During the last week of March, UC Irvine Chancellor Drake journeyed to Israel with a group of UCI senior faculty and administrators. The academic mission, focusing on the physical and medical sciences, resulted in Drake’s signing of memoranda of understanding (MOU) with three of Israel’s top universities: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Drake also signed a letter of intent with Tel Aviv University that will soon lead to a formal MOU. The agreements have opened large new doors between UCI and Israeli academia, setting the precedent for future student exchanges and collaborative research projects. The chancellor and his delegation also had a chance to sit down and talk with Israeli President Shimon Peres and US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.
“In light of the things happening on campus, this is a great bridge building opportunity,” said Lisa Armony, director of the Rose Project, Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County. “It’s just fantastic in terms of the science coming out of the joint research projects that are going to happen.”
Armony and the Rose Council leadership held a meeting with Chancellor Drake shortly after he returned from Israel to discuss his trip and what it meant for the future. The chancellor talked about the importance of UCI’s relationships with the communities of Orange County and how crucial they are to the school’s success – part of them being his relationship with the Jewish community and the Rose Council that was so instrumental in organizing the trip.
“The chancellor talked about his meeting with Shimon Peres… He was very, very pleased to have that opportunity,” Armony said. “He also mentioned that UCI has no more than two dozen MOUs with international universities. Out of this fairly small number, UCI now has four with Israel. That’s significant, and a testament to Israeli academic excellence. Chancellor Drake talked about his vision of making UCI a global institution, and that, too, is a testament to the role he sees for Israeli academia at UCI.”
At the meeting, Chancellor Drake also updated the Rose Council about the upcoming collaborations between UCI and the Israeli universities, stating that he expects the partners to begin launching their projects within the next six to twelve months. One of these is a joint conference this fall titled, “Communications 2025.” The goal of the conference, Drake said, is to examine the technologies that will be needed for information technology and communications in the next decade. The Samueli Foundation, based here at UCI, has donated $2 million to find the program. Tel Aviv University will be organizing the Israeli delegation of the conference while the UCI Samueli School of Engineering will be organizing the American delegation.
“They’re able to start implementing [projects] right away,” Armony said of UCI and its Israeli partners, “so they want to hit the ground running. They’re looking at starting postdoctoral fellowships in the sciences as soon as this fall. We’re talking about med student exchanges, going on four-week rotation; we bring Israeli med students here, they bring some UCI med students there and then they come back after four weeks. UCI is planning workshops on water resources with Ben Gurion University… water is an important subject for Israel and UCI. They have a lot of mutual research they’ll be exploring and developing. And yet, these problems they’ll be working on are not limited to Irvine and Israel… they affect the whole world.”
The Rose Project has been coordinating the chancellor’s trips to Israel since 2008, when the Rose Council began to meet with the chancellor and UCI administration about the importance of academic exchanges with Israel, the value they would bring to the school and how they would create a positive climate for Israel and the Jewish community on campus.
“UCI has been limited in the way it can react to the discourse about Israel on campus… you know, First Amendment rights and everything,” Armony stated, referring to the Muslim Student Union’s often vitriolic rhetoric and hostile behavior towards Israel and Zionists. “But when you change the dialogue and open Israel up to people who wouldn’t normally go there or learn about it on their own, it can have a tremendous impact on their perception. It’s a major transformative experience to go to Israel, and we’re opening that opportunity up to so many more people at UCI. They’ll come back with a much richer and more educated view of what Israel is about. That’s what’s been driving these conversations.”
Armony noted that David Siegel, the current consul general of Israel, played a vital role in helping to make the mission a reality.
The chancellor’s trip to Israel is a momentous one not only for the Jewish community in Orange County, but for UC Irvine as well. In light of the hateful and aggressive anti-Zionist behavior the UCI Muslim Student Union has chosen to employ over the past few years, the chancellor’s recent activities in Israel send a strong message. In light of the calls to boycott Israel that have been pushed on some universities around the globe in the past few years, the MOUs Chancellor Drake has signed ring with certain clarion for the Jewish community in Orange County.
“UCI has set in place a very positive path and vision for its relationship with Israel,” Armony explained. “It’s important to note that other schools in North America and Canada are exploring ties with Israel, too. The President of USC recently got back from Israel, entering the school into relationships with Israeli universities similar to those UCI has entered… And there are others. While we do hear these calls for boycott, there are universities in North America making a clear statement about Israel and the importance of having academic relations with its universities.”
Readers can find further information about these developments at www.roseprojectoc.org.