The Problem with Israel-Studies Departments

In February, the University of Washington returned a large donation to Rebecca Benaroya, who had earmarked the money, among other things, for funding a new Israel-studies department. The incident set off a debate about “donor intent versus academic freedom,” writes Scott Shay.

When the University of Washington returned a $5 million gift intended to start an Israel-studies department, the reason was simple: the professor tasked with running the department had no intention of teaching a balanced perspective on the history and current governance of the state of Israel. He was, instead, a staunch supporter of the pro-Palestinian movement—and the university put his anti-Israel viewpoints ahead of student education and donor intent.

Academic integrity must be protected as much as academic freedom. The University of Washington story is instructive. As reported by Forbes in mid-April, . . . the donation was for the purposes “of endowing a chair, whose holder ‘will demonstrate a strong commitment to studying, teaching, and disseminating knowledge about Jews and Judaism, as well as the modern state of Israel.’”

The University of Washington/Benaroya spat is emblematic of the larger issue of Jewish-studies departments and Israel-studies programs increasingly teaching primarily or exclusively the perspectives of Palestinian and Arab nationalist scholars, essentially [transforming] the field into Palestine studies. They are not teaching the views of genuinely excellent scholars across the political spectrum, and the real losers in this lack of balance are students who are never given the change to challenge the views they are taught. In this, many Israel-studies scholars have betrayed their academic responsibility and perverted the meaning of academic freedom.

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More about: Academia, Israel on campus, Israel Studies

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship