Ben-Gurion University of the Negev bestowed honorary doctoral degrees on six distinguished individuals during the 53rd annual Board of Governors Meeting on the Marcus Family Campus in Beer-Sheva on Tuesday evening. They included global health activist Dr. Chelsea Clinton, noted philanthropist Patrick Drahi, and former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein.
The six recipients included (in alphabetical order): Global Health Advocate Dr. Chelsea Clinton, philanthropist Patrick Drahi, water engineer Prof. Menachem Elimelech, philanthropist Esther Halperin, plant biologist Dr. Segenet Kelemu, and Justice Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein.
Above left to right: Chairperson of BGU's Board of Governors Lloyd Goldman, Esther Halperin, Justice Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein, Dr. Chelsea Clinton, BGU Rector Prof. Chaim Hames, BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz, Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Prof. Menachem Elimelech, and Yarom Ariav, chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors.
Dr. Clinton praised the University and its philosophy, "I am proud to be receiving this honorary degree from an institution that understands the importance of forging a connection between the questions we ask, the research we conduct, what we teach our students, and that we hopefully empower our students to go out and do in the world.
"The work that I am fortunate to do in all parts of my life is not particularly quiet. That doesn't mean that it's brash, I hope it's not boastful, but it has a fierce quality of purpose, as I know this is true of so many of the academics, researchers, and students who are pursuing their purpose here at BGU. And I know that none of the work that I'm lucky enough to do, which is based on science, research, evidence, and responsive to ongoing scientific research and evolving evidence would be possible without our academic partners.
“When David Ben-Gurion founded this university, I do not know that he could have foreseen all the work that BGU would support, catalyze, and inspire. It is indeed fitting that BGU calls itself an agent of change because the status quo everywhere doesn't work as well as it should for everyone. And since its first doors opened, I have no doubt that students, faculty, and alums here have been working to change that status quo.
“The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice because of the relentless determination of every generation that forced it to do so. It is wonderful to be in the company and in the community of so many people who are committed to bending that arc," she concluded.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz welcomed the honorees, "All of you dear laurates, citizens of the world from diverse fields of activity, embody the spirit of constant innovation and reinvention. You make a profound difference in the world, and I have no doubt that David Ben-Gurion would have been referring to you when he spoke of pioneers, and of the pioneering spirit capable of guiding them.
"Ben-Gurion understood that change is the essence of life, and that, in his words "the world does not stop for a moment." These insights highlight the importance of constant renewal in every aspect of life.
"You, the women and men, on whom will be bestowed the doctora honoras causa in a few minutes, are an illuminating mirror, reflecting all the basic principles that guide our way. You embody the great wealth that characterizes Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Your acceptance of an honorary degree from BGU provides us a mirror through which we hope to see a bit of ourselves, and honors our institution and what it stands for," he declared.
Rector Prof. Chaim Hames stressed the importance of democracy for academic achievement, " One of the things we pride ourselves on in Israel is our democracy which has played a central role in creating and sustaining our pluralistic society, supporting free speech and the basic premise that everyone is equal under the law. There can be no doubt that Israeli academia in general, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in particular, has achieved as much as it has thanks to a liberal democratic system that places value on education, has, in the main, supported the crucial concept of academic freedom, and has been prepared to use tax-payers money to finance basic research.
"However, these assumptions are no longer a given, and instead of focusing on how to advance our research, recruit brilliant faculty, invest in infrastructure, improve our teaching, and deal with the challenges of ChatGPT and AI, we find ourselves having to defend the foundations that are a must for us to be able to thrive as a leading academic institution. Democracy is under severe strain in Israel, and 75 years of miraculous achievements are under threat. As a university, we pride ourselves on being a community with a broad spectrum of beliefs and opinions, and we encourage people to express their views if it is done respectfully and is not seditious. In normal times, as a university, we avoid taking an official stand on political issues. However, there are times when one must stand up and be counted, and when it has been made abundantly clear that if the legislation is passed, for obvious reasons, academia is next on the list, we have a responsibility to our constituents – faculty, administrative staff, and students – to speak out loudly and clearly.
Turning to the skills a University should impart to its students, he said, "The horrendous ongoing war in Ukraine and rapid climate change are reminders that we need to broaden our students' horizons about history, philosophy, ethics, fundamentals of logic and science and other subjects which provide conceptual and ideational frameworks that can be used to evaluate and understand our world. These conversations in the classroom and elsewhere have to be part of the core of what we, as a leading university in Israel and the world, see as our mission – to improve quality of life, and we need to do that through continuously asking questions about everything, taking nothing for granted, being prepared to admit that we do not have all the answers, but that we are devoted to searching for them through continuing engagement, debate, and discussion."
Honorary doctorate recipients in alphabetical order:
Dr. Chelsea Clinton, USA
As vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, Dr. Clinton provides vision and expertise to flagship programs like the Clinton Global Initiative, a model for public-private partnerships to address today's most pressing challenges. Dr. Clinton also serves as the vice chair of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which works across more than 125 countries around the world to build and strengthen sustainable health systems.
In addition to her Foundation work, Dr. Clinton, DPHIL, MPH teaches at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and has authored several books for young readers, including the #1 New York Times bestseller She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World.
Co-Creator with her mother Secretary Hillary Clinton of the Apple TV+ series Gutsy Women - A diverse cast of trailblazing women, set out to answer the question: What exactly does it take to be a Gutsy Woman?
Patrick Drahi, Israel
One of the world's most successful businesspeople, he owns some of the largest telecommunications companies in the world in France and the US through his company Altice. He is also the owner of Sotheby's auction house. In Israel, he is the owner of the Hot cable network and the founder of I24News.
A noted philanthropist, he supports higher education initiatives through the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation (PLFA). At BGU, he supports entrepreneurship and innovation initiatives. A new building for the entrepreneurship and innovation hub, Yazamut 360, will be named after him on the North Campus.
Unfortunately, he was not able to attend in person, so his daughter Angelina accepted on his behalf.
Prof. Menachem Elimelech, USA and Israel
Born and raised in Beer-Sheva, his continuing contributions to sustainability, particularly in the fields of water and energy, have long-term implications. He is an expert on filtration technologies for the treatment and reuse of potable water and he created one of the top programs in the field at Yale University.
He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering in the US as well as the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Esther Halperin, Switzerland
She is the matriarch of a dynasty of Swiss supporters of the University. Her father-in-law Vladimir founded the Swiss Associates. She and her late husband Michel led it for many years, and now their son Lionel heads the organization.
She and Michel founded the Keren Moshe Leadership Program to strengthen Negev communities and empower future generations.
Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Ethiopia and Kenya
Dr. Kelemu is the Director General of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) located in Nairobi, Kenya.
Dr. Kelemu (a native of Ethiopia), is a molecular plant pathologist with emphasis on the elucidation of molecular determinants of host-pathogen interactions, development of novel plant disease control strategies including genetic engineering, biopesticides, pathogen population genetics and dynamics, endophytic microbes, and their role in plant development. She has experienced the challenges and successes associated with African agriculture first-hand, from tending the field to directing world-class laboratories.
She is one of the five Laureates of the 2014 L'Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards.
She is also one of the 2013 elected Fellows of the African Academy of Sciences.
Justice Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein, Israel
A distinguished jurist and diplomat who served the country for over four decades.
He is a former vice president of the Supreme Court. He also served as Israel's attorney general and a district court judge.
Before his illustrious legal career, he served as a diplomat instrumental in the peace negotiations with Egypt, the PA, and Jordan and unsuccessful negotiations with Lebanon and Syria.
He was also instrumental in the process to change the name of the University to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after David Ben-Gurion passed away.