|Students often come to campuses with strong preconceived notions about Zionism and the Israel/Palestine conflict. Consequently, these students typically self-sort into discrete campus spaces, departments, and programs—for example, Hillel v. Open Hillel; Jewish Studies v. Middle East Studies; Students for Israel v. J Street U—with the effect that the communities and networks they help build and serve only end up reinforcing their original positions.|
For my contribution to the roundtable, I aim to provoke discussion about the role that Middle East studies scholars, in particular, might play in breaking down such boundaries. How can Middle East studies scholars and departments find new ways to reach students who might not normally seek them out; help students transcend their echo chambers; and, in turn, mitigate campus polarization around contentious Palestine/Israel discourse and activism?
In my remarks, I will focus on a couple key areas where Middle East studies scholars are likely to see increased pressure on open discourse and academic freedom regarding Israel/Palestine in the years ahead. First, I will survey the recent political positions of Hillel International—particularly its recent partnership with Mosaic United, an Israeli government-led initiative which aims to combat “critical discourse” on Israel/Palestine. How has the evolution of Hillel International’s political stances affected the tenor of Jewish life and dialogue on U.S. college campuses? How might Middle East studies professors work to temper any adverse impact on college curricula and campus programming, and to ensure academic integrity within and beyond the classroom? Second, I will raise questions about the relationship between Hillel International and Middle East studies departments in light of the Trump Administration’s policies towards Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants (at the time of writing this proposal, the fate of the original Executive Order banning Muslims from seven countries remains unknown). As students of Middle Eastern backgrounds are targeted by Trump’s policies, Jewish students are putting increasing pressure on Hillel to stand in solidarity with Muslim and Middle Eastern students who are under attack. However, Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities” prevent the institution from working with most Palestinian student groups as well as many Middle Eastern students and professors. How can professors work to facilitate effective cooperation between religious and cultural communities on campus, while fostering a healthy space for political disagreements?