Battle of the trenches: academic boycott versus… ‘Israel Studies’

On Tuesday, an article in The Guardian reported an “expansion” in Israel studies at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), as well as “a new European Association of Israel Studies (EAIS) to be launched in September”. During the course of the article, there are assurances that there is no ‘agenda’ behind these developments – repeated assurances. 

·         “efforts…to promote a more nuanced and academic understanding”

·          “an academic alternative to…‘the megaphone war’”

·         “[People] are fed-up with slogans and one-sided approaches”

·         “We have been very conscious not to be involved in this as any form of Israel advocacy”

·         “This is advocacy for Israel studies, not for Israel”

·         “a desire to counter growing politicisation of academia”

·         “scholarship should be distinct from advocacy and polemics”

·         “It’s not supposed to be some tub-thumping bastion of Zionism”

Aside from the repetition, the “counter-polarisation” spin is undermined by the fact that the article – and those quoted in it – reads like a textbook example of Israel’s “rebranding” initiative. In 2009, The Jerusalem Post reported on The Reut Institute’s recommendations for countering “delegitimization”, including advice to “brand Israel away from its image as purely a place of conflict…[and] promote Israel Studies Departments at universities”.

On their blog, Reut staff have written that “in the context of Reut’s current work on how to fight the delegitimacy of Israel, the suggestion to create chairs of Israel studies in leading UK universities could act as an important component of Israel’s strategy.” Another post affirmed that “promoting Israel studies on campus and ‘branding Israel’—a strategy aimed at associating Israel with positive characteristics unrelated to the Arab-Israeli conflict—are central to improving Israel’s international standing and countering delegitimacy.” Prof. Colin Shindler and The Pears Foundation Director Charles Keidan – both featured in The Guardian report on Israel studies – were acknowledged in Reut’s “delegitimization” report and the London-focused follow-up.

Shindler is said, in The Guardian article, to believe that “the increasing interest being shown by students in different aspects of Israel, from its politics to its art and films, is part of a drive to understand the country and people outside the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict”. This is not only similar to Reut language, but also an echo of Brand Israel strategies, with PR firms entrusted with a mission “to create a brand disconnected from the Arab-Israeli conflict that focuses instead on Israel’s scientific and cultural achievements.”

Back in 2006, Ha’aretz published an article with the title, “A different way to fight academic boycotts“, followed by the subtitle: “Jewish donors establish Israel studies centers to improve country’s image”. The report quotes Professor Ilan Troen, director of the Israel Studies Center at Brandeis University, making the link between “the academic boycott” and “the willingness of donors to give funds toward this cause”.

There are parallels here with the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX), the aim of which “is to strengthen academic cooperation between universities in the UK and Israel” (like the Israel studies’ expansion, BIRAX has received substantial financial support from The Pears Foundation). At the time of its establishment in 2008, Ben Gurion University Professor David Newman commented that BIRAX “has a great deal to do with the boycott”, with an unnamed source affirming to The Jerusalem Post that BIRAX’s focus on “junior academics” was “not coincidental” and aimed at influencing the boycott debate in the unions.

The link between BIRAX and attempts to neutralise the academic boycott movement was made explicit a number of times, including by the then UK’s Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell, in 2010 by Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis, and the current UK ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould: 

I also think the clearest possible answer to people who are calling for a boycott of Israel is to promote cooperation. So when people call for an academic boycott, we push for scientific cooperation. Just when people call for an economic boycott, we push commercial collaboration and when people call for a cultural boycott, we push cultural collaboration.

As the international BDS movement grows – particularly among students and on campuses – Israel’s advocates and defenders in the UK are doing their best to stem the tide.

About Ben White

Ben White is author of 'Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide' and 'Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, discrimination and democracy'. Follow him on twitter at @benabyad and on his website www.benwhite.org.uk.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 61 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Academic engagement is what academics is about. To impose a politically correct boycott litmus test is to oppose students and adults learning.

    I can’t believe that you advocate for the restrictive approach.

    • Citizen says:

      To set up, in effect, We Heart Israel institutions as “Israel Studies” is worse than restrictive because it’s an oxymoron. To do this in the USA does not reflect American values. Why enshrine in American academia The Big Lie? Should we put the famous painting Custer’s Last Stand back up on the wall too?

    • annie says:

      Academic engagement is what academics is about.

      wow richard that is very profound. did you plagiarize that or is it original?

      • Chaos4700 says:

        No actual academic worth his salt would be caught dead proclaiming a tautology like that with no sense of irony whatsoever, as if he was handing down an epiphany. I’m pretty confident this is all Witty.

      • Mooser says:

        “did you plagiarize that or is it original?”

        Just wait until Richard uses the “edit” function and puts quote marks around it! That’ll teach you!

    • Chaos4700 says:

      I can’t believe you advocate a siege that prevents Gazan students from studying abroad. Is that your idea of “academic engagement.”

      You write HUNDREDS of posts decrying academic boycott and yet you have absolutely nothing to say about Israel holding Palestinian education hostage. You are a demonstrable hypocrite.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Israel the I lobby in the US and in Europe etc need to understand we are not going back. They are not going to be able to shut down the debate and real negotiations no matter how they try to rebrand Israel

    • hophmi says:

      They are not going to be able to shut down the debate and real negotiations no matter how they try to rebrand Israel”

      Who’s shutting down debate, exactly? This is SOAS we’re talking about. The only people who have been shut down there are the Zionists. Repeatedly. In a school that thinks nothing of taking money from people like the Gaddafis and inviting people like Tom Paulin, who advocating shooting settlers dead, to give keynote speeches, and people like Azzam Tamimi, who supports suicide bombing.

      SOAS is the place where Gilad Atzmon was invited to speak, and called burning down a synagogue a “rational act.”

      link to guardian.co.uk

      link to guardian.co.uk

      link to guardian.co.uk

  3. seafoid says:

    Why spend 4 years of your life in university learning about a country that won’t be around in 2030 ? There are many PhDs to be written about Zionist hubris and the failure of the YESHA project.

    • Kathleen says:

      “Why spend 4 years of your life in university learning about a country that won’t be around in 2030 ?”

      Now that is extreme. Look I do not agree with the way the US, Israel came about. Killing, displacement forcing peoples off their lands etc.

      Israel is internationally recognized based on the 67 border. The longer they stall, divert, build illegal settlements on Palestinian lands. As long as apartheid methods settle into reality the more Israel threatens Israel

      • seafoid says:

        They aren’t going to be able to keep the show on the road until 2030. Kathleen. By the time the Palestinians get to vote they’ll be a sizeable majority and the first thing they’ll probably do is change the name of the country. So you’ll still have a Jewish population but you won’t have a Jewish state. They messed it up in 1967 and spent the time in between building YESHA on the Palestinian state so there could never be one and now it is too late to turn the clock back.

        I think they deserve what is coming. Israel is rancid.

        The Jewish lack of geopolitical experience and its role in the Israeli car crash would be a great PhD.

  4. MHughes976 says:

    Israel and Palestine are so closely intertwined that genuinely academic – rounded and objective – study of the one must involve study of the other too.

  5. Les says:

    Israel Studies is a fit topic for those interested in learning how occupation and ethnic cleansing work in the modern world. How could you have a serious Israel Studies course without?

    • Ellen says:

      Exactly. Any serious study of Israel will also include an examination of the Zionist policy of cleansing, its origins in ideas of race-based identity that took hold in political thought as Europe started building nation states in the 18th century. It might lead to Israeli society to facing the truth and making peace with itself and neighbors. (we are sorry. let’s move on and build a future together….)

      The current generation of Israelis does not seem to be able to go there. Israel’s future depends on the truth. Can they go there?

      • Mooser says:

        “its origins in ideas of race-based identity that took hold in political thought as Europe started building nation states in the 18th century”

        And don’t forget that their ideas about “race-based identity” were a sorry, patently self-serving pastiche of skin color, religion, ethnicity or anything else they wanted to throw into the mix, as long as the color-line came out where they wanted it.
        And Jews, having been so long, in certain ways, a victim of it, they thought it was only sensible to adopt it wholesale. After all, who better knew how it worked?
        Zionism is the ultimate assimilation!

      • seafoid says:

        Zionism isn’t suited to detailed academic study. There are too many no-go areas.

        The lying module would run over several semesters.

    • eljay says:

      >> Israel Studies is a fit topic for those interested in learning how occupation and ethnic cleansing work in the modern world.

      I expect that more than a few students will be surprised to learn that ethnic cleansing can actually be deemed a “required” evil…but only when “necessary”!

      Israel Studies: “Victorious terrorism morphs into violence and militarism long after the original war is over.”©

  6. annie says:

    “a desire to counter growing politicization of academia”

    more like a desire from universities to get lots of funding and attract students who are funded with generous scholarships. just out of curiosity i wonder how many gentiles major in israel studies?

    • hophmi says:

      You know, the hypocrisy here is ridiculous high. The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place.

      Do you think there’s an agenda behind that?

      • Chaos4700 says:

        And do those chairs have to run things by the Saudi Foreign Ministry before setting curriculum? Are those chairs members of the American-Saudi Political Action Committee? How many op-eds are they allowed to write for the NYT?

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Sit down and tune your radio, friends, for it’s time for another bracing episode of…
          Mondoweiss Theatre of the Absurd!

          hophmi: The Saudis donate money to academic programs! That’s Mooooslim hasbara!
          Chaos4700: Really? And how many of these “Saudi spokesmen” are given column space in American newspapers or write-in appointments with Congress or the White House the way AIPAC and their ilk have?
          Golden Rule: Nnnnnrg! Hypocrisity! Ignorance! Mondoweiss! Braaaains! Nnnnrg!
          Chaos4700: Oh no! The house is surrounded! Quick, help me push this dresser up against the door!

      • annie says:

        The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place.

        excuse me? the middle east is huge with centuries of history, it is not a country. israel is 63 years old with the exception of biblical studies. they don’t exactly compare. especially if one examines the glaring omission apartheid feature and 1/2 the people w/no rights.

        cough.

        • hophmi says:

          “excuse me? the middle east is huge with centuries of history, it is not a country. israel is 63 years old with the exception of biblical studies. they don’t exactly compare. especially if one examines the glaring omission apartheid feature and 1/2 the people w/no rights.”

          Excuse yourself. What does the age of Israel have to do with it? The United States is younger than most European and Asian societies. Do you think that makes it less important?

          Most intelligent people, outside of partisans like yourself, recognize that there is more to Israel than the Arab-Israeli conflict.

          By the way, Saudi Arabia dates from the twentieth century, as do most Middle Eastern countries.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Oooh! Yes, hophmi, let us talk about 20th century Euro-colonialism! PERFECT context for addressing Israel’s founding.

        • Mooser says:

          “outside of partisans”

          You want to have a state, there wull be partisans. Get used to it.

          Frightening, really frightening the way Zionists think they can either just close their eyes, or just make a fist a snarl, and reality goes away. The niavete is frightening. And the idea that can use the Jewish religion as a cover and excuse for the actions of Israel is disgusting. They have taken Judaism hostage and will kill it before it’s all over

      • Ellen says:

        There is a difference between support of Middle Eastern Studies (which includes studies of the modern Israeli state) and support of Israeli studies. Can you please name for us a single chair in Middle Eastern Studies “all over the place” funded by a Saudi Prince?

        In more recent years some schools have received private financial support for ME studies. But none of these departments were started by “Saudi princes.” And all financial support is hands off. W&M (William and Mary) recently built up a department of ME Studies and it includes much study of the modern ME, including Israel and courses on Jewish Thought. (RELG 211: Introduction to the History of Jewish Thought )

        Georgetown (another bastion of future government wonks) was the first US University to establish a center for Contemporary Arab Studies — an off shoot of the department of Foreign Service.

        “In recognition of the Center’s work for the first 10 years, Senator J. William Fulbright wrote in 1985, “With remarkable foresight Georgetown University moved to fill the need for understanding the Arab people by creating the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies…a significant contribution to our country.”

        (We all know what happened to Fulbright after he held hearings to have the American Zionist Council—funded by the Jewish Agency in Israel, and parent to AIPAC—register as the agent of a foreign government.)

        Please detail to us about the Saudi Princes and other elites who have funded chairs all over the place…..and the agenda?

        Perhaps it is to educate a generation of Americans in an important region of the world were the West is so ignorant. Isn’t that reason enough?

        • Mooser says:

          Hophmi, I am so glad the capital punishment is being repealed in state after state! After all, what if I had a parking ticket and you were the only defense counsel available?

        • Mooser says:

          Well, I gotta give Hophmi credit for idealism. After all, the idea that Israel should be judged by the actions of Saudi Princes does show us he has only the highest standards for Israel.

        • eljay says:

          >> After all, the idea that Israel should be judged by the actions of Saudi Princes does show us he has only the highest standards for Israel.

          It seems to be a common theme among Israel’s defenders: Israel may not be as good as the best but, hey, it’s better than the worst!

        • Mooser says:

          “hey, it’s better than the worst!”

          That’s a pretty generous reading of it. As far as I can see, hophmi is always sayiong that Jews have the right, in fact they have an obligation to be as bad as the worst.

      • Keith says:

        HOPHMI- “The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place.”

        Interesting comment. Are you not aware that the retrograde regime in Saudi Arabia is a covert ally of Israel?

  7. annie says:

    they could offer courses on

    1. occupation 101
    2. administrative detention
    3. expansion thur religious fanatics
    4. military justice via assassination squads
    5. apartheid studies
    6. bulldozing, village removal and planting over
    7. expansion thru negotiation

    just for starters.

    • Chaos4700 says:

      They won’t have time for all of that! Half the class will be tied up at the door of every class period, being strip searched because of the color of their student IDs.

      • Mooser says:

        I’d like to thank you two, and assure you proper credit will be given to you when my plans for the 2012 Israeli Olympics, with a list of events, is published.

        • annie says:

          for the 2012 Israeli Olympics, with a list of events, is published.

          special youth events include

          bulldozer competitions
          olive tree burning
          child humiliation, arrests, torture and multilation (includes use of dogs, check kate’s list on front page for reference)

    • seafoid says:

      The chair in Israeli studies should look like this :

      link to uprootedpalestinian.files.wordpress.com

      The prisoner legs are tied to a small stool and his hands are tied behind his back with a bag covering his head sometimes for more than 48 hours continuously in which he is given only 5 minute breaks between each sitting. During interrogation periods the prisoner is usually not allowed to sit in a normal sitting position but is forced to crouch down. Also the prisoner is tied to a circle within the wall while standing or he is seated on a small stool and his hands are tied behind his back to a table which is higher thereby forcing his shoulders and arms to stay in a raised position.

  8. Ellen says:

    Doesn’t Middle Eastern Studies already include this?

    “Middle Eastern Studies is a comparative and interdisciplinary major that focuses on the culture, geography, law, history, and religion of the vast, diverse, and politically pivotal region of the world that extends generally from North Africa to Central Asia and from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. If you choose to major in Middle Eastern Studies, you’ll learn about the ancient history of this area and, especially, about the emergence of Islam and what has happened since. You’ll study and compare the texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and you’ll see how they are very different yet closely intertwined with one another. ”

    link to princetonreview.com

    A student can concentrate his or her efforts onto studying Israel if they want. Am sure some already do this.

    Serious academics are unlikely to be turned into a vehicle for Hasbara. Funding and building departments of Israel studies (about as relevant as creating a department in Swiss Studies) may backfire in creating “brand Israel.”

    For faith-based ideological “academics” we have schools like Liberty University.

    • hophmi says:

      “Doesn’t Middle Eastern Studies already include this?”

      Not anymore than a European History department would include a specific French Studies department. Yet, both exist.

      • Walid says:

        Israel BIRAXing, branding, re-branding and re-re-branding itself as much as it wants, it won’t give it the legitimacy it craves.

      • Ellen says:

        Well, there are no “French Studies” departments under a history department. There are French Departments, Spanish, German and few others — only two departments of Scandinavian studies in the US. These are usually quite small and ill funded, scrambling for students.

        These departments are becoming more and more interdisciplinary just to survive — connecting with the history, language, political science. More and more students with esoteric interests build their own curriculum, even.

        Israel is a country of about 7 million people. Hebrew is a successfully revived language. If enough money is thrown at it and enough students flock to “Israeli Studies” it will fly.

        The chances of that happening (as a legitimate isolated discipline) are about as great as starting a successful department in “Dutch Studies.”

        • hophmi says:

          “Well, there are no “French Studies” departments under a history department. There are French Departments, Spanish, German and few others — only two departments of Scandinavian studies in the US. These are usually quite small and ill funded, scrambling for students. ”

          Here’s a list of Israel Studies departments. I count 11 in the US, including Touro and Brandeis, both Jewish institutions. And outside of Columbia, there are no ivys on the list. The rest are simply endowed chairs, not departments.

          link to aisisraelstudies.org

          A simple web search will show there are several times that number of French Studies program, including at Brown, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, Princeton, and UPenn. And if you examine the courses, it is more than French language. And it is not clear to me at all that these programs scramble for students and funding anymore than an Israel studies program would.

        • Ellen says:

          hophmi, you are repeating what was already said. I.e. if you examine the courses it is more than the French language.

          Besides, we are talking about departments where a student can major and get a degree in the said study, not various institutes and chairs and study centers and lecture series that come and go. But As for your simple web search list of all the Israeli Studies Departments….

          1. The University of Maryland (College Park outside of Washington) is the only University (and a state supported one at that) that has a very recently established department of Israeli studies, where one can get a MINOR in Israeli only studies. Not even a full department. There must be enough demand around Washington for this minor.

          link to israelstudies.umd.edu

          2. Others are endowed and supported chairs for courses. Ie. the Mirowski Family Visiting Scholars program at Temple. It is a course.

          “Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, said he’s eager to see these scholars not only teaching students to better understand Israel, but also influencing the academic culture at Temple. ”

          link to jewishexponent.com

          The grant at Temple ran out in 2010. It does not look like it has been renewed.

          Not only is the information on the Temple U. web site now outdated, when you click on the link from your source, one gets
          an ad for “sizzling hot chats.”

          3. Cal State (CHICO) program does not exist anymore.

          4. Emory is not a major, does not give a degree, “ISMI is not an academic department nor does it confer a degree or award scholarships.”

          It is an endowed institute, receiving support from the ADL and the Israeli Consulate among other sources.

          5. U. of Denver’s institute (again not a studies program) mission is to “Promote Peace between Israel and her neighbors through research, education and dialog.” (So in other words, defining Israeli studies through ongoing conflict.) The only program there is an interfaith peace project. Highlights of visiting scholars are Richard North Patterson author of “In the Name of Honor.”

          From the plug for his book: “Home from Iraq, a lieutenant kills his commanding officer—was it self-defense or premeditated murder? An enthralling novel of suspense about the high cost of war and secrets…”

          6. Columbia does not have an Israeli Studies, but a broad degree granting program ” based in four departments: Jewish history in the Department of History; Hebrew language and literature in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures;…”

          7. The Schusterman Center for Israel at Brandeis is not a department, but host scholars, authors, etc. It is a center living off a family foundation.

          8. At NYU and under the department of Hebrew and Judaic studies is

          “The Taub Center for Israel Studies was established in 2003 with the support of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, to advance the study of Modern Israel: its recent history, society and politics, together with the history of the Zionist movement and the Yishuv. ”

          Not to demean any of these initiatives, but as you asked yourself, “Do you think there’s an agenda behind that?”

          There is a big difference between these initiatives and established Departments of Middle East Studies.

        • hophmi says:

          I’m not sure what your point is. You seem to prove that, as I said, there are really not that many Israel studies programs out there. So you appear to have proven that the academic study of Israel is underrepresented, and is thus deserving of further research, just like other cultural studies classes.

          Seems to me that those mentioned in the Guardian article are doing precisely what you say they should, creating an endowment for studies of Israel that define it as something other than a protagonist in a conflict.

          An Israel Studies department could, in addition to politics courses, include course in literature, startup development, small-state development, economics, art, and a broad swath of humanities.

        • Ellen says:

          Hophmi, the point is you twist things over and over, actually distorting and lying. I made the point that any concentrated Department of Israeli studies has little chance of legitimate success of survival and ongoing purpose and then you answer:

          “Here’s a list of Israel Studies departments. I count 11 in the US,..”

          A look at your list confirmed what I said. Your list does not have a SINGLE Department of Israeli studies. The closest is the initiative to start such a department at the U. of Maryland, where one can get a minor (not even a degree). Other than that, these are privately funded chairs (not permanent) or lecture programs. Some from your list do not even exist anymore.

          The point is:

          you make statements like ““Do you think there’s an agenda behind that?” referring to legitimate and established Departments of Middle Eastern Studies (which should and often do include study of the Israeli State) but you ignore the private money flowing into these chairs and lecture programs to, for example,

          “with the support of the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, to advance the study of Modern Israel: its recent history, society and politics, together with the history of the Zionist movement and the Yishuv. ”

          My point is:

          You attempt to delegitimize Departments of Middle Eastern Studies by stating “The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place.”

          My point is any legitimate work in Israeli Studies will be part of a Department of Middle Eastern Studies and study of Modern Middle Eastern History, society, literature, etc. Not a Zionist project throwing money at Universities.

        • hophmi says:

          “My point is any legitimate work in Israeli Studies will be part of a Department of Middle Eastern Studies and study of Modern Middle Eastern History, society, literature, etc. Not a Zionist project throwing money at Universities”

          I don’t see any basis for that opinion. Zionism and Israel are legitimate topics of study, no less so if someone endows a chair in either of these subjects, just as Iraq or Syria or France or England are legitimate topics of study, no less so if someone endow a chair in these subjects.

          “You attempt to delegitimize Departments of Middle Eastern Studies by stating “The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place.””

          I haven’t delegitimized any of these departments. I have simply stated the fact that Arab elites do endow chairs at major universities all over the world (such as Prince Alaweed’s endowment at Harvard for a chair in Islamic Studies or the Gaddafi’s contribution to SOAS). You seem defensive about this.

          Mostly Ellen, you seem only to prove that Ben White’s post is fearmongering distortion, reminding us that not only is there not a campaign to create Israel Studies programs around the West, but that what some refer to as “Israel Studies” is really just a few endowed chairs.

        • Ellen says:

          Man, you keep changing the discussion and deny what you said and points you were making.

          “Here’s a list of Israel Studies departments..”

          So now we agree the so called Israel Studies programs in the west are really just a few endowed chairs and programs. NO DEPARTMENTS.

          Absolutely Zionism is a worthy subject of study.

          Will a legitimate academic pursuit of an exploration of Zionism help brand Israel as likely intended by the patrons of this study area?

          I think IF I said something like:

          “Influential Israelis and Jewish elites are funding Zionist Studies all over the place….” it would be ridiculous, not honest or even fair. It would be a weak attempt to ridicule and deligitimize these programs.

          But you said, “The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place. ” And then asked about the agenda behind it?

          You were not stating facts, but distorting.

          So Alaweed endows programs in Islamic studies. How is that different from the many Judaic studies? Both sound good to me.

        • hophmi says:

          Actually, you seem to have misunderstood my original point. My original point was that there are very few Israel Studies programs, a point you amplified by saying that most of these programs were actually little more than endowed chairs. I made this point in response to the post, which suggested the opposite was true.

          “I think IF I said something like:

          “Influential Israelis and Jewish elites are funding Zionist Studies all over the place….” it would be ridiculous, not honest or even fair. It would be a weak attempt to ridicule and deligitimize these programs.”

          No, it would just be false.

        • Ellen says:

          Yes, hophmi, false, or “not honest” as I said. (Is English a second or third language for you?)

          Just like your false statement:

          “The Saudi princes, among other elites in the Arab world, have funded chairs in Middle Eastern Studies all over the place. “

  9. MHughes976 says:

    SOAS offers a multiplicity of courses, but its idea of ‘ME studies’ does include some modules that involve the Israel-Palestine relationship. SOAS seems, from its course structure and the tone of its publications, rather like an ultra- liberal Zionist citadel – ‘it’s a complicated problem, both sides have a point’. The precinct used to be festooned with rival ‘Palestine Society’ and ‘Israel Society’ posters – this war of placards seems to have been cooled. I have visited the SOAS bookshop quite often and there things do seem weighted to the Palestinian side, perhaps because of what the majority of students believe and are prepared to spend money on. A fiercely pro-Palestinian conference on ‘settler colonialism’ was organised there recently by the Palestinian Society. So the liberal Zionist cause, even if it reflects the institutional viewpoint, seems to be quite embattled.

  10. Citizen says:

    “promoting Israel studies on campus and ‘branding Israel’—a strategy aimed at associating Israel with positive characteristics unrelated to the Arab-Israeli conflict—are central to improving Israel’s international standing and countering delegitimacy.”

    Do American Studies include the less positive characteristics of America?
    Does the study of Western Civilization include same?

    Does any current collegiate Culture Studies course, for example, Jewish Culture, study the wonderful and the warts of said culture? When I was an undergrad in Chicago I took a course in Jewish Culture Studies; the professor was a Reform Rabbi associated with the Spertucus (sic?) Museum–the course theme interwove the ideas of Hegel and Maimomides, for example, and taught that Judiasm was “a portable culture.” The rabbi was a handsome guy, and very dynamic. He made a snap decision on my term paper, but when I explained it a bit, he erased my D and gave me an A. The paper was about the logical impact of the intellectual 20th Century french writer Robbe-Grillet’s literary work on Judiasm, that is, on the Torah.

  11. seafoid says:

    I think any attempt to rebrand Israel via academia is going to run into the numbers problem. Outside the Jewish community there just aren’t enough people who care and a lot of younger Jews are turning away. Perhaps Israel still has the Rapture faithful but they aren’t university material.
    And it is going to get worse as Israel drives deeper into out and out apartheid. The discord between how Israel sees itself and how the world sees Israel can only intensify.

  12. Jim Holstun says:

    The worrying thing is the “studies” part. Of course, a school like SOAS should have courses on Israel (including, of course, a focus on Mizrahim and Palestinian Israelis), as it should have courses on other nations in the area, and transnational programs. But the minute you tack on “studies,” then the expectation is of Zionist money in, Zionist money out. Is there an “Algerian Studies Program” at SOAS? No, of course not. Have a look: link to soas.ac.uk. This will be the first “studies” program focusing on a single nation. No Botswana studies. No Lebanon Studies. No India studies. But Israel studies.

    Is the Pears family going to continue its support if there are courses on Ashkenazi supremacism? On the Palestinian Israeli critique of Zionism from within? On Israeli race policy? Of course not. The specter of money withdrawn will be enough to produce the appropriate legitimization.

    Money talks, and academia folds, as sure as gun’s iron.

  13. VR says:

    The SOAS studies program will be the exact opposite of the studies program of, lets say Africa –

    AFRICAN STUDIES PROGRAM

    They will bring the same mystic to Israel, poor Israel, surrounded by savages.

    • RoHa says:

      Seems fitting. Africa and Israel are about the same size, with the same number of people, aren’t they?

      • Miura says:

        Remember, it’s not just about numbers, but the “moral worth” of a nation–sadly not equally distributed among the races–that counts as Michael Walzer never tires of adumbrating. By that measure Israel deserves every last billion of the more than hundred billion that have been pumped into it over 2 generations by successive American governments. The comparable figure for all of Africa is much lower and I think viewing VR’s linked video makes it amply clear why this should be so.

  14. How many people have been killed in Syria in the last month?

    What are Hezbollah’s plans in Lebanon if the Hariri indictments hit the street?

    How many died in Iran’s “election”?

    Who was murdered last week in Palestine, why?

    “The War of Ideas in the Middle East” (except)

  15. I don’t see why there should be an Israel Studies program at ANY university. Libya and Israel are about the same population size. Why not put in Libya Studies programs instead? Makes more sense to me.

    At least the Libyans (absent Qaddafi) don’t or won’t terrorize their neighbors as official policy.

  16. dbroncos says:

    A university level Israel Studies course would be a great place for activist students to voice their opinions concerning Palestinian rights. Occupation, settlements, apartheid, the logic behind Israel’s claims to being both a Jewish State and a democracy – all of these topics would have to be addressed in some way as part of any serious, sober discussion about Israel.

    I assume that the Israel studies program is meant to be tightly scripted. It’s easy to imagine, however, some feisty students getting off message so that the script includes Palestine. I don’t think this is what those responsible for the Israel studies initiative had in mind which reveals some naivety on their part. The Israel studies campaign could end up highlighting Israel’s many flaws, not just its virtues.