UC Berkeley creates its first faculty chair in Israel Studies

"In today’s heated climate and often challenging environment for students and faculty on campus, this is sorely needed."

May 3, 2019 02:03
1 minute read.
Berkeley University

Berkeley University (370). (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The University of California, Berkeley announced the establishment of its first faculty chair in Israel Studies, the university announced on Thursday.

The chair has been named after the Helen Diller Family, whose foundation put up $5 million for it. Helen and Sanford Diller met at Berkeley in the 1950s while they were undergraduates. A $5 endowment from 2002 currently provides funding for the campus’s Center for Jewish Studies, founded in 2011. They passed away in 2015 and 2017.

Associate professor of political science Ron Hassner, the Berkeley institute’s faculty co-director and an international relations expert on the relationship between religion and conflict, will hold the newly-created chair.

"I am moved and humbled by the generosity of the Helen Diller Foundation," said Hassner. "The foundation recognized the urgency of teaching Israel in an even-handed and professional manner on the Berkeley campus and sprang into action. Their gift allows us to address our students’ growing thirst for bold discussions in this flourishing, provocative, and crucial academic field."

The chair will endow courses, research and programs of the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

The university said in a statement that it is aiming to increase the faculty by 50% and to add B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Jewish and Israel Studies, expanding student enrollment four-fold, more than doubling student fellowship funding and boosting academic and community programming. In order to do so, their goal is to raise additional funds, while the grant has already prompted a further $1 million endowment grant from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the institute’s founding donor, and inspired an additional $1 million from an anonymous donor for Israel Studies programs.

Among other initiatives, every year the institute sponsors several Israeli professors to come and teach classes at Berkeley.

"In today’s heated climate and often challenging environment for students and faculty on campus, this is a sorely needed presence at Berkeley and sets an example for other universities," said Kenneth Bamberger faculty co-director of the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

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