This week, as Israel and Palestine once again made international headlines, Bridgewater State University welcomed to campus Shai Bazak, consul general of Israel in New England.
In a lecture held at the university's Dunn Conference Center, Mr. Bazak alluded to the ever-changing situation in his home region. "Everything in the Middle East is changing and no one can tell for certain what will happen next because nothing looks like it did just a few months ago," he said
The consul general centered his comments around the so-called "Arab Spring" movement which has sparked unrest and pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the Middle East - particularly in nations such as Iran and Syria -- and has resulted in successful revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
"It is clear from what we have seen that large masses of people in the Middle East want democracy, and civil rights, and liberty and freedom," he said. "Democracy is the right to speak up. Democracy supports the rights of women and gays and minorities in society who are oppressed.
"However," he continued, "this is a problem in the Middle East because even though many people want democracy, they don't want it for everyone. This is a source of much conflict and much harm and is at the root of many of our problems."
Mr. Bazak spoke directly about the current efforts by the Palestinian authority to seek recognition as a state from the United Nations. "Neither a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood nor a politicized move in the UN would resolve the issues that remain on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinians," he said. "A unilateral approach to try to solve core issues by imposing a solution that is acceptable to only one party will deepen and intensify the conflict as well as to further entrench the opposing positions."
Preceding Mr. Bazak's remarks, he was welcomed to Bridgewater by Dr. Howard London, provost and vice president of academic affairs, and Dr. Jabbar Al-Obaidi, professor in the Department of Communication Studies and coordinator of the Middle East Studies Program, which sponsored the lecture.
Mr. Bazak is a native of Jerusalem, and has served in several Israeli Defense Forces combat units. He holds a bachelor's degree in social sciences from the Israel Open University, and a master's degree, from Bar Ilan University, in public administration. He has been the consul general in New England since September, 2010, and had previously served as media director and spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu when he was the leader of the opposition party (1994-1996) and during his first term as a prime minister (1996-1998). He was the consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico (1998-2000). (Story and photo by David K. Wilson, '71, University Advancement)