Education and training is still important for students, but the most effective antidote to Israel’s detractors inside and outside the classroom are faculty who can present the facts about Israel’s history, politics and culture. It is professors who have the authority, the campus standing, the longevity and diverse audiences that shape the minds of future leaders.
AICE has brought more than 100 visiting Israeli scholars to more than 50 campuses, including the most elite universities, and we have seen the incredible impact they have made: stimulating an increase in interest in Israel Studies, which in turn has translated into more courses and new centers, chairs and programs in the field.
When a researcher from Brandeis evaluated the program, she said:
As a result of AICE initiatives, Israel has moved from its place as an isolated ''extra-curricular'' topic into mainstream classrooms and core curricula. In addition, the way Israel is discussed on college campuses has shifted. AICE programs have succeeded in incorporating rigorous scholarship and debate into discussions on Israel that were previously dominated by polemical hyperbole.
Each year schools from coast to coast approach us with a desire to host an Israeli professor. And more and more Israeli professors apply to participate in the program because they learn what a difference they can make in educating Americans about Israel as a real nation and not a myth created by supporters looking only through rose colored classes or the demon portrayed by detractors and the media.
To give an example of one scholar’s experience and impact, consider Gil-Ad Ariely’s experience over two years at Cal State University at Chico, California. Based on the feedback he received from faculty, students, and evaluations, Ariely found they were all more open to Israel. “Not only in class – but through extensive reception hours enjoyed at my office – where coffee, cookies, and intense discussions by students (and amongst them) would usually crowd the corridor. It might have been the coffee- or the events of the Arab-Spring that unfolded at the time – but none of these students will relate to Israel and the Middle East simplistically any more, nor would they fall into the pitfall of biased ignorance. “
Ariely thought one of his most unexpected and positive experiences was interacting with Arab and Muslim students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan and Jordan. On several occasions our professors have taught children of Arab government officials and royalty. Since Ariely was the first Israeli professor, if not the first Israeli of any kind they had ever encountered, the good relationship he built with these students was significant. One student, in particular, a Saudi (the son of a high official), visited Ariely many times in his office to discuss class material, unfolding events of the “Arab-Spring” and his frustration at seeing his friends use social media to talk about floods and casualties in Riyadh that were not published by the government. By the end of the course, the Saudi asked for a letter of recommendation for his MBA studies.
Other students who took Ariely’s courses in his first year decided to take courses during the summer in Israel. One of them went to Israel for summer vacation. “All came to visit with me in Israel while I was there in the summer and took my advanced courses during the next academic year.” Two of his students – both non-Jews – followed their interests to seek internships and careers relating to USA-Israel relations.
The clearest example of the impact of having an Israeli faculty presence on campus, Ariely said was when a seminar on genocide was held on campus led by a Palestinian professor from Cal State Los Angeles. After reading his background and publications it was evident the visitor’s main interest was to accuse Israelis of conducting genocide in the West-Bank. “At the end of his lecture, his arguments were contradicted and dismantled professionally by a professor whose expertise is genocide and the Holocaust (Sam Edelman), and tough questions raised by additional faculty attending (both Jewish, and non), helped expose the flaws in the speaker’s arguments for students in the audience. Ariely was especially incensed by the speaker’s implied comparison of the Nazis and the Holocaust to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. “As an Israeli and as a grandson to a Hungarian Partisan that lost all his family in the Holocaust before coming to Israel,” Ariely said he was sickened by the analogy.
“Without the professional and moral stance raised by Jewish and Israeli faculty,” Ariely concluded, “the students might have fallen for the biased, twisted facts and lies the speaker tried to weave for those who might be ignorant of the history and the truth.”
We can measure some of the impact of our visiting scholars by, for example, counting the number of courses they teach and students who enroll in their classes. One important lesson we have learned through this program, however, is that some of the most important benefits cannot be measured, such as the impact of the presence of the faculty at that CSUC seminar, or the fact that Ariely’s Saudi student kept corresponding with him, or that after the personal exposure to an Israeli the other Arab students returning to their home countries “now act as ambassadors for a different, less demonized view of Israel.”
Mitchell Bard is the author of After Anatevka: Tevya in Palestine and The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America''s Interests in the Middle East.