Israeli academic aims to create ‘non-PC’ ME research center

Mordechai Kedar says with proper funding, center could counter academic distortion from "Gulf oil money."

By OREN KESSLER
March 24, 2011 06:42
3 minute read.
Bahrain hosts the headquarters of  the US Navy 5th

Persian Gulf Map 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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A controversial Israeli academic intends to launch a research center to counter the distorting influence of “Gulf oil money” on scholarship regarding the Middle East and Islam.

Mordechai Kedar, a senior research fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post that his plan to create the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam at Bar-Ilan would fill a gaping hole in academic scholarship.

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In addition to his academic work, Kedar – a 25-year Military Intelligence veteran – is chairman of Israeli Academia Monitor, a non-profit group that, according to its website, follows “the anti- Israel activities of Israeli academics.”

He is considered an expert on Arab political discourse, Arabic mass media and the intersection of Islam and politics. A YouTube clip of Kedar’s 2008 interview in Arabic with Al Jazeera – he challenged the moderator’s assertion that “You cannot erase Jerusalem from the Koran” by noting that the Islamic holy book never mentions the city by name – has accumulated over 300,000 views.

“This is a new center that will be created at Bar-Ilan alongside BESA,” Kedar said, referring to the Begin- Sadat Center. “BESA operates from a political science perspective, but we will be coming from an angle of social science and religious studies.”

He said the center’s concept represents the coming together of two separate initiatives: Kedar’s, for an Israeli research center dedicated to the study of Islam, and that of fellow BESA researcher Ze’ev Maghen, an expert on Iran and Shia Islam, for a center focused on the Middle East.

Kedar said he and other BESA researchers had received permission from the university administration and were now trying to interest a benefactor in providing funding for the center’s establishment. He said the center currently had no budget other than funds provided by a donor in Canada to translate its reports from Hebrew to English.

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He added that the center would be open to a broad spectrum of opinion.

“We aren’t above any criticism,” he said. “We’re open to different opinions and maybe we’re mistaken – we’re not prophets.”

He warned, however, that the center would “not be politically correct – it will be bound to reality, without any political interests in what we publish.”

“Too many research centers in the world were bought by the Saudis, the Bahrainis, the Qataris and the Libyans, and others in the Arab and Islamic worlds who would like to present a picture that is often incorrect, and inverted according to their agenda,” he said.

The Middle East Institute in the US received generous funding from the Omani royal family to found the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, and in 2007 the Brookings Institution, another leading Washington-based think tank, created the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar’s capital, with half its money coming from the emirate’s ruling family.

The other half, however, came from Brookings’ Saban Center for Middle East Policy, named for the Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban, described in The New York Times as a “tireless cheerleader for Israel.” In their controversial book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, political scientists Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer describe both the Saban Center and the influential, AIPAC-founded Washington Institute for Near East Policy as unflinchingly pro-Israel.

Kedar dismissed these organizations as policy institutes separated from the academic world, and said he would be willing to abide opinions from anyone anywhere as long as they represented researchers’ true beliefs and not the interest of their benefactors.

“I won’t accept the influence of either Jewish money or Arab money if it influences researchers to write things they don’t believe in,” he said.

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