An Educational Agenda for the Abraham Accords

Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel have repeatedly indicated that they wish the agreements signed last year to herald an era of cooperation and economic and cultural exchange. To Peter Berkowitz, one important area for interaction lies in the domain of higher education:

Israel and the UAE have taken the first steps to create what should become a variety of vibrant student-exchange programs. Much more can be done. Universities should establish visiting professorships to bring Israeli scholars to teach in the Gulf, and Bahraini and Emirati scholars to teach in Israel. And they should provide financial incentives to encourage faculty members to devise proposals for academic conferences that focus on issues of special interest to all three Middle East countries as well as to the United States—from desalination and the environment to comparative religion and religious freedom.

Such projects, Berkowitz adds, need not be limited to universities, but instead can be modeled on programs in the U.S. that bring together small groups of students or professionals for a few days or weeks for intensive study, encouraging interactions inside and outside the classroom. For instance, a “common traditions” seminar:

Its point of departure is that Jews and Muslims as well as Christians share a common biblical heritage, and that great philosophers in all three traditions undertook enduring efforts in the Middle Ages to reconcile their faiths with the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle. The first half of the seminar would concentrate on biblical passages of surpassing importance to the three Abrahamic religions. The second half would explore influential arguments from the outstanding medieval philosopher of each of the traditions: al-Farabi, Maimonides, and Thomas Aquinas.

These three seminars—and variations that could follow on their heels—needn’t remain restricted to original Abraham Accords signatories. As soon as is practically possible, citizens from Sudan, Kosovo, and Morocco—which also recently normalized relations with Israel—should be invited to join. The same goes for Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians. And why not reach out to the Republic of Cyprus, a vibrant democracy in the eastern Mediterranean eager to contribute to regional stability and prosperity?

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More about: Abraham Accords, Bahrain, Education, Israel-Arab relations, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, United Arab Emirates


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

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More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus