Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Strengthening cultural exchanges, advancing public diplomacy
Free Cultural Courses Help Chinese Students Understand Israel
From April 15 through April 21, a group of 40 Chinese students from all the major Israeli universities assembled at the Ben-Gurion University’s Sede Boqer campus to participate in a weeklong seminar of Israel studies. The seminar included lectures on Israel’s history, religion, society, politics, and diplomacy, as well as field trips, movies, visits to archaeological sites, etc.
Ran Peleg, Deputy Director of the North Asia Department, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivering a lecture to seminar participants about Sino-Israeli relations. [File photo]

Prof. Paula Kabalo, Director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism (BGRI), introduced the goals and thinking behind the seminar to this reporter. There are more and more Chinese students coming to Israel, but they choose to pursue degrees mostly in the engineering and sciences. Compared with students coming from America and Europe, the Chinese students are very much focused on the area of their studies, and so lack an understanding of Israeli culture, history, and current situation, she said. To that you have to add the high cost of studying, living, and traveling in Israel, making it difficult financially for many to gain a deep understanding of Israel. So with the assistance of SIGNAL, the BGRI has received the financial support of the Los Angeles-based Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation and since last year began providing a free of charge seminar on Israel targeted at Chinese students in Israel.
Marty Karp, the Glazer Foundation’s representative in Israel, told this reporter that the foundation is constantly striving to strengthen and promote ties between Israel and China. In addition to this seminar, the foundation also supports numerous other projects and organizations in the Sino-Israel space, for example, the INSS-Israel Institute China Program, the Nanjing University Glazer Jewish and Israel Studies Institute, etc. After the conclusion of the seminar, the foundation will sit down with Ben-Gurion University, Israel’s Council for Higher Education, and other partners, to discuss how to ensure this seminar will continue in the future.
The Sede Boqer campus of Ben-Gurion University is situated in southern Israel’s Negev desert center, more than 160 kilometers from Israel’s main cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and also 50 kilometers from the main city of the south Beer-Sheva. When asked why hold the seminar at such an off-the-beaten track location, Prof. Kabalo proudly says this is due to the fact that BGRI is Israel’s oldest largest research institute in this area (of Israel and Zionism studies). Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion chose to live in kibbutz Sede Boqer at the center of the Negev after leaving his post. After he passed away, according to his will and the David Ben-Gurion Law and on the basis of an agreement between the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute and Ben-Gurion University, the Israeli government in 1982 established the Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism next to the graves of Ben Gurion and his wife Pola. The BGRI also holds the Ben Gurion archives and his historic residence.
Prof. Aryeh Tepper, the academic director of the seminar, told this reporter that there was a warm response from all quarters to the seminar when it was held last year. Despite the remote location of the seminar, the number of applications has greatly increased this year. The Israeli government also attaches great importance to this seminar – last year, the Glazer Foundation was the sole sponsor of the seminar, while this year the Israeli government joined as one of the main sponsors. Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Deputy Director of North East Asia Department and Head of the China desk Ran Peleg came especially to deliver a lecture on Sino-Israel relations. In an interview with this reporter, Peleg said ties between Israel and China have developed rapidly in recent years, but it is not just a matter for governments, it is also a matter of people-to-people exchanges. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs attaches great importance to this kind of seminar because it is crucial component of public diplomacy and provides the younger generation in China with a good opportunity to understand Israel.

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