In This Issue

  • Latest Updates
  • Member Writings
  • AEN Speakers' Bureau
  • Campus Updates
  • Upcoming Initiatives


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January 2017 Newsletter

Latest Updates

AEN now has 380 members across 151 campuses across the country. The fall semester was a successful period for recruitment - from August through December 2016, AEN recruited 60 members on 43 total campuses (including 23 new campuses)

BDS Suffers Defeats at Academic Associations
On Saturday, January 7, pro-BDS initiatives went down to defeat at the hands of scholars at two major academic associations - the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA). We especially congratulate MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights (MMSR), which led the confrontation with the pro-boycott proposal at the MLA, and we take pride in the efforts of numerous AEN members.

The MLA voted to reject a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions at its annual convention in Philadelphia. The proposed measure was defeated by a vote of 113 against to 79 in favor.

MMSR conducted extensive outreach to the MLA Delegates Assembly in the months and weeks before the vote and participated actively in the debates at the convention itself. Key aspects of the initiative included an essay published by Cary Nelson in Fathom Magazine responding to one-sided criticisms of Israel by pro-BDS MLA members and strategic floor leadership provided by Rachel Harris. MMSR also proposed an alternative, anti-BDS resolution, which passed by a vote of 101 in favor and 93 against.  

The vote was covered by a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, Tablet, and Inside Higher Ed.

A similar rejection of pro-BDS initiatives occurred at the AHA. Prior to the AHA's 2017 meeting, a group called Historians Against the War submitted two petitions to the AHA's Council, the first calling for an AHA investigation into "violations of academic freedom in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories", and the second calling for a condemnation of blacklists that singled out those of pro-Palestinian students and faculty. 

The Council decided to take no action on the first petition, and, regarding the second, chose to issue a more general statement in favor of academic free speech and against blacklists that did not mention Israel or the Palestinians at all. AEN had earlier sent a letter to the AHA arguing against these petitions.

Last year, the AHA voted down 111 to 51 a resolution condemning Israel's "limiting Palestinian academic freedom" and calling on the AHA to “monitor Israeli actions”.

AEN's official statements on these defeats can be viewed here and here.

Association of Jewish Studies Annual Meeting
From Dec 18 – 20, AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer attended the 48th Annual Conference of the Association of Jewish Studies, where he spoke about the University of California Principles against Intolerance on a panel about anti-Zionism and antisemitism on campus. During this time, Ken also convened a meeting of AEN members in San Diego and recruited prospective new members to join AEN.

StandWithUs "Festival of Lights"
On December 11, AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof gave a keynote address on combatting BDS in academic settings at the 15th annual "Festival of Lights" gala of Stand With Us, the Los Angeles-based Israel education and advocacy organization. (Photo credit: Jonah Light Photography)

Member Writings

UN Security Council Resolution 2334, the U.S. abstention from the vote, and Middle East policy in general was fodder for much commentary from AEN members:

Ken Waltzer, in the Times of Israel, detailed the problematic aspects of the vote, analyzing its political context and possible consequences for both US and Israeli politics. "Obama made his point about the settlements, but at what cost?" 

Charles Lipson, on his blog ZipDialog, predicted that the US abstention would lead to a domestic political realignment with a negative impact for the Democratic Party. "It will [reinforce] the movement, which began under Obama, of the Democratic Party siding with the anti-Israeli left in the US and Europe, and that, in turn, will accelerate the movement of non-secular US Jews away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans."

Josef Olmert, in the Times of Israel, criticized the Obama Administration's stance while also conceding the strategic limitations of the settlement movement. "This is now THE no.1 challenge of PM Netanyahu - find what is in common between you and Trump, not between you and Naftali Bennett, and concentrate on that - rather on appeasing your coalition partners with regard to every particular settlement."

Miriam Elman, in the Washington Post, theorized that a possible move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, partially conducted in response to the UN vote, would positively impact peace negotiations. "A reversal of the longtime U.S. diplomatic boycott of Jerusalem could bode well for Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. Sending a strong message that the new administration stands with the Israeli government on a major symbolic issue with high potential costs could push the Palestinian leadership to a greater sense of urgency in negotiations." 

Thane Rosenbaum, in the Times of Israel, condemned the President Obama's support of a US abstention, arguing that it only emboldened Israel's enemies. "He may have colluded with, and emboldened the Palestinians to stay away from the negotiating table, bide their time while launching more rockets and stabbing more Israelis."

Ruth Wisse, in the Wall Street Journal, argued that the UN vote was a form of discrimination and hostility against Israel and Jews that proved the necessity of legislation such as the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. "Treating anti-Semitism as a problem of free speech is like treating an outbreak of mumps as a problem of cosmetics."

Cary Nelson, in Fathom Magazine, highlighted the diversity of Israeli academia, pointed out the hypocrisy of many BDS advocates, and referred to his earlier support for practical improvements for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as part of his comprehensive argument against one-sided condemnations of Israel at the MLA. "In the same way that they treat the evidence of Israel’s vibrant gay community, evidence that Israeli higher education is a bastion of freedom is for BDS proponents a distraction from the [alleged] true dark, repressive character of Israeli society and state."

Finally, Steven Cohen and Samuel Heilman were both quoted in a piece in the New York Times about differing opinions among American Jews in the wake of the UN vote and Secretary of State John Kerry's subsequent policy speech.

We know that our members will have lots to share about developments in the US, Israel, and around the world. If you are writing, blogging, or speaking, please let us know!

AEN Speakers' Bureau

We anticipate that this coming semester, which includes the centenary of the Balfour Declaration and 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, we are likely to see increased pro-BDS activities on many campuses. We also anticipate an uptick of BDS actions drawing on some of the content of the recent UNSCR 2334, even while BDS proponents can take no satisfaction in a measure legitimizing Israel inside the green line. AEN is ready to offer to our members - and their colleagues and students - opportunities to engage on these and related issues, and we have developed an expert list of speakers capable of and committed to helping members do so.

Thus, we want to encourage AEN members to invite members of our Speakers' Bureau to your campus in Spring 2017 to give relevant public talks, followed by a class or seminar with faculty and students. 

The Speakers' Bureau consists of experts on one or more relevant issues, including the BDS movement, academic freedom and free speech on campus, Israeli history, society, and contemporary governance, Israel and its Arab citizens, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the challenge of antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism, and strategies for opposing the BDS narrative. 

The complete list of speakers, including their areas of expertise, can be found here. If you are interested to invite a speaker to your campus, please fill out the form on our website here. Honoraria for speakers will be covered by AEN, and AEN will work with sponsors on the logistics and attendant expenses.

Campus Updates

While much has been made of anti-Israel activities at U.C. Berkeley, the campus is also home to some of the more innovative initiatives in Israel Studies. For example, students at U.C. Berkeley have designed and taught courses on Israeli high-tech innovation, law, and film as part of the Israel Studies Fellowship (itself part of the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies). This feature in J. Weekly provides more information about developments in Israel Studies at U.C. Berkeley. 

In the aftermath of the pro-BDS resolution passed by the student senate at Portland State University, pro-Israel students are enthusiastic about developing programs that celebrate and educate about Israel instead of only reacting to hostile initiatives.

While these activities have been undertaken mainly by individual students and student organizations, the emphasis on developing positive, pro-active programming on Israel-related issues is important for faculty initiatives, as well.

Upcoming Initiatives

AEN Website Redesign
AEN is in the process of redesigning and organizing its website to maximize ease of navigation and utility to its visitors. If you have any feedback about the current site, or have ideas on resources or information which would be helpful to include, please let us know at

AEN National Conference
AEN will hold its second National Conference the week of Monday, May 15, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. The conference will take place over a two-day period that week, with a possible voluntary third day workshop on op-ed writing after the conference. Exact dates, locations, and program details are still being determined - please stay tuned for more information.

LA Faculty Convening
AEN is planning to hold a convening for faculty members in Los Angeles this February, to be led by Ken Waltzer. Please stay tuned for more information on location and dates.

Microgrant Events
These upcoming events have all been funded by AEN microgrants and sponsored by AEN members:

January 22-24: "Israeli Film as a Doorway to Dialogue"
Helene Sinnreich, Director of the Judaic Studies Program at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is hosting Israel Studies scholar and AEN member Rachel Harris, who will give a formal talk connected with and following a large Israeli film festival.

February 27: "Contemporary Israeli Politics"
Amy Elman, Professor of Political Science at Kalamazoo College, will host Yael Aronoff, who will offer an in-class lecture on the recent Kerry negotiations for Elman's winter Political Science course, “Israeli Politics: Constructing and Reconstructing Israel.” Aronoff will follow with a public lecture later that evening on Israel’s war with Hamas and the future of negotiations.  

March 5: "A Film of Her Own: Women’s Voices in Israeli Cinema"
Rachel Harris, Assistant Professor of Israeli Literature and Culture in Comparative and World Literature and the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will host a conference bringing together scholars and critics of Israeli cinema and women’s studies with women directors who are transforming the Israeli film landscape.

April 1-2: "We Are One People: Sephardic and Judeo-Arab Music"

Martin Shichtman, Professor of English and Director of Jewish Studies at Eastern Michigan University, will organize an event to draw on the work and performances of anthropologist/musicologist Dr. Galeet Dardashti. The event will include a public lecture by Dardashti on “Arab/Jewish Artistic Coexistence,” and her group will then perform the following day at a nearby venue in Ann Arbor, MI.

April 6: "A New Look at the Arab-Israeli War of 1948"

Amy Elman of Kalamazoo College will host renowned Israeli historian Benny Morris for a lecture on Israel's War of Independence that is open to the entire campus and wider community. This lecture, similar to the February event with Yael Aronoff, is intended to support Elman's course on Israeli politics.

AEN microgrants are available to AEN members in amounts up to $4,000. The purpose of these grants is to support faculty- and staff-developed educational initiatives that address issues related to modern Israel. We wish to particularly encourage innovative and creative initiatives, with special consideration given to those that envision collaboration with multiple academic departments that will impact students, faculty, and the broader campus community. If you are interested in applying for an AEN microgrant, please fill out the application, with as much specific information about your event or initiative as possible, here.

Mark Yudof in Palm Beach
Mark Yudof will be addressing the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County (January 25 at the JCC at Boynton Beach, and February 8 at the JCC at Palm Beach Gardens). He will share his insights on how students can respond effectively to anti-Israel activity with "vigor, intelligence, and poise."
As always, we would like to highlight our members' activities. If you would like to share any information about AEN-related work on your campus, please let us know at

We want to wish you all a Happy New Year, and best wishes for the year ahead.
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