Rivlin tells students that “We … must start to converse, not just sound off…”
The President of the State of Israel, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, paid a visit to the University of Haifa on Sunday morning, December 20, accompanied by University President Amos Shapira, Rector of the University Professor David Faraggi, members of the university’s administration and deans of the various faculties.
The President visited the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics headed by Professor Fuad Fares, where he was presented with the key research projects being conducted at these advanced laboratories, projects which focus on understanding the structure and function of proteins by means of genetic engineering for the research of cancer including the discovery of genes involved in the development of cancer, with the aim of developing new strategies for diagnosing and treating the disease.
The researchers told the President about their work, described to him their progress, and showed him cells being investigated via a microscope. Among the researchers the President met were doctoral students from all sectors of Israeli society, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Druze, and included Israel’s first Circassian doctoral student, Tina Nafso. The President admired the medical advances, thanked Professor Fares and his team of researchers for their energetic work, and wished them success in their continuing efforts.
Following this the President met with about 400 students to whom he delivered a talk, saying: “The university is among the few places in which the four tribes meet. I remember the days of my own studies, how I would meet students from all sectors of the population, and here I see how good and pleasant it is for brethren and cousins to come together. I look at you and see the Israeli experience as it is, with the understanding that there is no other way than to live together, and that we have the ability to create a system that can be a benefit to us all and advance us all.”
During this meeting the President answered a few questions. The President responded to the notion of the positive role played by higher education in the creation of a new Israeli identity saying: “As the first meeting place of the various tribes, academia has a crucial role in creating the new Israeli identity. The power of the university is manifested in its training of future leadership, in its being a link with the labor market, and in its role as a laboratory for ideas and solutions. The combined forces of faculty and students need to shake up the Israeli reality as much as possible, and the university should strive not only to be a place of learning together, but to create a significant coming together of people.”
The President was also asked about the greatest challenges in creating shared Israeli identity and he stressed that he’s not looking for unity or for the blurring of identities, but for a partnership from within diversity saying: “Within each sector of the population are powerful internal struggles – between separatists and those who want partnership. When any group feels threatened – it goes on the offensive. Therefore, the fundamental basis for partnership is the sense of security of each sector of the population that its very essence is not being threatened. Thus I hope that there will be brave individuals in each and every tribe who will create courageous partnerships between themselves that will bequeath stability and strength to all of Israeli society.”
In response to the statement of the moderator who remarked that he is not particularly optimistic about the success of creating such a shared Israeli identity, the President replied: “I am very optimistic, especially in Haifa, where I see such things in practice. And if 230 schools from all sectors of the population have registered for joint meetings between themselves in order to create a dialogue, the ‘Israeli Hope in Education’ project, in which the office of the President is a partner, then we have hope.”
The President was also asked about his standing up to the criticism directed at him, and answered: “The issue of the relationships between the various sectors composing Israeli society touches upon the raw nerves of this society – and therefore arouses such strong reaction. And, in parallel, there are people who ostensibly have (something) to gain from exacerbating such conflicts. I was not elected president so that my picture would be hung on walls; I was elected to make a difference. I feel responsibility even for those who attack and criticize me. I am the president of all the citizens of Israel.”
In response to a question posed by one of the students regarding the his participation at the “Haaretz Conference in New York” last week, the President replied: “I was invited to the conference organized by the Haaretz newspaper, and I appeared there because I believe that everyone who is part of Israeli society can come and say what he or she has to say even when the words are razor-sharp.”
The President added: “At the conference I unequivocally clarified that, in the eyes of us all in the State of Israel, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces are our sons and daughters, our grandsons and our granddaughters, and just as they defend us, we must protect them at all costs.”
He concluded by stressing: “We, in a divided Israel, must start to converse, not just sound off. We must talk to try to understand what the other is saying to convince him that perhaps he’s wrong. This shouting nowadays, from the right to the left and from the left to the right, each one towards the other, is creating a situation in which we will never be able to talk. Everyone will hold fast to his position and will say what it is that he has to say without hearing what the other says, and there will be a situation in which no decision can be reached.”