Brown University has served as a hotbed for anti-Israel activism. An upcoming conference promoting BDS will take place at Brown on March 8. "Do boycotts foreclose or open up socially productive conversations about the ethics of cultural and academic production?" The conference panelists are expected to pursue this question along the lines of a recently published book, Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production. As usual, both the book and the conference panel use the convoluted language of critical theory replete with esoteric sentences such as " What are the political possibilities embodied in emerging forms of intersectional solidarity around boycott movements, such as BDS?"
After sharp criticism for its pro-Palestinian bias, Brown University has launched the Israel Fund, a new endowment which offers opportunities for Brown community members to learn about Israel from Israelis. The Jewish Studies program at Brown is expected to host the Israel Fund program. Not surprisingly, the Israel Fund is facing opposition from a leading professor at Brown, Beshara Doumani, a Saudi born Palestinian who heads Brown's Middle East Studies program. Doumani decried the "uncertainty about the agenda behind the Israel Fund," claiming that the Middle East Studies program which he heads “was built slowly, organically, from the bottom up,” by students and faculty. In contrast, according to Doumani, the Israel Fund “completely descends from the top down. Instead of (being) student- or faculty-driven, it seems to be donor-driven,” and the alums donating to the Israel Fund may be politically motivated “to influence perceptions about a particular country or connections to that particular country.”
Evidently, Doumani's Palestine Studies program mostly attacks Israel. The Palestine Studies 2017 Workshop questioned "What does it mean for the colonized, the disenfranchised, and the displaced to produce narratives through archival and memorial practices? Other theoretical, empirical, and comparative questions follow. How are archives and memories produced, assembled, and mobilized in settler colonial contexts? In what ways are archives and memories sites of struggle and appropriation, and looting?" The Palestine Studies 2016 Workshop description noted that "some of the themes that informed the last two symposiums include the issue of exceptionalism; the promise and limitations of the settler colonial paradigm; zones of visibility and invisibility in historical narratives; the question of archives, and its relationship to research on Israel and Zionism."
Interestingly, Doumani's idea of a balanced discourse it to invite radical post-Zionist Israeli scholars. As IAM reported, Doumani welcomed the visiting position of Adi Ophir and the tenured position of Ariella Azoulay, who in return promoted the BDS policy. Gadi Algazi, a scholar of late medieval history at TAU who has switched to writing political polemics on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute - something unheard of in the exact sciences - was another invitee to Brown. Also, BGU Neve Gordon lectured in Brown, in December 2015.
Doumani understands that the Israel Fund, which expects to bring post-doctoral scholars from Israel, would produce a more balanced discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus. This would clearly threaten the Israel bashing themes emanating from his Middle East Studies program which have dominated the Brown campus for years. This is the real reason why he opposes the Israel Fund.
9th Critical Conversations Panel – Permission to Speak: Boycott and the Politics of Solidarity
Thursday, March 8, 2018
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Open to the Brown/RISD Community. ID required.
Do boycotts foreclose or open up socially productive conversations about the ethics of cultural and academic production? What are the political possibilities embodied in emerging forms of intersectional solidarity around boycott movements, such as BDS? The panelists take on these and other questions raised in the recently published book, Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production.
Beshara Doumani, Brown University
Nasser Abourahme, Columbia University
Ariella Azoulay, Brown University
Kareem Estefan, Brown University
Laura Raicovich, former director of Queens Museum
Sherene Seikaly, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Modern Culture and Media and Comparative Literature, Brown University, film essayist and independent curator of archives and exhibitions. Azoulay’s research and forthcoming book focus on potential history of key political concepts-institutions: archives, sovereignties, art, revolutions and human rights. Potential history, a concept and an approach that she has developed over the last decade, has far-reaching implications for the fields of political theory, knowledge formations and visual culture. Her books include: Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012) and The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008). Her first photographic archive Act of State 1967-2007 is part of the Centre Pompidou collection and accessible to researchers.
Nasser Abourahme is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University where he works between colonial studies, political theory and urban studies. He is currently a Mellon Interdisciplinary Fellow at INCITE, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Innovative Theory and Empirics, and the Special Features Editor at the urban studies journal, CITY.
Beshara Doumani is a Professor of History and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His research focuses on groups, places, and time periods marginalized by mainstream scholarship on the early modern and modern Middle East. He also writes on the topics of displacement, academic freedom, politics of knowledge production, and the Palestinian condition. His books include Family Life in the Ottoman Mediterranean: A Social History, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900, Academic Freedom After September 11 (editor), and Family History in the Middle East: Household, Property and Gender (editor). He is the editor of a book series, New Directions in Palestinian Studies, with the University of California Press.
Kareem Estefan is a PhD student in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, where he researches artists and filmmakers in Palestine/Israel and Lebanon who engage histories of conflict, displacement, and dispossession through strategies of fabulation, speculation, and opacity. He is co-editor of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR Books, 2017), an anthology of essays by artists and scholars on BDS, cultural boycotts, freedom of expression, and transnational activism. His writing has been published in magazines and journals such as Art in America, BOMB, Frieze, Ibraaz, and The New Inquiry, among others.
Laura Raicovich is dedicated to art and artistic production that relies on complexity, poetics, and care to create a more engaged and equitable civic realm. Until recently, she served as President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum where she oversaw an inviting and vital commons for art, ideas, and engagement. In 2018, she will co-curate Mel Chin: All Over the Place (with Manon Slome and No Longer Empty), the first major presentation in New York City of artist Mel Chin in more than 20 years that will occupy the entire Queens Museum and multiple public sites in the city. She is also an editor, with Kareem Estefan and Carin Kuoni, of Assuming Boycott and the author of At the Lightning Field.
Sherene Seikaly is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Seikaly's Men of Capital: Scarcity and Economy in Mandate Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2016) explores how Palestinian capitalists and British colonial officials used economy to shape territory, nationalism, the home, and the body. She is the editor of the Arab Studies Journal, co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya e-zine, and an editor of Journal of Palestine Studies.
The Brown Daily Herald
Students, professors disagree on whether fund is academically or politically motivated
More students may find their way to Israel during their time at the University thanks to the Israel Fund, an endowed fund created from alumni donations designated to support new and existing programs related to Israel. Established late 2016, the Israel Fund is the first endowed fund at the University that focuses on programs for a particular region of the world, said Dean of the College Maud Mandel.
So far, the Israel Fund has allowed students to travel to Israel for both summer internships and Wintersession courses, Mandel said. While these programs will continue, the fund is also slated to bring speakers to campus through the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and support the creation of a new student exchange program between the University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she added.
The University has raised $3.8 million toward a $10 million goal for the Israel Fund’s endowment, according to a University press release. Once the endowed fund reaches $10 million, it will return $500,000 annually that can be spent on programming.
Brown Students for Justice in Palestine oppose the existence of the Israel Fund. “We … are not in support of these efforts to expand Israeli programs for Brown students. We have found that historically, these programs are in line with Israel’s attempts to entrench itself in American political and academic spheres,” BSJP wrote in a statement to The Herald. “We believe that academia is responsible for revealing injustices and speaking honestly about issues like these. … The fruits of this fund … will be met with resistance.”
Interim Director of Judaic Studies David Jacobson pushed back on BSJP’s claims, stating that the Israel Fund’s “intention is purely academic and not political.” The Israel Fund aims “to provide Brown students with an opportunity to study Israel in all its complexity,” Jacobson said. “It was not at all motivated as an attempt to support anything having to do with Israeli policies.”
But Director of Middle East Studies Beshara Doumani expressed uncertainty about the agenda behind the Israel Fund. Unlike the Middle East Studies program, which “was built slowly, organically, from the bottom up,” by students and faculty, Doumani said the Israel Fund “completely descends from the top down. Instead of (being) student- or faculty-driven, it seems to be donor-driven.” Alums who donate to the Israel Fund may be politically motivated “to influence perceptions about a particular country or connections to that particular country,” Doumani added.
Faculty involved with the Israel Fund “would never support a course that had that kind of political agenda,” Jacobson said. “If you look at the programs that have been supported, it really does not affirm what the Israel Fund is being accused of.” Projects that study Israel also “introduce students to the Palestinian experience,” Jacobson added.
Doumani said he is not against student- and faculty-driven programs that study Israel. Instead, he said his concerns with the Israel Fund arise from a lack of transparency. Although the study of Israel falls within Middle East Studies, Doumani said he hadn’t heard of the Israel Fund prior to the Jan. 30 press release that publicized its existence. “The article just came out of the blue, but it said that this has been going on for a year now,” he said. “Middle East Studies faculty have never been approached about this. … It would be great if we had more information or were brought into the loop of what the thinking is and what the plans are.”
One project supported by the Israel Fund — an exchange program developed by Professor of History and German Studies Omer Bartov — plans to bring six students from the University together with a group of three Palestinians and three Israelis enrolled at the Hebrew University. Starting in fall 2019, these students will spend a semester on College Hill and a semester in Jerusalem learning about the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Bartov said he aims to expose students to “discourse about coexistence rather than conflict” and teach students “to see things through other peoples’ eyes.”
“This is my attempt at making a small contribution to a conflict that has gone on far too long,” Bartov added.
Doumani said people will likely perceive the Israel Fund as a “calculated move” to create connections between the University and Israeli institutions, such as the Hebrew University. Such connections conflict directly with international campaigns to boycott, sanction and divest from Israeli institutions in protest of Israeli policy, Doumani said. “I’m not sure if this Israel Fund is really an intellectual or research or academic project as much as it is a way to bring Brown and Israel closer together,” he added.
Director of the Watson Institute Edward Steinfeld P’20 emphasized the importance of building connections with scholarly communities around the world. “My hope is for expanded communication and ties from the Brown campus and Watson to a number of international settings,” he said. Steinfeld envisions that the Israel Fund will allow the Watson Institute to bring more scholars from Israel to speak on a variety of topics including public health, social science, policy issues and Israel’s international relations. Once the Watson Institute begins receiving funding from the Israel Fund, a faculty committee will decide on speakers to invite, Steinfeld said.
The Israel Fund has already allowed some students to learn about the conflict between Israel and Palestine on the ground. Jacobson taught the 2017 Wintersession course, UNIV 1001: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives, which aimed to teach students about the conflict from both the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives.
Jacobson and his students stayed in East Jerusalem during their trip, which is the predominantly Arab side of the city, and traveled to the West Bank, Israeli cities and the border of the Gaza Strip. Jacobson said he hopes to make students more informed in their discussions of Israel and Palestine by taking students to Israel and exposing them to both sides of the conflict. “Israel is very controversial on campus,” he said. “I’m glad that students will now be able to make up their own minds by actually being there.”
BSJP’s statement claimed that Jacobson’s course misrepresents the conflict. The course “portrays both sides as egalitarian actors in a conflict, erasing the actual dynamic of the occupier and the occupied, colonizer and colonized, oppressor and the oppressed,” the group wrote in its statement. “These types of efforts result in normalization of an existing military occupation, erasure of the narratives of Palestinians and, ultimately, violence towards the Palestinian people.”
Jacobson said his course respects the perspectives of both Palestinians and Israelis. “The students who wrote this about my course, I assume, did not take the course,” Jacobson said. “There’s a difference between saying we want to understand where each side is coming from and saying that there’s no power imbalance. Of course, there’s a power imbalance. I don’t deny that,” he added. “When we’re on the ground (in Israel), we see the occupation. We see what it’s like. … The power imbalance is not being supported, but rather it’s being studied.”
Davis Tantillo ’19, a Herald copy editor who took Jacobson’s course in January 2017, said he appreciated the varied perspectives students heard from Israelis and Palestinians, “given that a lot of the narrative (of the conflict) that we receive in this country is more one-sided” in favor of Israel. Tantillo added that Jacobson’s course “opened my mind to the possibility that it’s maybe not best to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, (but) rather to be pro-peace.”
Academic opportunities supported by the Israel Fund will not be limited to learning about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. In Wintersession 2018, students traveled around Israel to learn about the HIV epidemic in Associate Professor of Medicine Rami Kantor’s course, BIOL 1980: “HIV/AIDS in Diverse Settings: Focus on Israel.” The course brought 12 students to HIV clinics in both Providence and cities across Israel where they met patients with HIV and health care providers.
Danielle Advani ’18 called Kantor’s Wintersession course “one of the best courses, if not the best course, that I’ve ever taken at Brown.” Advani said studying HIV/AIDS in Israel proved to be especially interesting because “there are very few places elsewhere in the world where you can go and see so many different opinions on one single disease.”
The scope of the Israel Fund also extends beyond academic programming related to Israel. Last summer, BrownConnect partnered with the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship to place seven students in internships at Israeli startups, said Executive Director of the Nelson Center Danny Warshay ’87 P’20. Students who participated in the pilot run of the Israel Entrepreneurship Internship Program “not only got to experience what it’s like to work at a startup, … (but) they also got a cross-cultural experience to see what it was like to live in another international culture,” Warshay said. After positive reception, the program is expanding to provide 15 students with internships in Israel this summer, he added.
Mandel said she hopes to see endowed funds established for other regions of the world as well. “I think you’ll start to see other things like (the Israel Fund) popping up,” she said. “I can’t promise that, but that’s my sense.”
With support for scholarship focused in Israel, Brown expands regional studies programs
January 30, 2018 News from Brown
Last year, Brown University launched The Israel Fund, a new initiative dedicated to promoting new research and educational opportunities related to Israel and the Middle East. Adding to an expanding set of regionally focused academic programs, it'll complement Brown's Judaic Studies, and Middle East Studies housed at Watson. “At the Watson Institute and at Brown, we believe that deep empirical knowledge about places — particularly when presented in comparative, cross-disciplinary contexts — is critical for developing frameworks for understanding and addressing the great challenges facing humankind,” said Edward Steinfeld.
With support for scholarship focused on Israel, Brown expands regional studies programs
Adding to an expanding set of regionally focused academic programs, the Israel Fund is offering opportunities for Brown community members to learn about Israel and from Israelis, both in Providence and in Israel.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Adding to a growing array of academic programs advancing scholarship on specific nations and regions across the globe, Brown University has established an initiative to promote new research and educational opportunities related to Israel.
Since initial programming began last year, the Israel Fund initiative has supported study and internship opportunities including a Wintersession course titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives,” which included an immersive, weeklong trip to the region, and a lineup of summer internships in Tel Aviv.
Maud S. Mandel — dean of the College at Brown and a professor of history and Judaic studies — says the intent is to enhance a robust set of opportunities that undergraduate students and members of the Brown community already have to engage in scholarship on Israel and the Middle East more broadly.
“As a complement to our Middle East Studies
and Judaic Studies
programs in particular, this new initiative is enabling a deeper focus on Israel and immersive scholarship centered on one of the most complex regions in the world,” Mandel said.
The expansion into academic programming in Israel adds to the University’s existing regional studies programs focused on Africa, China and Brazil. Brown also is home to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Center for Contemporary South Asia, and the Middle East Studies program, which hosts the New Directions in Palestinian Studies initiative. Israel Fund programming is broadening this set of regional studies initiatives
, which enable scholars to develop in-depth knowledge of specific regions through the lenses of many disciplines.
“At the Watson Institute and at Brown, we believe that deep empirical knowledge about places — particularly when presented in comparative, cross-disciplinary contexts — is critical for developing frameworks for understanding and addressing the great challenges facing humankind,” said Edward Steinfeld, who leads Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
and directs the China Initiative
Whether those challenges relate to public health, climate change, armed conflict, civic strife or social inequity, Steinfeld says they all demand solutions grounded in a deep understanding of countries, cultures and regions.
“Our regional studies programs at Brown catalyze distinctive forms of research, teaching and public programming that provide precisely these types of understanding,” Steinfeld said. “It is in this spirit that support from the Israel Fund is allowing us to continue our academic mission and extend it in new directions.”
One distinctive aspect of the initiative is that it will support activities that are administered through a range of existing programs, including CareerLAB’s BrownConnect
ship initiative, the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship
and the Wintersession
program. And as it expands in the years to come, the fund will support opportunities across a wide range of academic departments and centers. As envisioned, programming will include new partnerships, courses and experiences for Brown students and faculty to learn, conduct research and work in Israel. The fund will also bring visiting professors, postdoctoral scholars, speakers and an entrepreneur-in-residence to Brown from Israel.
In 2017, the Israel Fund enabled Professor of Judaic Studies David Jacobson and students to embark on a weeklong experience in the Middle East as part of “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives.” Jacobson describes the educational impact of the visit as invaluable for students in his course, which he created to present an alternative to what he calls the “often-polarized discourse on campus when people speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“Students who go on the tour in conjunction with taking the course gain a much greater understanding of the dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they could by just studying it at Brown,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson says his students had opportunities to be led by both Israeli and Palestinian guides.
“The guides made sure that both the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives were well represented but also modeled the possibility of an Israeli and Palestinian working together on a joint project even though they were far from agreeing on how to the view the conflict,” Jacobson said.
Separately, the Israel Fund launched a set of summer internships in Tel Aviv through a partnership between BrownConnect and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. Danny Warshay, executive director of the Nelson Center, says that last summer’s pilot program focused on technology startup opportunities, because so many startups are clustered in Israel’s technology sector.
“We were thrilled to help catalyze this internship program, which had a strong high-tech theme,” Warshay said. “Students had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles, from programming to marketing and project management.”
Students also learned how to navigate cultural differences, Warshay adds, characterizing the general tenor of Israeli interactions as more direct and less formal than they might find in the American business world. Warshay and colleagues from BrownConnect are actively growing this international internship program, both in Israel and other cities with startup cultures including Barcelona and Stockholm.
Brown’s goal for the Israel Fund is to establish a $10 million endowed fund, which will generate approximately $500,000 in spendable resources annually to support programming. To date, the University has raised $3.8 million toward the goal along with $1.5 million in current-use funds to support the initiative’s early activities.