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BGU University President Rivka Carmi, First Female President of an Israeli University, Delivers Address at BGU luncheon -

by Rhonda Spivak, June 14, 2014

Invitees to a brunch at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on June 1st,2014 put on by the Winnipeg Chapter of  the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University and sponsored by Tova and Larry Vickar,  were treated to an impressive address by Dr. Rivka Carmi, the  first woman to be  appointed President of an Israeli University, who since May 2006 has served as President of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Carmi, an excellent spokesperson for the BGU and a speaker who easily held the audience's participation is an Israeli pediatrician and geneticist who has authored over 100 publications in medical genetics. She is internationally recognized for her research on the delineation of the clinical manifestations and molecular basis of genetic diseases in the Negev Arab-Bedouin population.  Specifically her research has included the identification of 12 new genes and the delineation of 3 new syndromes, one of which is known as the "Carmi Syndrome."


Carmi's community projects prior to her becoming President of BGU were aimed at preventing hereditary diseases in the Bedouin community, and in her address she spoke of a noteworthy aspect of the educational experience at  Ben-Gurion  University which is that all students are required to spend at least eight hours a week working in the surrounding community.


Carmi's visit here was a follow-up to BGU's Gala Luncheon honouring Marjorie and Morley Blankstein held on May 4th and a time to thank those involved in this successful endeavour, attended by Members of Parliament, university students, businessmen, academics from local universities, and friends and family of the honourees. The luncheon raised over $460,000 in support of the Malware Analysis Laboratories of BGU which is battling against cyber security threats, a new and venomous form of warfare. Carmi spoke of how BGU is becoming a center of Cyber security to intensify the battle against cyber threats not only in Israel but in the Western world. Carmi thanked Ariel Karabelnicoff, Executive Director of CABGU, Manitoba Region and those present for "re-invigorating the Winnipeg Chapter of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University."


Carmi added that "In fact the first name of a place outside Israel I could spell was Winnipeg." She explained that Winnipeg was like a "second home" to her as a result of the fact her father had a second cousin here, and they were close in that they wrote many letters to each other since  much of her family had perished in the Holocaust. (Carmi says she is related to the Rosner, Kryger and Winograd families). The connection with Winnipeg goes even further, Carmi said: “among the attendees of the brunch is Dr. Yoav Keynan, “one of my best students in medical school at BGU.”  Keynan is a Winnipegger now and presently Vice-President of  the local chapter of CABGU.


Carmi who had  not planned on becoming President of  BGU but  had planned on continuing her research noted that she decided to accept the position as President because this university has a "national role" in developing the Negev, whose land mass makes up "2/3 of Israel."  


Carmi spoke of David Ben-Gurion's understanding that settling  the Negev would become a key aspect of Israel's growth and development as a State. As she expanded, it was David Ben-Gurion who said if Israel "could make the Negev Green", and could develop "solar energy", and "purify brackish water" then Israel would be able to become a scientific leader in the world. Carmi spoke of how this vision is being realized through the fact that BGU has become a world-class full comprehensive institution, with a total student population of over 20,000. BGU's importance will only grow, she noted, given the creation of the huge "Advanced Technology Park."


Although this subject was not the focus of her talk here, it is noteworthy that Carmi has recently been outspoken in the media in cautioning against complacency over the recent announcement by the American Studies Association of an academic boycott of Israel, where she has warned of the danger that sanctions could spread to other fields.  As she wrote in an article in Ynet News:


"The American Studies Association's declaration that it is joining the academic boycott of Israel did not stir a big row. The mistaken notion that the ASA is an insignificant organization and that this boycott has no practical implications left us indifferent. But there is no greater error than that.


The decision holds serious implications which go beyond the boundaries of the academia. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is becoming increasingly powerful, like a snowball which will soon be unstoppable...”


“An idea that was until now considered taboo — a boycott of all the academic institutes in Israel — has become legitimate,” she added. “If a boycott of Israel becomes a legitimate thing then it will be followed by other boycotts in other areas.”


In the article she noted that research cooperation at BGU between Israeli academics and their colleagues in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority covers a range of fields--ecology, agriculture, solar energy, and desalination-- all of which would likely become the targets of a boycott. In addition, Carmi predicted, sanctions would prevent some medical treatment and the availability of drinking water for the Palestinians.


To read her full article go to,7340,L-4469591,00.html.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.