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Thursday, August 21, 2014

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Strengthening Canada-Israel academic ties

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Olga Girshevitz, head of the surface analysis unit at the Bar-Ilan Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials [Yoni Reif photo]

TEL AVIV — Two delegations of Canadian university presidents and professors were in Israel recently to learn about higher education here and to explore opportunities for academic co-operation.

The visits came despite the anti-Israel fervour now playing out on campuses around the world.

“Academic boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel never came up during the visits,” Prof. Benjamin Ehrenberg, Bar-Ilan University (BIU) vice-president for research, said. “The Canadians only spoke about efforts to establish good relations with Israel.”

Canada and Israel have strong bilateral relations and share political, economic, social and cultural ties. Israeli ambassador to Canada, Miriam Ziv, with the help of the Foreign Ministry, set in motion the two visits to build an academic relationship.

The Canadian guests visited BIU, IDC Herzliya, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University and the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.

One delegation consisted of journalists, journalism professors and spokespeople from Canadian universities. They visited four Israeli universities and colleges to learn about journalism programs and journalistic practice in Israel.

“I see great opportunities for the University of King’s College to forge partnerships for student and possibly faculty exchanges,” Kim Kierans, vice-president of the Halifax university, said. “There is no doubt that King’s students would benefit enormously from a term of study in Israel and vice versa.”

Also taking part in the mission were Marsha Barber, a professor of journalism at Ryerson University; Linda Kay, chair of the department of journalism at Concordia University; David Swick, an assistant professor of journalism at King’s College; Brian Gabrial, a journalism professor at Concordia, and Prof. Kenneth Bell, of the University of Regina.

 “It was tremendous to experience the country first-hand and learn more about the complexities of Israeli politics and culture. I was impressed with the quality of discourse in the English-language media when it comes to both diversity and depth,” Kierans said.

Another delegation, comprising high-ranking university officials, included Prof. Irving Abella, J. Richard Schiff Chair of Canadian Jewish History at York University; Harold Edward Campbell, president and vice-chancellor, University of New Brunswick; Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor, University of Western Ontario; Vianne Timmons, president, University of Regina; Paul Henry Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC); Eleonora Christina Vanderberg, of AUCC, and Michael Goldbloom, principal and vice-chancellor, Bishop’s University.

They met with lecturers and researchers in engineering, law, brain research, nanotechnology and communications.

“They were very impressed with Israeli science, not just at BIU. But you don’t have to market Israeli science – Israeli science already has a good reputation,” Ehrenberg said. “We know Canadian science is good, too. Israeli scientists would feel very comfortable with Canadian scientists, especially because they’re known, like other Canadians, to be real friends of Israel.”

Ehrenberg said that Israel and the United States, as well as Israel and the European Union, already share “real collaboration in science.” He added that for a true Canadian-Israeli academic project, governments need to show monetary support.

“You need to put in money in research,” he said. “In order to have a good collaboration with Canada, we need the government to establish a fund that would finance such a foundation. We’re not talking about millions. An average research grant doesn’t need to be more than $50,000 a year.”

Timmons said that “for the University of Regina, there is interest in the area of justice and police studies. There is much we can learn from the work undertaken by Israel academics. Israel is a leader in innovation, and Saskatchewan has identified innovation as a priority. We can learn from the investments made in this area. I was impressed with the work being undertaken in academia in Israel.”

And though Timmons came to advance research collaboration with Israeli institutes, it is at her university that the students union recently passed a motion to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. 

“The University of Regina Students Union is an independent organization,” she said. “The University of Regina will not be endorsing this motion. We are not in favour of an academic boycott.”

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