Was the Rector there or wasn’t he? And what exactly did he have to say, if anything?
An extensive article, accompanied by a picture, appeared in the Egyptian weekly, Akher Sa’ah; and Cairo’s English-language Al-Ahram weekly carried two long quotations at the end of its column on the event.

But one opposition paper, Akhbar, did not even mention that Israel, let alone the academic head of the University of Haifa, was represented at the conference. Another, Aharar, under the headline, “Israeli Audacity,” severely criticized what it called the Rector’s “education for territory” program for Palestinians. Still another Cairo weekly, Roz-al-Yusof, wrote of a virtual debate that the Rector conducted with the President of Cairo University. The opposition newspaper Al-Wafd headlined its story, “Stormy Debate over Normalization at Conclusion of International Council of Universities,” mentioned Shechter’s name (and affiliation) as one of the session’s participants, quoted from the others but never mentioned that he spoke.

The newsphoto, of course, proved that the University’s Rector, Prof. Mordechai Shechter, did indeed take an active part in the conference of the International Association of University Presidents, a gathering of 150 heads of universities from 42 countries in the Egyptian city of Aswan from February 16-19. They were there to discuss how universities can help in promoting peace and solving conflicts. The quotations above demonstrate why the director of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, Sasson Samekh, later wrote that the Rector’s appearance caused reverberations in Israel’s neighbor to the south.

Shechter, it turned out, was the only Israeli invited to speak. The invitation had been extended by the vice president of Suez Canal University, who is chairman of the Association’s Middle East and Africa section. Shechter spoke at the sixth session, devoted to “Contribution of Universities to the Processes of Peace in the Middle East.” Sharing the dais with him were the presidents of Cairo University and of Al-Azhar University in Gaza and an ambassador. The audience was packed with presidents and vice presidents of Egyptian and African universities as well as observers from the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Perhaps the reason for the animated question and answer period following Shechter’s talk was his last-minute decision to deviate from his prepare lecture and to speak of the relative freeze--”perhaps even almost a boycott,” in his description--prevailing in academic relations between Israel and Egypt. The Rector felt that the discussion of this issue produced intimations by Egyptian representatives questioning such a policy, which he attributed more to internal Egyptian politics. “At any rate, the discussion ended in good spirit, with warm handshakes all around,” Shechter said.

Although Shechter did not expect any immediate practical results from his visit to Egypt, he said that the University’s activity, through its Jewish-Arab Center and other projects, in advancing peace and cultivating Jewish-Arab co-existence in Israel, was brought to the attention of the international audience. The Rector’s hope is that his appearance at the Aswan forum will help seed future academic cooperation between the two countries.

The previous month Shechter had traveled north to represent the University in another Middle East country--Turkey. The guest of that non-Arab Moslem nation’s council for higher education, the Rector crossed the country in visiting eight Turkish universities, whose heads all expressed a firm desire, he said, to deepen relations with Israeli institutions. He said that Israel is viewed in Turkey as an advanced Western state, whose aid is sought as Turkish universities, with their liberal orientation, try to fend off the fundamentalist tide sweeping over the country with the new regime.

The University last year signed an agreement with the Mid-East Technical University of Ankara for joint research and exchanges of staff and students. The Rector said he would like to expand ties with Turkish institutions to the extent that resources allow.

Back to Table of Contents