JBuzz News March 1, 2012: Eran Kaplan: San Francisco’s only full-time Israel Studies professor gives his first lecture




Bay Area’s only full-time Israel Studies professor gives his first lecture

Source: JWeekly, 3-1-12

Eran Kaplan, the only full-time Israel Studies professor on faculty at a university in the Bay Area, gave his inaugural lecture at San Francisco State University on Feb. 21.

Kaplan was hired in August 2011 as  the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair of Israel Studies at SFSU, a position that was endowed in 2008. He also works under the umbrella of the SFSU Jewish Studies department.

Eran Kaplan

Eran Kaplan

His first lecture, “Israel’s Summer of Discontent: Social Protests, Nostalgia and the Future(s) of Zionism,” was a two-hour talk co-sponsored by Lehrhaus Judaica and the JCC of San Francisco, where the lecture took place.After being introduced by SFSU President Robert Corrigan, Kaplan walked students and community members through an analysis of the social protests that shook Israel’s urban centers last  summer.

“I’m interested in seeing if they signify something beyond the immediate demands,” said Kaplan, a Tel Aviv native, in summing up the theme of his lecture. “Israel is one of the most interesting examples of a place that has seen a shift from collectivism and a state-controlled economy to a free-market, individualistic society. In the new century, with the new crises we face, I’m curious if the protests were in part about longing, in a sense, yearning for the security the old system once provided.”

Kaplan came to SFSU following a three-year tenure at Princeton University.

Next semester, he plans to teach classes on the Arab-Israeli conflict, modern Israeli society and Israeli film, he said. He is also helping to arrange visits from Israeli scholars and experts, such as Ha’aretz journalist Avirama Golan, who was in the Bay Area this week speaking at several locations.

Alex Joffe: Israel Studies 101




Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 10-3-11

The modern American research university is a house of many rooms.  The field of Israel Studies, which has emerged in the past decade, occupies one of the newest—and smallest—of those rooms.  Israel Studies programs are meant to address a serious problem and take advantage of a large opportunity on campus.  What happens to them in the coming years will tell us something significant about Israel as a topic of study and about the American university itself.

Studying Israel  Jan Jaben-EilonJerusalem Post.  The growth of interest in Israel as a field of serious academic study is not just American but worldwide.

Multicultural Israel in a Global Perspective  Association for Israel Studies.  The Association for Israel Studies, in existence since 1985, plans its 2012 conference in Haifa.

Follow the Money  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Between 1995 and 2008, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. What has their money purchased?

Jewish Studies in Decline?  Alex JoffeJewish Ideas Daily.  Retiring faculty are not replaced, less research money is allocated, and fewer students enter the field. Is there a future for the academic study of Judaism?

In American universities over the past 150 years and more, academic programs and departments have come and gone.  One reason is that increasing specialization is, to some extent, intrinsic to the pursuit of knowledge.  Departments such as physics and chemistry broke off from one another as their disciplines grew too large and complex to be confined within a single intellectual and administrative space.  There have been fractures in disciplines like anthropology, where scholars of culture and scholars of biology discovered that they could no longer bear one another.

More recently, specialization has also been fueled by demands, from the subjects of study themselves, for inclusion on the academic menu.  Since the 1960’s, we have seen a proliferation of ethnic and gender studies programs meant to bring the narratives of ignored or excluded groups into the larger discussion.  Jews and Jewish Studies programs in American universities have been among the leaders of this drive for inclusion through separation.

At their best, such efforts have created true and valuable diversity—in the sense of new streams of thought—within American universities.  They have also created walled-off compartments in which faculty can preach to choirs of student disciples (or simply to themselves) and the politicians among them can clamor for more resources, often by claiming past or present discrimination.  Unlike Jewish Studies programs, which are largely funded by Jewish donors, most ethnic and gender studies programs are paid for by the host universities themselves.  Such programs can perhaps best be characterized as having produced some scholarship and much politicking.

Israel Studies programs have a different provenance.  After World War II, U.S. universities saw the rise of “area studies,” in which scholars crossed the boundaries of disciplines like history, economics, and political science in pursuit of ‘useful knowledge’ about a geographic region or cultural area.  Middle Eastern Studies departments emerged as part of this trend.  They are long awash in funds from, among other donors, Arab governments.  Predictably, these departments have been dominated by scholars of the Arab and Muslim worlds.  As their subjects have increasingly become the focus of world conflict, these scholars have—perhaps inevitably, in light of the current university climate—become advocates…. READ MORE

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.


Derek Penslar: Oxford University appoints Israel studies professor with £3m donation

Source: Guardian UK, 5-26-11

Derek Penslar will take up post as a fellow of St Anne’s college next year to study the country’s history ‘within a global context’

Students outside an Oxford University building

Students pass an Oxford University library. A new professor has been appointed by the institution to research Israel’s history. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Oxford University has appointed its first chair of Israel studies to research the economics, society and politics of the Jewish state, following a £3m benefaction by a charitable foundation.

Derek Penslar, professor of Jewish history at Toronto university, will take up the post next year as a fellow of St Anne’s College. He said he regarded himself as under an obligation to “strive for political neutrality” and would study Israel “within a global context”. “One cannot understand Zionism without studying the history of nationalism, both within Europe and as a reaction against European colonialism.

“One cannot understand Israeli politics, or the relationship between the Israeli state and its military, outside of the framework of Arab-Israeli relations and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Penslar told the Guardian in an email. “Israel’s economy is, particularly in recent years, very much a product of trends towards globalization.”

Commenting on the question of neutrality, he said: “I do believe that when people study a part of the world closely, and as they develop a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of its history, politics and culture, they develop empathy for even mutually-opposed parties, which tends to moderate extreme, rigid political orthodoxies. But it does not overthrow long-held political convictions, nor should it.”

Penslar will be the first Stanley Lewis professor of Israel studies, a chair created with a £3m benefaction from the Stanley and Zea Lewis family foundation.

He is jointly appointed by the school of interdisciplinary area studies, and the department of politics and international relations.

Professor Roger Goodman, head of the social sciences division at Oxford, said: “Israel plays a key part in the debate about the Middle East, and Professor Derek Penslar is a foremost scholar of its history and politics. This chair and his appointment give Oxford a fantastic opportunity to expand its research into this important area of the world and to become a major global centre for the study of contemporary Israel.”…READ MORE

Jonathan Sarna and Jay Ruderman: Op-Ed: Education is key in a changing U.S. Jews-Israel relationship

Source: JTA, 4-4-11

The relationship between American and Israeli Jews is changing. For most of Israel’s history, the American Jewish community was larger, wealthier and more powerful than its “poor cousin” in the Middle East, but now the differences between the two communities have greatly narrowed. More Jews are living in Greater Tel Aviv than in Greater New York, and Israel, like the United States, is one of the world’s most developed nations.

In addition, funds from Israel now strengthen the American Jewish community through programs like Taglit-Birthright Israel. Charitable funds no longer flow exclusively in the other direction.

The political relationship between the two communities is likewise changing. Gone are the days when major American Jewish organizations, and the bulk of their members, took their cue from the government of Israel and supported its policies reflexively. Thanks to the Internet, American Jews now hear a full range of voices from Israel. As a result, the spectrum of American Jewish opinion concerning Israel increasingly mirrors the spectrum of opinion within Israel itself.

Given these and other changes, the relationship between the world’s two major Jewish communities is in need of recalibration. To this end, much attention has been paid over the past few years to improving American Jews’ understanding of Israel. In 2008-09, according to a recent Brandeis University study, some 548 courses on campuses across the United States focused on Israel, seeking to improve students’ knowledge of the subject. Centers for Israel studies on American campuses also have proliferated.

By contrast, Israelis learn almost nothing about American Jewry. Not one significant academic center for the study of American Jewish life exists in the State of Israel, and university-based courses on the American Jewish community are few and far between. At the high school level, the study of American Jewish life is equally neglected.

As a result, the understanding of American Jewish life on the part of Israelis is quite limited. They know next to nothing about the deepest issues upon which Israelis and American Jews agree and disagree. They cannot comprehend what church-state separation means and how pluralism operates in the American context. Many fail to understand their American cousins at all.

All Israelis, political leaders in particular, would benefit from knowing more about American Jewish life. The more American Jews and Israelis learn about one another, the better their future relationship will be.

Israelis, including members of Knesset, too often only look inward at Israeli society when legislating and voting on matters that ultimately impact upon American Jewry. Even if their first responsibility is to the citizens they represent and the sovereign state they serve, they would do well to consider how the American Jewish community, too, is affected by their choices.

If every measure considered by the Knesset carried a “Diaspora impact statement” (analogous to our environmental impact statements), consciousness of how Israel’s actions impact upon world Jewry would be heightened.

Six Israeli Knesset members are visiting Boston and New York as part of a program organized by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Foundation to help Israeli leaders gain new perspectives on American Jewish life and on the changing relationship between their country and the American Jewish community. They are meeting with religious figures, community leaders and private citizens.

By learning more about the American Jewish community, we hope they will come to better appreciate how their actions — such as Knesset efforts to legally define Jewishness for the purposes of marriage or aliyah, Israel’s military actions and how the Foreign Ministry reacts to democratic uprisings in the Arab world — impact upon American Jews and Jews worldwide.

Educating Israel’s political leaders about the American Jewish community should be the start of a larger effort aimed at teaching Israelis as much about American Jews as the latter learn about them.

A new day is dawning in the relationship between American Jews and Israel. The image of wealthy American Jews providing charity to their struggling Israeli cousins is fading fast. More than ever, each community now needs to understand how its interests are bound up with that of the other.

Just as American Jews are becoming better educated about Israel, the time has come for Israelis to learn more about the American Jewish community and their inextricable relationship to it.

(Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jay Ruderman is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which has offices in Boston and Rehovot, Israel.)

Israel Studies Seminar in China Beats Obstacles

Source: JTA, 7-27-09

Chen Yiyi, a Peking University academic, said he was glad his institution was hosting the first major Israel studies seminar in China. “But you can’t imagine how much trouble it took to get here,” said Chen, a scholar on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish culture. Despite many obstacles in putting on the workshops this month, the seminar completed its week at the university with positive reviews from the participants before moving on for two more weeks at Shandong University in Jinan.

As the most prestigious institution of higher learning in China’s capital, any programming at Peking University, or PKU, is subject to intense scrutiny. When the university applied for approval to host the seminar from the Ministry of Education, the application was immediately passed to the Foreign Ministry, Chen said. “They said an Israel studies seminar was a sensitive topic, could we cancel the seminar—or maybe rename it?” Chen recalled, saying the ministry wanted to omit the Israel studies aspect in the title.

Israel studies programs are relatively new in China, where Hebrew language and Jewish cultural studies were around as early as the mid-1980s. PKU founded its Hebrew language program in 1985, mostly for national security reasons. While the Chinese are known for respecting Jews for the very reason they were historically demonized in the West—a fabled talent for money management – their Chinese impressions of Israel are more mixed.

The idea of Jewish professors lecturing on topics such as Zionism or Islamic radicalism to a room of Chinese academics raised concerns among school administrators and government officials. China’s relationship to the Arab world played a part, too. China has become increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are relying more and more on Chinese markets. The growing affinity was a major factor in the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation agreeing to fund the seminar. “China is now concerned with understanding the Muslim world,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and one of the seminar lecturers…..