The Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies presented its UCLA Israel Studies Award to the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin. The award was conferred on Rivlin in recognition of his leadership celebrating the diversity of Israeli society and promoting inclusiveness, tolerance and understanding.

The award was presented by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block during a ceremony held Feb. 18. Soraya Nazarian, co-founder of the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, and Sharon Nazarian, chair of the center’s community advisory board, joined in bestowing this honor in front of invited guests at the Chancellor’s residence. The center, which is part of the UCLA International Institute, promotes the study of modern Israel at UCLA and beyond.

“President Rivlin has worked tirelessly to strengthen the unity of Israeli society while giving respect to every distinct group within it,” said Dov Waxman, director of the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and holder of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Endowed Chair in Israel Studies. “He has celebrated the mosaic of Israeli society and championed the values of coexistence, tolerance, equality and civility — and he’s done so because of his firm commitment to ensuring Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The UCLA Israel Studies Award recognizes individuals of extraordinary character and merit in their chosen fields, whether in academia, public service, business or the arts, who have contributed to a greater understanding of Israel and have made outstanding contributions to Israeli society or culture.  

“In a period when Israeli society often seems deeply, even dangerously fractured, when Israeli politics is deadlocked, and Israeli democracy itself is under stress, President Rivlin has been the leading voice in Israel calling for shared citizenship, social inclusion, civil discourse and respect for democratic norms,” Waxman said.

A statesman, Rivlin has a long and distinguished career in public service and has advocated on behalf of minority communities, particularly Arab citizens of Israel. Rivlin was elected the 10th president of the State of Israel on June 10, 2014, after having served as speaker of the Knesset and as a cabinet minister.

“The Israelis and Palestinians are not doomed to live together,” Rivlin said. “It is our destiny, and we can do it by creating confidence between the two people. We have to believe them, and they have to believe us.”

The UCLA Israel Studies Award has only been presented two times before, to Aharon Barak, the former chief justice of Israel’s supreme court, who received the award in 2007, and Israeli author Amos Oz, in 2015.

“UCLA is proud to have numerous relationships with Israeli educational and cultural institutions, and we are honored to have President Rivlin visit our campus,” Block said at the award ceremony. “I am especially proud that the Nazarian Center is a vital presence at UCLA helping us all understand the depth and complexity of Israel’s history, society and culture.”

The Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA sponsors courses for students, supports research in the academic field of Israel studies, and organizes frequent public programs, including conferences, lectures, discussions, performances, films and exhibits. The center also hosts visiting academics, and brings leading scholars, policymakers and artists to UCLA. Located in Los Angeles, which boasts the second-largest Jewish and Israeli communities in the United States, the Nazarian Center was established in 2010 as the first full-fledged Israel studies center on the West Coast. 

“This center is an expression of the deep belief that education is the key to promoting change,” Rivlin said. “This is a belief that I share with all my heart. It is at the heart of my efforts to address one of Israel’s greatest challenges today. Israel is a success story — yes, we can say a miracle. But if we want to preserve this miracle, we must keep Israeli society united. There is no other way.”