York, and, switching from my CJC kippa to my university mortar board, U. of T. The trip was generously underwritten by Gerry Schwartz, Milton Harris, and Julie Koschitzky, together with Israels Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As with previous academic missions, the objectives of the visit were to promote academic exchanges, joint research projects, and other aspects of cooperative activity between Canadian and Israeli universities. The visit also aimed to increase knowledge in both directions of the institutions and educational systems for higher learning in each country, and to enhance the awareness of Canadian educators about the State of Israel, its ancient history, modern accomplishments and future challenges.

This visit of Canadian academics differed in two important respects, however, from previous CJC university presidents missions. First, while two university presidents graced the group (Dr. Lorna Marsden of York and Dr. Emoke Szathmary of Manitoba), the majority of the twenty-some participants were researchers, professors and administrators at other senior levels. Secondly, while CJC has always in the past worked cooperatively with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, this mission was a truly bi-national effort, organized as a direct partnership between CJC and the Consulates General of Israel in Toronto and Montreal.

Originally the brainchild of Israeli Consul General Cobie Brosh and Professor Irving Abella of York University, the mission aimed at matching specific faculty representatives from Canadian universities with their counterparts in Israel. The group presented an eclectic variety of disciplines spanning the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and technology. Canada showed off its expertise in subjects ranging from contemporary music to the science of grain storage, and from infectious diseases to the history of bullfighting. With several vice-presidents and directors of research and international exchange filling out the group, the mission facilitated interaction at both the macro-and micro-levels.

The Israeli foreign ministry did its part in ensuring that the Canadians enjoyed extensive sessions at Bar-Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science. Out of these meetings came a number of invitations for guest lectureships, sabbatical visits, joint publications, graduate student exchanges, and the like. One of the groups members, McGill Universitys Dr. Michel Tremblay, initiated enhanced connections between McGills Cancer Centre and leading medical researchers at the Technion and Weizman Institutes. Another, University of Manitoba School of Music director Dale Lonis, stayed on after the mission to conduct master classes for advanced Israeli students and arranged for several members of the Israel Philharmonic to warm up the Winnipeg arts scene by taking sabbatical leave there.

In addition to the customized meetings by department and faculty, discussions were held on each campus with the president, rectors, and deans of research and inter-academic affairs on issues relating to the system of higher education in Israel, curricula, funding, student population, and research policy and focus. These sessions gave the Canadian and Israeli colleagues a chance to do what academics do best: kvetch about the government funding cutbacks that plague universities everywhere.

One morning was devoted to a session with Palestinian institutions of higher learning, organized by CJC in conjunction with Canadas Representative Office in Ramallah. Gathering at the fabled American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, the group met with representatives from Birzeit, Bethlehem, Al-Quds, and An-Najah Universities to learn of their specific areas of specialization and the general challenges they face. The Canadian participants came away with the hope that Canada can provide a bridge for productive trilateral exchanges bringing Israeli and Palestinian professors and students together in ways that might otherwise be difficult to achieve.

The group also received the benefit of expert briefings on Israels political and strategic situation (including insights into the Palestinian election which took place the last day of the visit) and extensive touring including the Old City of Jerusalem, an IDF tour and briefing on the security fence, Yad Vashem, Christian sites in the Galilee, a Druze village near Haifa, Masada, the Golan Heights, and the Lebanese border. To highlight the cultural face of Israel, the group had the unique pleasure of attending a rehearsal of the world-renowned Bat Sheva dance company.

The key to this kind of mission, of course, lies in the critical follow-up. To this end the group did what all good Canadian academics are expected to do: it formed a committee. A working group was established comprising one representative from each university to develop common follow-up strategies. The hope is that the returnees from the mission, together with alumni from previous academic missions, can create a critical mass of scholarly exchanges that will make Canada and Israel commonplace features on each others academic horizons.

It is evident to anyone who goes on such a visit that the academic communities in the two counties share much in the way of fundamental values and a commitment to equity and excellence in education. The goal is to harness these mutual features of academia in order to increase cooperation and contribute to the enrichment of both societies.

Ed Morgan is the national president of Canadian Jewish Congress and a law professor at the University of Toronto. He is member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.


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