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Thursday, April 20, 2017

In 2005, this encouraging news was reported:

The University of Maryland is planning to use private grants to have a fully functioning studies program by 2010 dedicated to Israeli culture, not just the nation's conflict with Palestine.

Though there are Israeli studies programs at other universities — including Wesleyan University, American University and the University of Pennsylvania — many of them focus only on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said associate professor Hayim Lapin, director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies. In contrast, this program will offer classes on language, literature, sociology, economics and ecology, he added.

"The way Israeli studies gets played out is it becomes extremely politicized," Lapin said. "We don't have that problem right now. There are plenty of people with very strongly held political views, but we don't have a highly politicized program in one way or the other."

Here is a description of every course being offered by the Israel Studies program at UMD for this coming fall semester:

ISRL289I The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict: Fundamental Questions 
Why are Palestinians and Israelis unable to resolve their conflict? Will they ever? Using insights and methodologies from a variety of disciplines and contrasting interpretations of history, this course will examine why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues, why it has become so central in world politics and how it connects with other global issues.

We can't know the specifics without a syllabus, but claiming that the conflict is "central in world politics" is already an indication of the bias in this course.

ISRL329E Special Topics in Israel Studies; Israel and the Arab Spring 
This course will explore and analyze the political, diplomatic, and strategic effects of the Arab Spring and its continuing after effects on the State of Israel, using that as a lens to study the contemporary Middle East. It starts with a preliminary study of Israel's foreign policy and then examines the effects of the Arab Spring on its domestic politics: relations with other regional actors, the Palestinians, and the United States; and Israel's strategy towards non-state actors such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS.

This could be an interesting course, but either way it is clearly political.

ISRL329F Special Topics in Israel Studies; The History of Economic Policy in Palestine/Israel
 This course examines economic policy in Palestine/Israel from 1999 (under Ottoman rule [sic]) through the British Mandate (1922-48) until 1988, when the current neo-liberal economic policy began. It will examine how the governments and society dealt with issues such as growth versus equality (distributive justice); ideology versus praxis; local original policy versus imported policy; and politics versus academic economics - who decides and under what circumstances?
I could be wrong, but the term "distributive justice" seems to indicate that this is an anti-Israel (and anti-free market) course.

ISRL349Q Investigating Topics in Israel Studies; The Self and the "Other" in Israeli Culture: Literature, Film, and Television 
Modern Israel includes people of many different faiths, ethnicities, languages, and cultures, but, Jews of European origin have generally dominated its political and cultural climate. Through literature and film, we will explore how the sense of the "self" is constructed and how the "other" is imagined in Israeli culture. "Others" include Palestinians, Sephardim, Mizrahim, non-Zionists, women, and Eastern Europeans who do not relinquish their ties to the past, as well as other individuals who resist the collective ideologies of a nation constructing itself.
 The topic is worthwhile; the presentation looks highly biased. A lot would depend on whether this course looks at contemporary Israeli culture or if it will be dominated by the admittedly problematic aspects from the 1950s.

ISRL349Z Investigating Topics in Israel Studies; Beyond Black and White: Jews and Representations of Race
An examination of Western constructions and representations of 'race' from medieval times to the modern rise of Zionism and the founding of Israel, with a focus on how Jews utilized the racial discourses of each period to negotiate their position within Western history.
I cannot see any way that this course is not problematic given the politics around race on college campuses nowadays.

ISRL448M Seminar in Israel Studies; The Israeli War Discourse, 1967-2017 
Recommended: Some knowledge of Israel or a previous Israel Studies course. This online course focuses on a unique Israeli phenomenon, 'war-normalizing discourse', a set of linguistic and cultural devices that blur the various characteristics of war by transforming it into a "normal" part of life. We will examine the reciprocal relations between this discourse, Israeli culture and society, and foreign policy.
When war is part of life, how can "war-normalizing" be avoided? This looks highly biased from its conception.

ISRL448T Seminar in Israel Studies; Israel's Occupation at 50 
Now in its fiftieth year, Israel's occupation of the West Bank is the longest continuous military occupation in the world. This seminar will examine its history, the radical transformation of Israeli policy towards Palestinians over five decades, and its impact on the daily lives of Palestinians struggling with the ongoing military and settler presence in their land. The seminar will conclude with a discussion of continued Palestinian resistance to military occupation, including the use of terror against civilians.
This one is obviously anti-Israel. even the course description cannot avoid bias.

It is possible that there is a lot more nuance here and that my skepticism is misplaced. Mitchell Bard, who is an excellent analyst, praised this UMD program last year.

I fear, based on these descriptions, that the UMD Israel Studies Program has not lived up to its original goals, and based on what little we can see here, it may have been largely subverted to be a subset of the traditionally anti-Israel Middle Eastern Studies programs that infest academia today.

(h/t MKG)

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