The recently-established Center for Jewish Studies at the University of California at Irvine will be hosting a panel discussion on April 16 on, “American Jews and Israel: The next 30 years“. The announced discussion is about the relationship between American Jewry and Israel. The announced panelists are Liora Halperin (Benaroya Chair in Israel Studies, University of Washington), Noam Pianko, (Samuel N. Stroum Chair in Jewish Studies, University of Washington) and Hasia Diner (Paul and Sylvia Steinberg professor of American Jewish History, New York University). This event will coincide with the 70th birthday of the State of Israel.
First of all, I am not questioning the academic credentials of the panelists in any way. Nor do I question the right of these people-or anybody else working in Jewish studies- to be a supporter or opponent of Zionism and/or Israel. I have learned long ago that feelings about Israel are divided among American Jews and that within US academia, many Jewish professors have differing points of view. For example, UCI professor Mark LeVine, who is listed as associated faculty within the Center, is an outspoken critic of Israel, which is his right. As for the others in the Center, I don’t know who they are or where they stand on Israel. Nor do I much care.
My point is this: Checking into the backgrounds of the three panelists, it is safe to say that they are not supporters of Zionism. Again, that is their right, and I have no desire to debate the issue with them. My concern is that what we have looming here is yet another academic one-sided bashing of Israel in which all the panelists are of a like mind. It would be safe to predict that they will tell their audience that Israel is losing support among American Jews due to “its oppressive treatment and occupation of Palestinians”.
First of all, Diner is no supporter of Zionism, as this article she wrote for Haaretz in 2016 illustrates.
As for Pianko, he serves on a regional advisory council for the New Israel Fund, an organization which often takes more pro-Palestinian positions as opposed to Israel.
My question is, “Where is the balance?” Who would tell the audience that most American Jews still support Israel? Who would say that most Americans support Israel? Who would point out that support for Israel is strong with Evangelical Christians? Who would defend Israel’s defensive policies? I know for a fact that a request was sent to the Center’s director, Matthias Lehmann, to add a couple of pro-Israel panelists to provide some sort of balance. As of this writing, nothing has changed.
Of course, there is no academic requirement that any event give voice to both sides of an argument. I have attended a few events at UC Irvine put on by students who support Israel (which are usually disrupted by the pro-Palestinian side). It is hard to recall one-sided pro-Israel or conservative events sponsored by academic units, which often give credit to students who attend and often carry the imprimatur and weight of professors, as opposed to events sponsored by student groups.
It is frustrating to work within the academic community (I taught part-time at UC Irvine for 18 years.) and constantly see the non-stop academic bashing of Israel while any effort to bring in pro-Israel speakers is met with disruption. Many of the figures and speakers I have observed and heard speak at UCI and other universities are people I consider to be Jew haters. Now the UC Irvine Center for Jewish Studies puts on a one-sided event against Israel and Zionism. To me, it casts suspicion on the agenda and ideological purpose of this Center. I also note that the Center’s advisory board consists of prominent leaders from the Orange County Jewish community, people who are active in major Jewish organizations. Are they paying attention to what’s going on? I wonder. Donors and potential donors to the Center should pay close attention to what the UC Irvine Center for Jewish Studies is doing.