Nobel winners to flock to Israel, ignoring campus boycott push
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Nobel winners to flock to Israel, ignoring campus boycott push

The BDS movement has scored some victories recently – but Israeli academia racks up one with august August gathering

Former President Shimon Peres (center-left) at a panel with three Israeli Nobel Prize winners and Dr. Yossi Vardi (center-right), at the Technion in Haifa, on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Former President Shimon Peres (center-left) at a panel with three Israeli Nobel Prize winners and Dr. Yossi Vardi (center-right), at the Technion in Haifa, on Wednesday, January 8, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)

While the BDS movement is using its brawn – in the form of boycott power – to urge companies to stop doing business with Israel in protest of its policies vis-vis the Palestinians, the Jewish state is responding with its brain – or rather, it has attracted the brain power of nearly two dozen Nobel laureates, who will arrive in Israel in August for five days of discussions, panels, and research.

And despite the growing strength of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement on college campuses, the Nobel winners, all of whom have prestigious positions at universities around the world – as well as hundreds of students, professors, and other guests – have accepted invitations to two events surrounding the Nobel laureates, Foreign Ministry officials said.

The World Science Conference Israel (WSCI) was originally set for August of last year, but with Israel otherwise engaged in Operation Protective Edge, sponsors – including Hebrew University, the Science Ministry and the Foreign Ministry – postponed the event. Now set for August 15-20, the event will see more than 20 Nobel laureates discuss their contributions to science and give Israeli students the opportunity to meet some of the top minds in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics.

Among those attending: Professor Zhores Alferov, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the development of semiconductor structures for high-speed optoelectronics; American Professor Elizabeth H. Blackburn, winner of a 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres (DNA constructs found at the end of chromosomes): UK/US scientist Sir Harold Kroto, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering a molecule called buckminsterfullerene; Israel’s own Professor Robert J. Aumann, who won the 1995 Nobel in Economics for his work on conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis; Taiwan’s Professor Yuan T. Lee, winner of a Nobel in Chemistry in 1986 for his work on chemical elementary processes.

The WSCI is modeled after the Asian Science Camp, which brought leading scientists together with young people every summer for the past decade. The organizers said they were “inspired by the success of the Asian Science Camp in Israel in 2012 to extend this experience and its impact around the globe.”

During the conference the participants will have a chance to attend lectures and interact with the Nobel Laureates and other leading scientists from around the world. Participants will also experience a unique opportunity to meet and get to know some 300 students from around the globe who will be attending – among them, said organizers, more than likely some future Nobel winners. All the action will take place at the Edmond J. Safra campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

While in Israel, the Nobel laureates will also take in another conference, this one to be held in Tel Aviv. The Nobel Conference for Science & Technology will feature discussions with the prizewinners, as well as business and government officials, students, and others on the future of science and technology, their impact on society in the coming years, and other relevant topics. Among the sessions: The Revolution of Personalized Medicine, Innovation at Start-Ups, Brain-Tech Research, The Frontiers of Fundamental Physics.

Such a gathering would be notable at any time – but it’s especially relevant, and encouraging, at a time when the BDS movement has scored some victories on college campuses as well as in the corporate world, said Guy Kibetz of the Foreign Ministry, who is helping coordinate and organize the event. “Israel has not and will not surrender to boycotts. Just the opposite; the Foreign Ministry is investing a great deal of effort and creativity in Israel and worldwide in order to deal with the boycott phenomenon.”

The Nobel-centered events, said Kibetz, were an appropriate response to the boycott movement. “We are proud of the overwhelmingly positive response we have gotten from the Nobel laureates, students, and other guests from around the world. We hope to hold these events annually, and turn Israel into a ‘brand name’ for excellence in scientific research.”

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