In an international summit of sorts, Consul Zvi Vapni of the Israeli Consulate General of Atlanta convened Tuesday with Bruce Kuniholm, vice provost for academic and international affairs-as well as members of Duke Friends of Israel and other students-to strengthen ties between Israel and the University and discuss the Middle East peace process.
Prior to a discussion organized by Duke Friends of Israel, Vapni met with Kuniholm to talk about connections with the University and potential joint projects, such as a celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel. Vapni emphasized his intention to get many institutions of higher learning involved in the observance of the anniversary as a way to create dialogue and raise awareness.
But Vapni also said he perceived his role between Israel and the University more as a bridge than an impetus for specific and detailed collaborations. As such, he suggested potential connections with three universities generally considered to be Israel's most prestigious: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University in the Negev and Tel Aviv University.
Vapni's visit is part of an effort by the Office of the Israeli Consulate General of Atlanta to reach out to the Southeastern United States through visits with universities, churches and cultural organizations. "What we offer are exhibitions, visiting scholars," he said. "We function as a matchmaker first."
Such dialogue can also help correct misconceptions and increase knowledge about Israel, he said. "Most people need to get basic information. The media can be very distorting. People have a few scattered ideas," he said. Vapni plans to sponsor more exhibitions and lectures in the future to aid such dialogue.
While he praised the University's involvement with Israel, Vapni also emphasized the Atlanta Consulate's involvement with North Carolina on a more general level. "The height of cooperation was the delegation of Governor [Jim] Hunt and 18 business people to Israel to establish business connections," he said.
Vapni's talk is part of a two-day tour of North Carolina including North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although this visit was limited to two days, Vapni said he hopes to return next year for further consultation with University administrators and students.
Aside from Tuesday's talks, however, the University community is not new to active involvement with Israel. Earlier this year, for example, Lova Eliav, a well-known proponent of the Middle East Peace Process from the Negev, spoke at the University as part of the Rudnick Lecture Series.
Furthermore, Ziv Carmon, assistant professor at the Fuqua School of Business, led a tour of business students to Israel and Egypt as part of a course focusing on the growing business climate in the Middle East. "Israel is doing well in high tech research and development," he said. "There are lots of start-up companies. Biotech is thriving."
Yet Eric Zakim, assistant professor of Asian and African Languages and Literature, said the University could have stronger ties with the Israeli academic community.
"There's actually very little that goes on," he said. "I'm the only full time faculty member who deals with Israel." Nevertheless Zakim said he was satisfied with what sees as slowly advancing attempts to include more interaction. He cited the invitation of Israeli academics to an upcoming conference organized by Walter Mignolo, chair of the Department of Romance Studies.
In addition, Kuniholm addressed the level of of interest in Israel among students by assessing participation in University study-abroad programs to Israeli universities.
During the 1996-97 academic year, he said, only four students elected to study in Israel, but he said he was pleased with the fact that 18 students plan to study in Israel this summer.