Business Education as a Bridge to Peace
By Tallie Lieberman
Dr. Basila Kattouf, a student in TAU’s Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship MBA Program at the School of Management, dreams of getting his start-up company off the ground.
Kattouf is one of 13 recipients of Whitman Family Scholarships this year, part of the Whitman Family Center for Coexistence established at the School of Management by TAU benefactor and Honorary Doctor Martin J. Whitman of New York. The scholarships are directed at minority and underrepresented groups who wish to study in one of TAU's top-ranked MBA programs. High-achieving Palestinian, Israeli-Arab, Druze, Ethiopian-born Israeli and Jewish ultra-Orthodox students are all eligible.
Originally from Nazareth and currently living in Haifa, Kattouf says that his scholarship helped him gain the business skills and build the network he needs to meet his goals. But it also advanced his social outlook: "Personally, and as an Arabic-speaking citizen, it was important for me to join such a program in order to promote coexistence in Israel. Interactions with friends and colleagues here increase the chances of living together in harmony," Kattouf says.
Reducing social gaps
Whitman Family Scholarship recipient Fuad Atila, who grew up in Beit-Jann, a Druze village in the Upper Galilee region of Israel, believes that "this kind of financial assistance can really reduce social gaps between the different communities in Israel. He adds, "The Whitman Family Center makes it possible for me to pursue an MBA at Israel’s leading business school and inspires me to believe in the value of giving. I hope and trust that, one day, and it won’t be long, I too will be able to help students obtain their education, just as the Whitman Family Center has helped me."
The scholarships not only foster high-level academics, coexistence and social responsibility, but they also raise recipients' self-confidence. After a decade in medical research and development, scholarship recipient Maya Mustafa, from Kfar Kana in the Galilee, decided to take her career in a new direction, and, according to her, the Whitman Family Center facilitated this change. "Now I believe that I can be an entrepreneur, a self-starter, too," she says.
The center is at the heart of Martin J. Whitman’s long-time dream of peace and coexistence in the Middle East. At 91, Whitman, the founder of the New York investment firm Third Avenue Management, is determined to make his mark in the region. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Whitman said, “I’m like everyone else involved in the Middle East; it’s been 60 to 70 years of disappointment. It’s good enough to help people.”
Whitman was inspired to help minority students by his childhood experiences in the Bronx and by his service in the Navy.
Born in Crown Heights, Whitman later moved to the West Bronx, where he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School. Throughout his years in the Bronx, the family faced anti-Semitism. Later, during World War II, Whitman was stationed at an ammunition depot in Hastings, Nebraska, where he was one of 10 white sailors out of thousands of black sailors, who, he told the Journal, “were utterly mistreated in every possible way.”
Whitman used his GI Bill to get a degree in economics from Syracuse University, and today the Syracuse University School of Management is named for him. Mr. Whitman and his wife, Lois, support scholarships for African-American and Latino students at various universities and law schools throughout the US.
He and Lois established a major scholarship fund for Israeli-Arab students at TAU in 2006, before making the gift of a center.
The Dean of the TAU School of Management, Prof. Moshe Zviran, says, "Thanks to the center, we are able to help build the educational and managerial foundation for a liberal and democratic Israel that lives in peace with itself and, ultimately, with its neighbors."
According to Prof. Zviran, there are two rules underlying the scholarship program: No compromise on academic excellence and no politics in the classroom. "The idea," said Prof. Zviran, "is that students learn to work and grow together, and to parlay this experience into business collaboration."
Yonatan Touval, Director of Strategic Development at the School of Management, who oversees the program, says, “The scholarships, along with the center’s coexistence activities, underscore our commitment to a pluralistic society that values the richness of human experience.”