London university names first UK professor of Israel studies

"This is a real advance for Israeli Studies in this country," Dr. Colin Shindler says. "This is a great honor for me personally."

university of london 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
university of london 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A London university made history this week when it appointed the country's first professor of Israeli studies. The University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) named Dr. Colin Shindler, reader in Israeli and Modern Jewish Studies and chair of the Center for Jewish Studies, as the first professor of Israeli studies in the UK. "This is a real advance for Israeli Studies in this country," Shindler said. "SOAS is the natural and appropriate institution for this chair. This is a great honor for me personally." SOAS is one of the UK's top schools and notorious for having an anti-Israel atmosphere on campus. The university's Palestinian Society, the only student society in the UK professionally run by the student union, annually hosts controversial events such as "Israel Apartheid Week" and this year's two-day conference on the "one-state" solution. Last year, posters on campus advertising the launch of a book written by Shindler, entitled What Do Zionists Believe?, were daubed with swastikas. Shindler joined the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at SOAS in 1998. He convenes both the BA and MA programs in Hebrew and Israeli studies, and lectures on an array of subjects such as Zionist ideology, and "Israel and the Arab World and the Palestinians." His professorship comes as a direct result of his efforts and commitment to developing the Israeli Studies Department at SOAS, the university said. Each year, his classes are filled to capacity with students from an array of backgrounds and ethnic origins. A number of his students now provide young, dynamic leadership for several Jewish communal organizations such as the Zionist Federation, BICOM, World Jewish Relief and the Israeli Embassy. "This is a welcomed and well-deserved appointment for Dr. Shindler, who is very popular on campus with a wide range of students," said Gavin Gross, a former Middle Eastern studies MA student and currently director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation. "He covers Israeli and Zionist history in a very intellectual, thoughtful and level-headed manner, which is sadly not always the case with other academics and certainly not in the SOAS Student Union. I enjoyed my academic work there and would encourage others to consider studying Israel and the Middle East at SOAS." Shindler is the author of seven books and an authority on the Revisionist Zionist movement and the origins and emergence of the Israeli Right. Cambridge University Press recently published his book The History of Modern Israel to mark Israel's 60th anniversary. Active in Jewish affairs since the 1960s, Shindler was one of the originators of the campaign for Soviet Jewry in the UK, and in the 1970s served as political secretary of the World Union of Jewish Students. In 1982, he helped found the British Friends of Peace Now, of which he continues to be a patron. He served as editor of Jewish Quarterly and Judaism Today and has written for an array of think tanks, journals and publications, including The Jerusalem Post. Shindler remains at the forefront of higher education issues related to Israel, speaking out against the proposed boycott of Israeli academia and facilitating Israeli and Palestinian students in the Olive Tree program at London's City University.