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The Negev: Now and the Day After

(From left to right) President Harry Truman, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Abba Eban, and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during the Israeli officials visit to the U.S. on May 1, 1951. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel/Government Press Office.
(From left to right) President Harry Truman, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Abba Eban, and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during the Israeli officials visit to the U.S. on May 1, 1951. Credit: National Photo Collection of Israel/Government Press Office.

October 7, 2023, the Black Saturday of Simchat Torah, will forever be known for the single-largest massacring of Jews since the Holocaust. The death count in Israel is more than 1,200, and the number of hostages is most recently reported to be 240.

Yet somehow, in the media and on college campuses throughout the US, there are pro-Hamas protests blaming the atrocities on Israel and claiming that the Jewish state is now orchestrating a genocide in Gaza. Notable American university presidents have failed to lead with moral clarity, as they’ve fallen short of condemning the terrorists and siding with Israel.

But even as so many observers of this conflict lose their moral compass, there is room for optimism. And there is hope for the future of Israel and its supporters worldwide.

Today, an important paradigm for our hopeful future is found at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Before October 7, BGU was already arguably one of the most important institutions to the future of Israel. It’s the third-largest university in Israel — a 20,000-strong diverse student body with three beautiful campuses in Be’er Sheva, Sde Boker, and Eilat. A comprehensive university known as one of the top 50 universities in the world for entrepreneurship and a special spirit shown by its students, as they volunteer and help uplift the under privileged communities surrounding the University.

BGU is a world leader in research — solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges in fields such as (but not limited to) cybersecurity, AI, robotics, global health, water and climate tech, and marine biology.

All the universities in Israel collaborate with the IDF. But, with the IDF moving south (which is actually the largest infrastructure investment in the history of Israel), the military’s relationship with BGU has become paramount. In fact, every Israeli Air Force pilot receives their degree from BGU.

What especially differentiates BGU is its unique mandate relative to Israel’s other universities — its role as a catalyst for growth for the entire Negev region, which spans 60% of Israel’s land yet still is home to less than 10% of the population.

All this ties back to the importance of BGU after October 7. At Israel’s darkest hour, BGU helps us see the light.

A proactive response to the current crisis is a new vision for Zionism in the 21st century. This vision needs to transcend political differences. It can’t be based on where we disagree. Instead, it must inspire us — center us and rally us around where we can agree. This mentality is at the core of the movement led by Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU). At a time when so many people are focusing on what’s wrong about Israel, we rally Americans around what’s right. And what’s right is BGU’s status as a “Migdal Or”— a beacon of light that emanates from the Negev desert. The University represents the best of modern Israel, in a part of the country that everyone can agree upon. The Negev was part of ancient Israel. It comprises the majority of the land of modern Israel. It is absolutely vital to the future of Israel.

Right now, it’s difficult to envision the day after the war. But make no mistake, there will be a “day after.” And when that day comes, what David Ben-Gurion said back in the 1950s will ring truer than ever: “The future of Israel will emerge from the Negev.”

At A4BGU’s recent board meeting kickoff event in New York City, the American-Israeli author and thought leader Dr. Daniel Gordis said, “What Israel needs now is another Ben-Gurion.” Unfortunately, it’s not clear that Israel has another Ben-Gurion in this moment.

This brings to mind another famous Ben-Gurion quote: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

Indeed, we have the power to make our own miracles.

We only have three choices:

  1. We sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens. No miracle is going to come from this approach.
  2. We abandon the dream of the Jewish state. What a tragedy that would be.
  3. We double down on our investment in Israel. And we do so in way consistent with our values. This is our only choice.

It all comes back to David Ben-Gurion himself. BGU isn’t just a place that has the name of Israel’s founder on its door. It’s a modern-day manifestation of his ideas for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. It helps make the Negev bloom. Now, the University will help the Negev — and all of Israel, and in fact all of the Jewish people — recover and rebuild for tomorrow. As Dr. Gordis said, “Ben-Gurion University is the anchor of the part of the country that is going to need to be rebuilt the most.”

Together, we will prevail.

About the Author
Doug Seserman is the CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University. An award-winning nonprofit executive known for his creative business vision, Doug was named one of The Jerusalem Post’s 50 Most Influential Jews in 2023 for his vision and impact as a thought leader and changemaker in transforming the conversation around 21st Century Zionism.
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