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Israeli Professors On Teaching in America

Over the last eight years, AICE has provided funding for more than 100 visiting Israeli professors to teach at more than 50 different universities across the United States, including elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Berkeley. These visitors have helped changed the academic landscape and stimulated the creation of new courses, centers, chairs and programs in Israel Studies. This year, 21 visitors are teaching in a variety of departments and already are making an impact on their campuses. Several offered their impressions of their students and universities.

 

 

Hebrew University's Ilai Saltzman is in his second year as a visiting Israeli Professor of international relations at Claremont McKenna College. He specializes in cyber warfare, US-Russian relations, the rise of China and Soviet grand strategy. He is the author of Scrutinizing Balance of Power Theory: A Polymorphic Reconceptualization.

 

 

My "Israeli Foreign Policy" classroom is a venue for learning about Israeli foreign and security policy since 1948. I also teach about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The classroom is a marketplace of ideas where the students and I exchange views about current affairs based upon what we study in class and the information they accumulated over the years.

 

 

Ever since I arrived at Claremont McKenna College, I found a very open and embracing campus. This is true for both the academic and the personal aspects of my experience thus far. Students are eager to learn about Israeli and American policies in the Middle East and their curiosity overwhelms me all the time. Some are more interested in Israeli politics, while others are intrigued by the social structure of Israel, especially the fact that Jews live side-by-side with non-Jews. Other students are keen to uncover the guiding principles of their country's role in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

 

 

We recently hosted an Israeli diplomat who gave a talk about Israeli foreign policy in a changing Middle East. The students and other members of the community who attended the talk were fascinated to hear the official position on Iran’s nuclear program, the Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, the political turmoil in Egypt and the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. They asked excellent questions and wanted to understand in greater detail how Israel tries to engage this dynamic political, economic and social environment and how the U.S. should react to the tectonic shifts taking place today in the region.

 

 

I've always had diverse classes with students from different backgrounds who hold a range of political beliefs and possess varying levels of knowledge about these topics. Some are more critical of Israeli or American policies, others are more understanding. What is amazing is that we managed to create a safe haven that allows all sides to present their attitudes without being judged or tagged as "anti" or "pro" in any issue we discuss. The students are to be praised for this maturity and tolerance for each other's opinions; their contribution to the success of these courses is priceless. In the end, the discussions are richer and significantly more interesting than I have ever imagined. Even when we encountered fundamental disagreements, the interaction inside the classroom was always civil and guided by a sincere attempt to learn more rather than discredit "the other;" just for the sake of arguing.

 

 

Albert Einstein once commented that we should all "learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." My experience of the American classroom is exactly that: we learn about Israeli and American diplomatic history. Through that learning we try to understand and explain Washington and Jerusalem's actions today and we hope that this familiarity will serve us well in the future. Most important, we never stop questioning our personal and collective predispositions in order to acquire more knowledge and tools for vigorous critical thinking.

 

 

Dr. Aviad Raz is a professor of organizational and medical sociology at Ben-Gurion University, where he researches religious/ethnic groups and identities in contemporary Israeli society. He has written seven books and dozens of articles on organization and medical sociology, anthropology, culture and science. He brings his skills to UC San Diego this year.
 

 

 

This quarter I am teaching an undergraduate elective course on Israeli Society. It is a sociologically-oriented course on the dynamic cultural history of Israel from the formative period (collectivism, nation-building) to current-day social conflicts and identities. We closely examine the inter-relations between Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, immigrants and native-born Israelis, and Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews.

 

The course is focused on gaining a deeper understanding of contemporary events and issues in Israeli society by exploring earlier social and historical processes and antecedents. For example, when discussing the relationship between state and religion in Israel, I started with the court ruling that ended Tal Law exemptions from military service for yeshiva students. When discussing the process of privatization, I started with the 2011 demonstrations against the rising cost of living. I used these protests to discuss previous surges of social unrest in the context of economic and ethnic rifts. This approach proved especially relevant as tensions rose between Israel and Gaza. I used these current events to discuss what we had studied about the political, historical and social antecedents of this situation.

 

Many students asked a very reasonable question about the conflict: "Why doesn't it stop?" As the class continued, they found it eye-opening to discuss the antecedents and gain a deeper understanding of the social processes behind the tensions. We also analyzed media coverage of the conflict by comparing Israeli and U.S media coverage of the same events, a topic some of the students said they will choose for their term paper.

 

Students were also very interested in hearing my personal perspective as a resident of the Negev and a professor at Ben-Gurion University (BGU). I showed them BGU announcements in English regarding the cancellation of classes and how students are instructed to take cover during missile fire. I also told them about my two sons, one of them doing his military service in Beer Sheva and the other who just started college and was called for reserve duty. They had many questions about all of these topics and I believe this blending of the personal, the sociological and the contemporary approach to studying about Israel will leave a lingering and profound impression.

 

Dr. Tikva Aharoni earned her Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Language and Culture from Columbia University. She is a theater and literary critic and lectures about Hebrew literature at Ashkelon Academic College. She is also a director at the Ministry of Culture and Sports in Israel. This year she is AICE's first visiting professor at the University of Kentucky.

 

I have enjoyed teaching at the University of Kentucky this semester. I'm teaching Hebrew Language, Contemporary Israeli Writing and Films. My Hebrew Language students have a closer relationship to Israel, but many of my other students have told me that they have never seen Israeli films or read Israeli literature. They have never ventured far outside Kentucky's borders, and so my class has opened a new world to them. I feel that I have succeeded in exposing these students to Israeli culture through film and literature. One of my students, a political science major, is now interested in learning more about the Middle East and the political situation in Israel.

 

Even though I've taught at American universities before (Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Judaism), each experience has been very different and the situation in Israel has changed greatly over the years. I have tried to keep politics out of my classes here, and focus instead on the rich and creative cultural life of Israel, though one cannot completely ignore the political situation in the Middle East.

 

In recent years, Israeli movies have received international recognition and prizes on the basis of their artistic qualities. Students do not have to be ardent Zionists to appreciate these films; as they focus more on family relationships and the human experience. Nonetheless, students cannot help but learn about the problems of Israeli existence through their exposure to these films.

 

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