A picture of Representative Janice D. Schakowsky
Janice S.
Democrat IL 9

About Rep. Janice
  • Science Diplomacy in the Middle East

    by Representative Janice D. Schakowsky

    Posted on 2013-02-14

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    SCHAKOWSKY of illinois in the house of representatives Thursday, February 14, 2013 Ms. SCHAKOWSKY. Mr. Speaker, 2013 will mark the 10th anniversary of a unique and historical gathering of scientists from 15 Middle East countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and United Arab Emirates. In 2003, the first conference, ``Frontier of Chemical Sciences: Research and Education in the Middle East--A Bridge to Peace,'' was held on the Mediterranean island of Malta. These conferences later came to be known as ``The Malta Conferences.'' In each of the conferences, scientists meet for five days with six Nobel Laureates to work on scientific issues of importance to the region: Air and Water Quality, Alternative Energy Sources, Nanotechnology and Material Science, Medicinal Chemistry, and Science Education for All Levels. Since 2003, five conferences were held. By invitation from UNESCO, Malta V was held at UNESCO's Headquarters in Paris in December 2011. The conference was opened by the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and followed by a speech by HRH Prince Hassan of Jordan on his vision for the new Middle East.

    Although acts of war and terrorism have destabilized the political and economic climate in the Middle East and around the world, it remains possible for scientists from opposing sides of the political and cultural conflict to meet in an attempt to forge relationships that bridge the deep chasms of distrust and intolerance.

    In the Middle East, it is especially important that stable, mutually respectful, personal relationships be created that will enhance research interactions and collaborations, contribute to a more peaceful atmosphere, encourage international development, help establish a more favorable environment for regional peace and security, and foster further growth in regional scientific and technological cooperation. This is the goal of the Malta Conferences.

    In 2012, the Malta Conferences Foundation was established as a nonprofit organization and my great friend and constituent Zafra Lerman was elected its president. Like other people who foster social change, she too had a dream. The fulfillment of this dream was the Malta Conferences.

    Zafra Lerman is a world-renowned scientist and science educator. She received her Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and conducted research on isotope effects at Cornell University, Northwestern University, and at the Swiss Polytechnic in Zurich, Switzerland. Professor Lerman developed an innovative approach of teaching science to non-science majors by integrating science with the arts, and with students' personal interests and cultural backgrounds. These methods have received national and international recognition. She has been invited to lecture on her methods all over the U.S. and around the world.

    For the past 25 years, she has worked tirelessly on behalf of dissidents all over the world. She chaired the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights for the American Chemical Society (ACS). At great risk to her personal safety, she has worked within the Soviet Union, China and other countries and has succeeded in preventing executions, releasing prisoners of conscience from jail and bringing dissidents into freedom.

    Professor Lerman has received many national and international awards. In 1999, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Clinton. In 1998, she received the Kilby Laureate Award for extraordinary contribution to society through science, [[Page E157]] technology, invention, innovation and education. In 2003, she was the recipient of the American Chemical Society's (ACS) Parsons Award in recognition of outstanding public service to society through chemistry. The Royal Society of Chemistry in England awarded her the 2005 Nyholm Award, and the New York Academy of Sciences presented her with the 2005 Heinz Pagels Human Rights for Scientists Award. She received the 2007 George Brown Award for International Scientific Cooperation from the U.S. Civilian Research & Development Foundation (CRDF). In 2011, she received an award for Stimulating Collaborations and Ensuring Human Rights by the International Conference on Chemistry for Mankind in India.

    The capstone of her career is her work on the Malta Conferences. The Malta Conferences are the only platform where scientists from 15 Middle East countries are collaborating and cooperating on scientific issues as well as developing professional and personal relationships with each other. The common language of science is used for science diplomacy, which serves as a bridge to peace, tolerance and understanding in the Middle East and improves the relationships between the Muslim countries and the U.S., and between the Arabs, Iranians and Israelis.


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