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Israel Studies at Northeastern

Dov Waxman, professor of political science, international affairs, and Israel studies and co-director, with Denis Sullivan, of Northeastern’s Middle East Center, updates us on the many exciting developments in Israel Studies at Northeastern.

Jewish Studies and the Middle East Center organized numerous talks on Israel by scholars, journalists, and diplomats during the Fall semester, along with offering a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict that continues to attract many students. More exciting talks are planned for the spring, as well as a summer program in which students study Israeli-Palestianian relations in Israel.

On October 15, Dr. David Govrin, the Director of the Jordan and North Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, gave a lunchtime talk entitled “The Arab Spring and its regional implications: An Israeli Perspective.”  Since Dr. Govrin directs and coordinates Israel’s relations with Jordan, including working with Jordan in managing the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem (an area that Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif [Noble Sanctuary] and that Jews refer to as the Temple Mount), he devoted much of his talk to discussing the recent Israeli-Palestinian tensions that have arisen over this fiercely contested sacred site.  He explained the Israeli government’s policy towards the site and dismissed allegations that Israel intended to change the status quo there.  He acknowledged, however, that the actions and statements of some Israeli politicians have fueled Palestinians concerns regarding the future of the area.

On the evening of November 5, we marked the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by hosting Dan Ephron, the former Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, and his wife Nancy Updike, a producer of the NPR radio program This American Life, to talk about the Rabin assassination. Ephron is the author of Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel, which has just been published to glowing reviews in The New York Times, among other publications.  He and his wife played clips from a recent episode of This American Life about the Rabin assassination, including some chilling video footage of the police interrogation of Rabin’s killer, Yigal Amir, a young right-wing Jewish religious extremist.  They described Amir’s background and upbringing, presenting him as an ordinary Israeli Jew, not a deranged psychopath.  They also discussed the heated atmosphere in Israel prior to the assassination and the role this might have played in motivating Amir.  This event, which was open to members of the public, drew a large audience who packed the room and asked questions of the speakers well into the evening.

Our final event this semester was a lunchtime talk on November 18 by Efraim Inbar, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Even before it took place, this talk, entitled “Mowing the Grass: Israel’s Wars with Hamas,” was highly controversial, as some students strongly objected to the title and to Professor Inbar’s invitation to speak on campus.  Given the possibility of protests taking place during Professor Inbar’s talk, this event unfortunately had to be held with campus police present. Despite a tense atmosphere, the event took place without disruption.  Although some of the students who attended the talk strongly disagreed with Professor Inbar’s views, they listened politely, attentively, and patiently until the Q&A to ask challenging questions.  The fact that students were willing and able to critically engage with Professor Inbar’s views and not simply shout him down or walk out (as has recently happened on other university campuses) is a testament to our students and proof that controversial events about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can, and indeed should, take place at Northeastern.

Two events are currently planned for the coming Spring semester.  On March 2, Erez Tzfadia, senior lecturer in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Sapir College in Israel and currently the Israel Institute Visiting Scholar at Rutgers University, will be giving a lunchtime talk entitled “The Ethnic Logic of Space in Israel.”  Our final event of the academic year will be on the evening of April 11, when Derek Penslar, Stanley Lewis Professor of Modern Israel Studies at the University of Oxford, will deliver the second annual Israel Studies lecture. His topic: “How Small Men Become Great: Theodor Herzl as a Zionist Leader.”

Once the Spring semester is over, Prof. Lefkovitz and I will be flying to Israel with a group of students on a month-long Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Unlike previous Dialogue programs in Israel, this year’s program focuses on the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. The two courses that students take on this Dialogue program examine Israeli-Palestinian relations through different lenses: in one course (INTL 2100 – Modern Israel) students will learn about the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the various issues at stake; in the other (INTL 4944 – Israel in Literature and the Arts) they will analyze and interpret stories, poetry, and memoir by Israeli and Palestinian writers. Outside the classroom, both Israeli and Palestinian tour guides will accompany the students as they visit major historical and religious sites, West Bank settlements, and Palestinian cities. We will meet with a wide variety of people and representatives of different backgrounds and views, including Israeli and Palestinian officials, politicians, NGO activists, and residents of disputed areas.  On this program we hope that students will acquire a broader and deeper understanding of the multifaceted relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, and the impact that the ongoing conflict has upon the daily lives of both peoples.

Read the rest of the Fall 2015 Haverim Newsletter here.

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Haverim Newsletter Fall 2015