Saturday, April 16, 2005

US "ISRAELI STUDIES" PROGRAMS

Haaretz reports on the growing trend of establishing 'Israel studies' programs in American universities. Is this a good thing? Sure the Columbia scandal points out the strident bias in many "Middle Eastern Departments" at Universities. However, how will the "Israeli Studies" curriculum "answer" this problem or will it just create more problems?

For instance, at a school where Middle East studies is biased against Israel, adding Israel studies scholars might function as the handpicked "Israeli" spokesmen on Al Jazeera -
  1. At UC-Berkeley, an alumna disturbed by anti-Israel sentiments and hoping to improve Israel's image at the school gave $5 million to establish a chair in Israel studies. However, the university filled the chair with Oren Yiftachel, a professor from Ben Gurion University who is outspoken in his criticism of Israel, which he considers to be an "ethnocracy." Not exactly what she had in mind.

The whole problem might be that every political issue and region wants its own handpicked "studies" department. The Arabs started this 20-30 years ago and now schools like Berkeley have Palestinian studies, etc... It has perhaps gotten out of hand.. Mideast files follows -

The whole idea of appointing professors to support a specific side in a political debate is unseemly in the first place, and can quickly devolve into a contest over who appoints more professors, or whose endowments are bigger, or who gets to teach what. Universities should be focused on scholarship, not politics.

Schools have always to some extent been political. The problem is how dominant and strident that political bent has gotten to the detriment of scholarship and real debate. The idea that schools 'would appoint' Professors only on the merits of their scholarship is a fantasy in general. Could you see Newt Gingrich getting a history job at Columbia? Or how about Martin Kramer getting a job in the Middle East Studies department at Berkeley? The far left has taken over many campuses and Arabist or Saidian Professors have taken over most Middle Eastern departments. The problem of accumulating "scholarly credentials" is that conservative professors often are denied tenure and department head positions. So the cards are stacked from 'get go'.

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