Two weeks ago I participated in an event saluting the technological achievements of the State of Israel held at the Boston Museum of Science, organized by that city's Israeli consulate and Jewish community. Included in the event was an exhibition showcasing Israel's technological achievements, particularly in the fields of communication and medical equipment, and lecturers paid tribute to the wonders of Israeli technology that have placed it at the forefront internationally in this field.
As president of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, I spoke of the tremendous contribution the institution and its graduates have made to the technological flourishing of the State of Israel. Despite a bit of heckling during some speeches, the hundreds of participants responded to the event with loud applause and it was extremely successful.
It was only the next day, as I continued on my way, did I start receiving telephone messages about a letter that had been sent to the Boston Science Museum prior to the event, at the initiative of Prof. Noam Chomsky from MIT, faculty members from two Israeli universities and other individuals. In this letter, Chomsky and his colleagues expressed a sharply worded protest against the fact that the museum was allowing the president of the Technion - "the university that prepares weapons of murder" - to deliver a lecture there. The letter went on to say that the event, which had paid tribute to Israel's tremendous contribution to world technology and science, was actually serving as a cover and camouflage for Israel's crimes against humanity.
I will not engage here in an argument with the authors of the letter about its content. I wonder merely whether the medical robot that assists in heart surgeries, developed by Prof. Moshe Shoham of the Technion's faculty of mechanical engineering, is in fact a "murder weapon."
Does the discovery of the ubiquitin system by the Nobel Prize-winning professors Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, or the medication Azilect, for the treatment of Parkinson's Disease, which was developed by Profs. Moussa Youdim and John Feinberg - all from the Technion's Rappaport Faculty of Medicine - amount to "crimes against humanity?"
I also wish to express my regret that Israeli faculty members joined forces with the authors of the letter located in Boston.
What was of greater concern, though, was the stream of messages that arrived afterward from friends of Israel in the United States who not only expressed apologies over the derisive letter, but also expressed concern and even grievances over the fact that Israel - which is so clever, with its advanced technologies and with some of the world's leading universities - has left campuses in North America in the hands of hostile groups. Groups that are managing to get more and more students, who in the past had no position on the Middle East conflict, to join them. Israel must wake up now before we lose the support of the United States' next generation of educated citizens. The same Noam Chomsky who is now crying out against the injustice of the State of Israel in preventing his entry via the Jordan River crossing, on his way to deliver a lecture at Birzeit University, tried to prevent the president of the Technion from giving an academic address at the Boston Museum of Science.
Despite this, I think the state authorities should have allowed the linguist Chomsky to enter the country and to speak at Birzeit. While his remarks do indeed arouse revulsion, we must fight for his right to express them. Israeli democracy is more enlightened than the democracy in whose name Prof. Chomsky tried to prevent my speech in Boston.
Prof. Peretz Lavie is president of the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.