The Mideast conflict hits endowed chairs

Roundup: Talking About History

"At universities across North America, endowed chairs have become another weapon in the campus battle between supporters of the Palestinian cause on one side and Israel on the other," says Liel Leibovitz, a contributor to this bimonthly magazine of Jewish culture.

Funds for chairs in Arab studies have come mainly from countries, principalities, and kingdoms in the Persian Gulf, explains Mr. Leibovitz, whereas money for Israeli chairs is largely from wealthy entrepreneurs in the United States. Traditionally such funds have been filtered through departments of Middle East studies. Lately, however, Jewish donors have been establishing Israeli chairs within Jewish-studies departments, "where they perceive faculty committees are more likely to be sympathetic to Israel."

"By keeping the chairs within these safe havens," he writes, "the philanthropists are effectively protecting themselves against the potential of anti-Israel candidates."

That academic battle has even found a front in Congress, where pending legislation would cut federal Title VI funds, which since 1958 have been a major source of support for Middle East studies.

For many academics, though, building a barrier between Arab and Israeli studies is simply not the solution.

Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has criticized many programs in Middle East studies as being too hostile to Israel, explains Mr. Leibovitz. Yet Mr. Kramer still argues that "the answer to flawed Middle Eastern studies isn't Israeli studies; it's better Middle Eastern studies."

Ali Banuazizi, a co-director of the program in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Boston College, also argues against isolating Israeli studies. "What does it say about us ... if we can't get it together and teach in the same department? Are we going to reflect the adversarial state?" Mr. Leibovitz quotes him as saying.

An excerpt of the article, "Battle of the Chairs," is available at

comments powered by Disqus