UCLA plans to offer a three-part research colloquium next year named “Democracy in Israel: Past, Present and Future.” It is organized by the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and co-sponsored by the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA. The colloquium brings “together an invited group of scholars from diverse disciplines – History, Law, Political Science, Sociology, and Philosophy – to present and discuss critical topics of democracy in Israel.”
However, the participants come from the like-minded political perception of the organizers. This is not surprising because the colloquium moderators, Dov Waxman, who directs the Nazarian Center, David Myers, and the coordinator, Liron Lavi, allow their politics to lead their way.
The Nazarian Center mission statement “is to promote the study of modern Israel at UCLA and beyond… Through our research, teaching and outreach, the Nazarian Center has become an internationally known source of expertise and education about Israel and an intellectually vibrant home for Israel Studies at UCLA.” The director, Waxman, added an inclusive message: “Through a commitment to academic rigor, interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship, and a dispassionate approach, we seek to promote a broader and deeper understanding of Israel’s history, politics, society, and culture. At a time when discussions about Israel are often heated and becoming increasingly polarized, we also hope to foster a more nuanced and civil discourse about Israel, inside and outside the classroom. Our goal is education—to advance knowledge and academic scholarship about Israel—not advocacy. Nor do we evaluate guest speakers, affiliated faculty members, or students with regard to their political beliefs, affiliations, or positions. We are neither “pro-Israel” nor “anti-Israel.” Instead, we are a place, and an online space, for people to teach and learn about Israel, whatever their politics or backgrounds.”
By all accounts, the colloquium provides a one-sided and biased picture of Israel, judging by the speakers known for their radical political activism. The organizers and participants are at the same end of the political spectrum where the neo-Marxist, critical scholars congregate. As a result, the colloquium lacks a wide range of views necessary for academic pursuit.
The participants are Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Dmitry Shumsky, Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Liora Halperin, Department of History, University of Washington; Dani Filc, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University of the Negev; Amal Jamal, School of Political Science, Tel Aviv University; Dahlia Scheindlin, The Century Foundation; Gershon Shafir, Department of Sociology, University of California San Diego; Ameer Fakhoury, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Haifa; Menachem Mautner, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University.
Dov Waxman co-authored, in 2011, an article promoting BDS titled, “The Boycott Debate: No Longer Taboo in Progressive Pro-Israel Circles.”
David N. Myers published an article “Another way to think about BDS,” promoting the BDS aims.
Liron Lavi reviewed favorably Judith Butler’s book, Partying Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. Butler, a leading critical scholar, has been a bitter critic of Zionism, and her book was attacked for promoting thinly veiled anti-Semitic themes.
IAM reported in April on Dmitry Shumsky, “HUJ Dmitry Shumsky: The Next Generation of Academic-Political Activists,” that Allan Arkush, professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University reviewed Shumsky’s work, noting Shumsky is “denouncing Israeli policy toward the West Bank, supporting BDS, and calling for an end to Jewish sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem.”
Liora Halperin was quoted in a MESA conference panel denouncing university donors’ “pernicious pressure for pro-Israel advocacy.”
Ameer Fakhoury, co-authored last year, the “Jewish-Arab partnership as an antidote to Jewish supremacism,” which urged readers to redefine the Israeli politics and invoke a “new partnership of Arabs and Jews, working side-by-side to combat Jewish supremacism.”
Areej Sabbagh-Khoury argued “that the 1948 Nakba was neither the beginning nor the end of a process of settler-colonial expropriation. Instead, I claim that the mid-1930s signaled intensified efforts to expel Palestinian sharecroppers, a practice which culminated in the Nakba.” Where “the Zionist settlers utilized forceful practices, perpetrated in this region,” intending “to vacate the lands of its Palestinian inhabitants.” She focuses on “the pre-1948 colonization practices and their role in the Nakba.”
Dani Filc has been a life-long political activist masquerading as an academic. Filc revealed in a radio interview, “All is Talking,” hosted by Oded Shachar on Reshet Bet, on 14.10.13, as one of the organizers behind the 2011 protest movement, which, according to him, has only made things worse politically. Filc also stated of the Israeli government’s “fear industry, if we did not have the Iranian threat, they would have had to invent an alien takeover.”
Amal Jamal was quoted two years ago in an Al-Jazeera article, titled “Israel celebrates ‘pyrrhic’ victory as it turns 70,” that “This is more like a pyrrhic victory… Israel has won this round of the battle, but at a price it probably can’t afford in the coming rounds.”
Gershon Shafir was very critical last year of the publication of a pro-Israel journal affiliated with the Association for Israel Studies titled “Word Crime.” He wrote: “This attempt to suppress critical voices and dissenting views within the [association] is a microcosm of the larger assault on liberal voices and institutions in Israel… The term ‘word crimes’ echoes accusations hurled at ‘the criminals of Oslo,’ while the claim of reclaiming parallels the attempted delegitimation of political opposition. Ironically, the [association] itself was created with the aim of procuring a forum where Israel may be analyzed with the tools common to the social sciences and humanities, to free the study of Israel from the bonds of political loyalty and subservience in which it was enmeshed. That accomplishment, academic autonomy, is threatened now by the repoliticization of the study of Israel through the criminalization of scholarship and assault on academic freedom.”
Dahlia Scheindlin wrote a 2015 piece, “No, BDS does not unfairly ‘single out’ Israel.”
Menachem Mautner wrote in 2006 that: “Israel’s definition as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’ does not allow for granting somewhere a space within the definition of Israel’s national identity, to the Arab citizens. This definition excludes the Arab citizens of the state from the national identity of the state.”
Israel Studies has been hijacked by anti-Israel activists before. To recall, in 2002, Prof. Oren Yiftachel was selected to become the first Helen Diller Foundation Visiting Professor at the UC Berkeley Center for Middle Eastern Studies. As reported by Martin Kramer at the time, “Yiftachel was the kind of Israeli that an Edward Said-boosting, Saudi-connected Middle East center could not only tolerate, but embrace.”
Waxman had a chance to fulfill his promises of producing a balanced discourse on Israel. However, his pick of panelists indicates that balance and moderation was the last thing on his mind. This should come as no surprise given the so-called “cancel culture” in the universities, a practice that blocks voices not compatible with the Neo-Marxist, critical hegemony.
Democracy in Israel: Past, Present and Future
A research colloquium organized by the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and co-sponsored by The Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA.
The colloquium will bring together an invited group of scholars from diverse disciplines – History, Law, Political Science, Sociology, and Philosophy – to present and discuss critical topics of democracy in Israel. The final papers resulting from the research meetings are to be published in an edited volume.
Dov Waxman (https://www.international.ucla.edu/israel/person/2520) and David Myers (https://history.ucla.edu/faculty/david-myers)
Liron Lavi (https://www.international.ucla.edu/israel/person/1745)
Presented remotely via Zoom
January 14, 2021 – 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM (Pacific Time)
1. Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
2. Dmitry Shumsky, Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University ofJerusalem.
3. Alexander Kaye, Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University.
Liora Halperin, Department of History, University of Washington.
March 11, 2021 – 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM (Pacific Time)
1. Dani Filc, Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
2. Amal Jamal, School of Political Science, Tel Aviv University.
3. Dahlia Scheindlin, The Century Foundation.
Gershon Shafir, Department of Sociology, University of California San Diego.
May 13, 2021 – 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM (Pacific Time)
1. Julie Cooper, School of Political Science, Tel Aviv University.
2. Ameer Fakhoury, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Haifa.
3. Menachem Mautner, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University.
Suzanne Stone, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization.