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by Will TG Miller
On the 20th April, Deputy Director Davis Lewin hosted the Henry Jackson Society’s ‘An Antidote to BDS’ featuring Ambassador Yossi Gal, Vice President of Hebrew University and former Director-General to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel. Ambassador Gal came to talk not specifically about the BDS movement, but more about how the astounding academic successes of Israel, both relative to its size but also on absolute terms, meant that links between universities abroad and in Israel were increasing in intensity, and that this could work to change the perceptions of Israel in universities, whence pro-BDS activism is sometimes strongest.
Lewin began by describing Ambassador Gal’s long career history and many successes, and then played, at Gal’s request, a short video advertisement from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then opened up the floor to the ambassador, who expanded in detail on the technological advances that have been achieved in Israel as a whole, making reference to specific developments such as cherry tomatoes. He finished his talk by saying that, since Israel’s inventions and innovations benefitted all of mankind, one might hope for a future where Arabs and others are able to connect with Israel through the products of its innovation.
After his talk concluded, Ambassador Gal was asked a number of challenging questions on a wide variety of topics. One questioner, challenged the Ambassador as to whether technological innovation was really a means for the permeation of soft power, using his own life experiences and anecdotes to back his point. He concluded that Israeli innovations would never be able to pierce through deep-rooted anti-Semitism. The Ambassador hit back, saying that he had seen in his lifetime many foreign academic institutions reaching out to the Hebrew University in an attempt to forge connections and create mutual study abroad programs. These initiatives and their recent increase in incidence, the Ambassador said, were positive, and could indicate an end to the support base of BDS in universities through common prosperity and partnership.