Sunday, June 1, 2008

Conscience, Honor, Respect

What to do when your work deserves honor, when you respect the awarding group, but have your own strong views and ideals you cannot compromise, even in the face of prestige and honor?

Here is one sterling example of how to handle such a situation. A story distributed by Common Ground News Service:

US professor shares Israeli prize with Palestinians
Barbara Ferguson
WASHINGTON—Here’s a story of a man with guts... and a big heart. The recipient of one of Israel’s most prestigious prizes donated his $33,333 portion of the shared award yesterday to a Palestinian university and an Israeli human rights group that tries to ease Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinian students.

US mathematician David Mumford, a professor at Brown University’s Applied Mathematics Division, was co-winner of the Wolf Prize on Sunday for his groundbreaking theoretical work in algebraic geometry. Mumford announced yesterday he would donate his prize money to Bir-Zeit University in the West Bank and to Gisha, an Israeli lobby that works to help Palestinian students travel to their places of study.

He received the award at a ceremony on Sunday from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the Knesset in recognition of his groundbreaking theoretical work “on algebraic surfaces; on geometric invariant theory; and for laying the foundations of the modern algebraic theory of the moduli space of curves and theta functions.”

“Mathematics in Israel flourishes today on this high international plane. Its lifeblood is the free exchange of ideas with scholars visiting, teaching, learning from each other, travelling everywhere in the world,” Mumford, professor emeritus at Brown University and Harvard University, said in a statement. “But this is not so in occupied Palestine where education struggles to continue and travel is greatly limited.”

He added: “Access to education determines how the next generation of Palestinians will grow up, specifically whether potential mathematicians will have the opportunity to join the international community.”

Israel has withstood international criticism of its closures on the Gaza Strip and West Bank, saying they aim to prevent terrorist infiltrations. But these closures make it next to impossible for many Palestinian students to travel to their schools.

“Education for people in the occupied territories gives them a future. The alternative is chaos,” Mumford said, adding that his decision was not aimed at Israel. “I have tremendous regard for Israel, which is without a doubt a major force in the mathematics world. But unfortunately, the Palestinians cannot take part in this prosperity.”

“I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive,” he told Israeli daily Ha'aretz.


* Barbara Ferguson is Arab News' Washington Correspondent. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Arab News, 27 May 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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