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Deans and University V.P. Meet With Israeli Leaders

By Michael C. George

A group of some of Harvard’s most preeminent professors—including deans of four graduate schools—traveled to Israel last month, where they met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The one-week visit, from Jan. 7 to Jan. 15, was the second annual trip coordinated by the Harvard Business School’s faculty immersion program.

The program, created by Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, was modeled on the school’s International Experience Program for students. Last year, professors visited China through the program.

“The idea is to educate the faculty as much as the students about what’s going around the world, so that the ideas we’re teaching are responsive to the world,” said Business School professor Arthur I. Segel ’73, who helped organize the trip to Israel.

According to Segel, the trip was geared toward examining how such a small nation with few resources and a volatile security situation successfully encourages large-scale innovation and attracts venture capital.

During the trip, the deans of the Business School, Law School, Graduate School of Design, and Graduate School of Education traveled with University Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp and a group of Harvard professors. The cohort met with Harvard alumni and a host of leaders in Israeli and Palestinian government, education, and business.

Two representatives of the Boston nonprofit Combined Jewish Philanthropies also joined the team for the journey.

Nancy R. Katz, CJP’s director of Israel advocacy, proposed the idea of a trip to Israel.

“My job is about exposing people to Israel—and Israelis—and showing people how phenomenal it is,” Katz said. Katz, a former Harvard professor, and Gil Preuss, CJP’s executive vice president, went on the trip.

For the business scholars on the journey, Katz said that Israel was an intriguing destination.

“We wanted to understand why it is that Israel has more startups on NASDAQ than any other country outside of the United States,” Katz said.

During the weeklong trip, the travelers shared their interdisciplinary expertise.

Graduate School of Design Dean Mohsen Mostafavi commented on the architecture of Israel’s Supreme Court building; Graduate School of Education Dean Kathleen McCartney met with the heads of universities in the West Bank; and Law School Dean Martha L. Minow conversed about human rights with a Palestinian official.

“It really was an honor to have people from across the University come, because they asked questions I wouldn’t have even thought about,” said Business School professor Elie Ofek, an Israeli military veteran who led the trip with Segel.

The participants also met the leaders of companies that are discussed in Business School case studies.

At a dinner with Peres, the party conversed about the importance of education and the tension of supporting an ultra-religious community in a largely secular population.

“President Peres was very inspiring,” Ofek said about Peres’ views on Israel’s ongoing search for peace.

“At one level he seems naive, but you have to be a believer and a dreamer, because if you don’t think like that it won’t happen.”

The group also met with Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

At that meeting, Fayyad commented that the Arab Spring has drawn attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to one of the trip participants.

“After speaking with Fayyad, the message we all left with was that the important thing is to have a big vision, while recognizing the importance of solving smaller obstacles along the way to get there,” Ofek said.

The group also met with members of an elite naval commando unit of the Israel Defense Forces, who described the controversial mission in May 2010 in which they boarded a flotilla of boats trying to break through the blockade around Gaza.

The Harvard administrators said that they came home with a new perspective on Harvard’s growing international presence.

For example, the participants talked to the president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology about the school’s plans to partner with Cornell to build a new engineering campus in New York City.

“It was interesting for us and for [Lapp] to think about how a campus approaches expansion,” Ofek said. “This is something that people discuss at the highest levels of the University.”

Despite an 11-item pre-trip reading list, along with panel talks, meetings, and a reception for Harvard alumni during the journey, the participants found time to see national landmarks, visiting the ancient fortress Masada, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, the city of Nazareth, and the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“It really was a whirlwind,” Segel said. “All of us came away having learned something new.”

—Staff writer Michael C. George can be reached at

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