Shahar Azani
Shahar Azani
JBS Senior Vice President & Former Israeli Diplomat . A Jew.

Investing in Education, the Great Unifier

These days many of us are getting ready to go to school: be that elementary school, high school or college campuses, we find ourselves immersed in the preparations, but it is also the perfect time for us to pause and absorb the significance of what we are about to achieve, or strive to achieve.  

Yesterday (Aug 22) another great scientific breakthrough was announced: Israeli and German researchers, led by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Carmit Levy, were able to identify how skin cancer cells grow and spread – a discovery which could pave the way to finding a cure for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Dr. Levy, who attended Harvard before returning to Israel’s Tel Aviv University to continue with her work, is an example of the unique benefit of this modern age of human connectivity: international collaboration paving the way for a better – and longer – life. The message here is loud and clear: we are stronger together than we are apart, and education is a significant engine, enabling us to come together (in this case under the auspices of medical science).

This comes as a painful blow to those who believe in the boycott against Israel (the nefarious and anti-Semitic BDS movement): a strategy designed to burn bridges between people, rather than build them at a time when they are most needed. Education is key to dialogue and dialogue is key to progress.

Fort Worth, Texas, saw last June an auspicious inauguration: the State of Israel celebrated with US officials the rollout of the first Israeli Air Force F-35A warplane, with Israel being the first country in the region to receive it. The F-35 is hailed as “the best aircraft in the world” and as “a milestone for the future of Israel’s national defense”, with a clear intention to enhance Israel’s capabilities and deterrence for the long run. The cost of the F-35A aircraft, as indicated by Lockheed Martin, stands at 98 million USD.

This is exciting news for Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance. Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East and an ally to the United States, stands as a beacon of Western values in a region far from championing them. In the course of its existence it has faced tremendous challenges and what was true in decades past with hostile Arab and Muslim states surrounding it became an even greater challenge with a tumultuous Mideast in the process of profound metamorphosis expected to take a very long time before reaching any kind of stability.

However, I must admit I had mixed feelings watching the ceremony in June: not because I doubt the Israeli-US alliance or question the need for a safe and secure Israel. That is a given for anyone who cares about peace and stability. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about what else could be done with such a budget, to enhance security and promote a safe future for us all.

I have the pleasure of working for StandWithUs, an international non-profit educational organization, based on the foundation that education is the only road to peace. Well, “working” is not the best term: it’s more of a passion, deeply rooted in all of us to create a more hospitable environment for our children. We strive to inform the public about Israel and share its story, to enrich public discourse about it and help combat extremism and anti-Semitism. In short, we believe in the unique merit of education and its ability to change the present and especially the future, through the creation of dialogue. This is why we are focusing a lot of effort on the younger generation, our Leaders of Tomorrow, whom we nurture and with whose involvement and caring, we will be able to create a more hospitable environment in the future.

This is why I strongly believe that true security must rely on education, and not only in the Israeli-American context or even the Israeli-Palestinian one, but rather globally. Education means supplying our societies with the necessary skills to make progress: technologically, scientifically, philosophically and economically. It is the key to making our world a better place and to be able to bridge existing gaps between east and west, north and south. Indeed, education does not come in flashy colors nor has it fancy wheels or a whirring engine. It is a long-term investment, the results of which will only be seen years from now: years after our current elected officials leave office. Years after the 2016 or even 2020 elections are a distant memory. Yet, it is absolutely crucial that we do not allow ourselves to be distracted from cherishing this most precious of resources: our citizens, our children, our future.

It was education that laid the foundation for Israeli and German teams to work together to fight skin cancer, and eventually reaching a breakthrough. This positive engagement fosters dialogue and takes us one step closer to a better world than the one we live in today.

A few years ago, serving as an Israeli diplomat in New York, I had the pleasure of being a part of a unique project: a delegation of Israeli high school students opened up “street labs” in Union Square, NYC. These “labs” showcased scientific and technological innovative projects, born out of their creativity and imagination. All were welcome to be a part this celebration, with the goal of promoting STEM education: the studies of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, a goal in US domestic education as well. The students visited local schools to work together in fostering creativity and using it as a connector between people, between countries. US Department of Education acknowledges that even today, few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields in addition to an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. STEM was designated as a priority with the goal of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these fields.

In Israel we face similar challenges: if Israel is to continue being a world leader in technology and hi-tech, and beyond, in addition to garnering international prizes and achievements, it must invest significantly in education, which is the key engine for growth, such which includes and engages the majority of the population.

Last year, StandWithUs New York brought Israeli musician and world sensation Idan Raichel to Manhattanville College, to speak before the students of his experiences as a musician. The goal was building social bridges within and between societies. The event was co-sponsored by a variety of different groups on campus, bringing all of them together. As one of the students told me as they left the event:

“We have many events on campus, but tonight I leave here inspired”.

Education – this is what its all about.

About the Author
Speaker, Author, JBS Senior Vice President. Formerly Israel's Consul for Media Affairs in NY and diplomat at Israel's Foreign Ministry. Thankful for every day. Hopeful for the future.