Twenty-first century humankind has come to rely on computers, but how do we know computers are reliable?
In large part, we know because of the work of Amir Pnueli, a pioneering Israeli computer scientist and logician. Born in prestate Israel in 1941, Pnueli earned degrees from the Technion and Weizmann Institute. In 1973 he founded the computer science department at Tel Aviv University and, after a return to Weizmann, joined the faculty at NYU.
Pnueli won the A.M. Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of computer science, for his work on temporal logic and verification. Pnueli was able to help programmers evaluate the truthfulness of systems over time. His breakthrough enabled chip makers to verify the reliability of silicon chips across millions of calculations, and programmers to minimize the bugs in their software.
Dr. Pnueli died this week, succumbing to a brain hemorrhage at 68. His death and, more importantly, his life are worth noting in their own right. But we can’t help also noting that the seminal contributions of a native-born Israeli researcher were once again in the news at a time when anti-Israel forces are pushing hard for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions.
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology hotly debated just such a boycott before administrators came to their senses last week and voted unanimously to reject the notion. Meanwhile promoters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine keep at it. By seeking to isolate Israel, they think, or at least pretend, that they are bringing Israelis and Palestinians closer to the peace both sides deserve. Instead, like the framers of the odious Zionism equals racism resolution, they only succeed in making Israelis feel more isolated and less inclined to risk their hard-fought security or inflame internal political turmoil for uncertain diplomatic promises from sworn enemies.
While the Norwegians’ rejection of the boycotters is welcome, the drumbeat of isolation works its own perverse logic: To even entertain a debate about whether a country deserves a place at the table of nations somehow suggests that it is a debate worth having. It holds Israeli history and society — its people, it accomplishments, its problems, its very reality — hostage to the simplistic notion that only Israel is responsible for an intractable status quo. It absolves Palestinians and their allies and enablers of any responsibility for their dismal and ineffective track record of state- and confidence-building.
Yes, war and conflict, politics and paralysis are part of the Israeli story. But so too are its disproportionate contributions to the advancement of humankind. Located in a neighborhood where academic inquiry and scientific progress are too often devalued and impeded by desperate, corrupt leaders and backward-looking clerics, Israel provides a vision of the Mideast’s future, not its warring or destitute past.