Study: Sharp Rise in study of Israel in US schools

Posted: 1/14/2010 3:22:00 AM
Author: Haviv Rettig Gur
Source: This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post (online) on Jan. 14, 2010.

Study: Sharp rise in study of Israel in US schools
by Haviv Rettig Gur

According to a report made public Wednesday, the past three years have seen a huge jump in the number and variety of courses about Israel taught in America's top universities.

The report, entitled "Searching for the Study of Israel," was prepared by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University for the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. It examined Israel studies programs on hundreds of American college campuses.

The report examined the number and type of courses about Israel taught at 316 of the top US colleges and universities. It updates a 2006 study, and offers a dramatic finding: the 246 institutions included in both studies show a 69 percent increase in the number of courses dealing with Israel.

The 316 schools surveyed in 2009 offered a combined total of 1,400 courses that include Israel studies in some way. 572 of those courses focused specifically on Israel.

"The steady increase in the number of courses being offered about Israel indicates that many students and professors are turning their backs on the campus demagogues," said Michael D. Colson, the Schusterman Family Foundation's director of Israel programs. "This is great news for those who believe that peace will emerge when knowledge, understanding and respectful debate carry the day."

Indeed, most of the new courses are focused on Israeli cinema, literature and other aspects of culture and society. Courses involving Israel show that it is "something more than a party to a conflict," said Dr. Annette Koren, the study's lead researcher and a research scientist at Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.

According to Koren, the tremendous growth in Israel studies has been fueled by Jewish donors or foundations concerned over Israel's image on campus, but also - and chiefly - by demand from the universities and students.

Many students driving the demand for these courses seem to be past participants in birthright israel, she noted.

In in-depth interviews conducted with a random sampling of 50 participating students, "we found that a lot of the students were birthright alumni. I think what we're seeing here is the tremendous increase in the number of opportunities there are now for those alumni to study more about Israel," said Koren.

A press release from the Schusterman Foundation noted that the new courses are "offered by a variety of departments, with the majority coming from history and political science departments, not from Jewish or Middle East studies."

This suggests that the plethora of new offerings represent "a normalization of Israel as a subject within established disciplines."