A new think tank aimed at advancing “the study of modern Israel in the United States and around the world,” was launched this week in Washington.

Headed by former ambassador to the US Itamar Rabinovich, the Israel Institute aims to “support scholarship, teaching and research in an array of academic and cultural disciplines – including history, politics, international relations, economics, society, culture, art and literature – to foster deeper, more multifaceted knowledge of modern Israel.”

The new institute, citing a study by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, noted that there has been a nearly 70 percent increase in the number of “Israel-focused courses” in American universities over the past eight years.

“The institute reflects a growing interest in Israel and its fertile academic and cultural landscape over the past four decades, since the field of Israel Studies first began to blossom,” according to the institute.

Rabinovich, Jerusalem’s envoy to Washington from 1993 and 1996, is heading the new center. Rabinovich is a former president of Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Dr. Ariel Roth, founding director of Johns Hopkins University’s Global Security Studies graduate program, was hired to serve as the institute’s executive director.

“The State of Israel is an intellectual, scientific, artistic and technological hub,” said Rabinovich. “Discussions of Israel, however, often focus on conflict, and while this issue merits careful analysis, there are other aspects of Israel worthy of study in the policy community and the academy. The rise of Israel studies presents an opportunity to connect students, intellectuals, artists and policymakers to Israel’s vibrant society and culture, and provide resources and relationships that can help the fruits of their work reverberate out in wider circles.”

“The Institute is already supporting a partnership between the University of Maryland and Tel Aviv University to link the universities’ Israel and Jewish Studies programs and is collaborating with the University of Arizona to develop a professorship in Israel Studies.

The institute will facilitate “visiting professorships” for Israeli academics, host conferences and provide research grants to American scholars, among other activities. It is set to sponsor a conference at Brandeis on Zionism in the 21st century, the first of several such conferences slated for 2013.

Some pro-Israel academics, such as the Middle East Forum’s Dr. Daniel Pipes, have previously noted that “universities happily take funds from Arab governments” and the establishment of this new institute may be Israel’s attempt to counterbalance the perceived financial influence of the Arab world.

Initial funding was provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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