Still Looking for Israel at Harvard

Harvard is Harvard and there is little to discourage a potential applicant beyond the exorbitant tuition. Nevertheless, students interested in learning about Israel should consider sacrificing the prestige for a school that treats Israel as it would any other country in area studies.

In the fall, I searched the word “Israel” and found 37 courses; however, of those, the only courses related to the history, politics or culture of the modern state were courses on the ethnography of the Middle East, a summer school course on international conflict, and a divinity school course on religion, conflict and peace.

The place where one would expect to find courses on Israel is the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and yet in the fall, only two out of 126 courses offered by the center and affiliate departments directly related to Israel, one on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the other an Advanced Seminar in Modern Hebrew: Israeli Culture: Cinema & Literature.

This begs the question if Israel is not in the Middle East, where is it?

Courses and instructors change each semester so I decided to see what Harvard students could learn about Israel this past spring. This time a search for the word “Israel” in the course catalogue yielded not one course. The closest was a course taught at MIT,    Co-Existence and Conflict in the Middle East, whose description included a factually inaccurate reference to studying “Western-mandated states,” which included the non-existent state of “Palestine.” This was perhaps not surprising since the professor’s expertise seems to focus on Turkey, Armenia and gender studies.

Surely CMES offered courses exploring Israeli history, politics and culture. Nope. I found a list of 47 courses taught at Harvard and not one related to Israel. Students did have three options at other schools: the aforementioned MIT course; another course at MIT, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict; and one at Tufts, Negotiation & Mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Past Lessons & Future Opportunities. The professor teaching the MIT course on conflict actually has some research expertise related to Israel. The one at Tufts, Nadim Rouhana, also does relevant research, though, according to Campus Watch, he was denied tenure at Boston College because of the poor quality of his scholarship.

Perhaps a clue to the makeup of the course schedule at Harvard can be found from one of the sources of its funding. Between 1986 and 2013, Harvard received more than $86 million dollars from Arab individuals and countries, the fourth highest total of any university, after Georgetown, Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon.

This is yet another reminder that the Arabs recognize that future leaders are produced in universities and they are most influenced by their professors. While significant funding is flowing to pro-Israel students on campus, the amount directed at the far more important, often problematic faculty, remains a fraction of what Israel’s enemies are investing.

In a study of graduate students at elite universities, pollster Frank Luntz found that “the pro-Palestinian attitudes among these students originate with their professors.” The Jewish People Policy Institute’s 2014-2015 Annual Assessment of the Jewish People agreed that faculty are a serious problem:

While the focus is most often on students, anti-Israel faculty may actually pose a bigger challenge, due to their tenure, prestige, and platform. This is especially the case with Middle East Studies departments, which tend to be biased against Israel, but also a large number of extreme liberal and even radical left lecturers who are not Middle East experts but use their prestige to voice anti-Israel opinions.

All the money being thrown at the campuses will not change the fundamentally anti-Israel culture at many universities unless it is directed at faculty. It is important to support students; however, they do not have the long-term multiplier effect of professors who will influence thousands of students over the course of a career.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.