Controversy At The Wall Heightened; Controversy On Holcombe Lessened

By

Leonard Zwelling

Isabel Kershner does an excellent job outlining the latest dispute roiling Israel where politics and religion clash on a regular basis.

For those of you who do not know, the Western Wall in Jerusalem is the last vestiges of the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD. It is the holiest place on Earth at which Jews pray and for years the Wall or Kotel has been controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Jerusalem. There has been a vibrant movement to open up a section of the Wall to the other Jewish denominations, thus allowing men and women to pray together. This was about to happen when Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, decided at the last moment to cave in to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox members of his fragile parliamentary coalition and stop the implementation of the plan to open a section of the Wall to non-Orthodox Jewish governance.

Reform and Conservative Jews around the world, especially in the US, are outraged. Many of them are strong supporters of the state of Israel and that includes the giving of a lot of money. What a dilemma! It appears that politics trumped inclusiveness on this one. The ultra-Orthodox will support no compromise. They want what they want and they are quite certain of their right to demand adherence to their beliefs. Sound familiar?

The stance of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem is reminiscent of the stance of the FORDs at MD Anderson. The Friends of Ron DePinho demanded absolute loyalty to the great man and his Moon Shot nonsense and lo be he or she who would not pledge allegiance to the FORDs. Many a division head and department chair found himself or herself exiled to the West Bank of Holcombe during the DePinho years and even the latest changes in the org chart are insufficient to regain the sense of common purpose that used to imbue Anderson and which began being lost fifteen years ago and was accelerated in 2011.

That being said, unlike the leadership of Israel, the current leadership of Anderson is trying to regain the sense of wholeness that once so characterized life at Anderson.

These leaders have made a great start with these latest organizational changes and I anticipate additional ones are coming, but it will not be enough to just shove all the FORDs out of town, which is a necessary, but insufficient long-overdue first step.

A new president must be named. He or she needs to articulate a new vision, a new direction, and a new strategy if life at MD Anderson is to resemble what was once planned for the Kotel. That will be a plan for inclusiveness for all in the common striving for cancer care excellence and research elegance. This has been lacking since at least 2001 and the repair process has just recently begun.

I truly believe that the current leadership of MD Anderson ought to be given a great deal of credit for making the tough calls and making them well. There will be more decisions that need to be made before the road to recovery can be paved by the new leader. But let’s be thankful for the fact that the current leadership of MD Anderson is a lot more thoughtful and far more constructive than either the current leader of Israel or the immediate past leader of Anderson.

My previous supervisor Dr. Kripke always said that “hope is not a strategy.” She was right. Mr. Netanyahu’s politics first strategy is destructive and hopeless. It will only serve to further divide Jews at a time when the opposite is needed—especially in Israel where the West Bank issue and the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement are still alive and well, especially on American college campuses. This is no time for petty fights for short-term local political gain. But that, it appears, is what Mr. Netanyahu has chosen.

On Holcombe we have arrived at a place—finally—where the leaders of the institution, their administrative reports and the faculty and staff are ready to welcome a new president and new period of cooperation. That will work only if everyone is included. The new leaders of Anderson are asking for this exactly. They deserve support. Let’s hope the new president of MD Anderson is as deserving as the current leadership appears to be.

And let’s hope that new leader arrives soon via a transparent process that includes input from all of the constituents of any MD Anderson leader.

Leonard Zwelling