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In This Issue

  • Latest Updates
  • AEN in the News
  • Campus and Association Updates
  • A Conversation with Kent Harber

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July 2017 Newsletter

Latest Updates

AEN now has 461 members on 182 campuses across the country.

AEN Micro-grants Program 2017-18 Now Accepting Applications
AEN micro-grants are now available to AEN members in amounts of up to $4,000 for the 2017-18 academic year. Initiatives may be aimed at confronting BDS and its claims about Israel, educating about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, affirming academic freedom and free expression on campus, or exploring relevant aspects of Israeli society, culture, and diversity. We also wish to encourage initiatives aimed at combating antisemitism. If you are interested in applying for an AEN micro-grant, please fill out the application on our website.

2017 AEN Conference Report
AEN's full report of our 2017 conference, which includes detailed descriptions of panels and talks, as well as takeaways, is now available to read. If you would like a copy of the report, please email raeefa@academicengagement.org. Thank you again to all members who attended the conference and filled out post-conference evaluations. Your insights are invaluable to our ongoing assessment of our work. 

AEN in the News

In the New Blue Review, a weekly Jewish politics, current affairs and culture podcast from South Africa, AEN Executive Director Ken Waltzer was interviewed about the role of academics in fighting BDS.

In Commentary, AEN members K. C. Johnson and Nicholas Lemann contributed to a symposium on current challenges to free speech in the United States.

In Tablet, Jarrod Tanny issued a call to his fellow academics to oppose the hateful tactics of Jewish Voice for Peace. "Identifying and connecting with Israel is a legitimate form of expressing Jewishness in the Diaspora. Jews across the political spectrum should be able to do this without fear. Jewish Voice for Peace is intent on suppressing this connection by shaming, bullying, and disseminating inflammatory videos, acts that abet the proliferation of anti-Semitism. It believes that purging academia of Zionists is a laudable and achievable goal. To stop this process, Jewish studies faculty must no longer remain silent."

In Real Clear Politics, Charles Lipson denounced the ideology which led to the exclusion of marchers carrying banners with the Star of David at a Chicago gay pride parade. "What kind of coalition are they building? Unfortunately, it is one designed to delegitimize Israel, demonize opponents, and suppress any discordant views, not only about Israel but about a wide range of other issues. It’s intellectual Leninism in the benign guise of emancipation. It has no place in a tolerant, constitutional democracy. It should have no place at a gay pride march, either."

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jonathan Marks mounted a "conservative defense" of a black activist who was fired from her position as an adjunct professor for making controversial remarks about race. "Perhaps we conservatives are prepared to overlook our principles and reputations because it is a pleasure to see the language of safe spaces come back to bite the left...If so, we have one other reason for backing up Durden: saving our own skins...If a college administration can fire Durden because some in its community were frustrated, concerned, and even frightened by her views, then they can fire anyone, but maybe especially us."


In Newsmax, Luis Fleischman provided an overview of how some self-styled "progressives" have historically - and currently - embraced antisemitism. "If progressive movements do not begin to question the level of fairness in their ideology and attitudes, they are surely headed in the direction of total collapse. It would be a good start for progressive groups to remove from their files all the demagogic anti-Semitic influences they have come to tolerate, even admire."

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

Campus and Association Updates

Victory at the Modern Language Association
On June 14, members of the Modern Language Association (MLA) voted 1,954 to 885  to “refrain from endorsing the boycott” of Israeli academic institutions. 

The language of the resolution reads: "Whereas endorsing the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature; Whereas the boycott’s prohibition of the evaluation of work of individual Israeli scholars conflicts with Resolution 2002-1, which condemns boycotts against scholars; and Whereas endorsing the boycott could curtail debates with representatives of Israeli universities, such as faculty members, department chairs, and deans, thereby blocking possible dialogue and general scholarly exchange; Be it resolved that the MLA refrains from endorsing the boycott."

AEN executive director Ken Waltzer and AEN members Rachel Harris and Martin Schichtman (who led the effort against BDS as part of the group MLA Members for Scholars' Rights) were each quoted in articles in Tablet and Algemeiner. AEN member Jonathan Marks wrote more about this victory and how it represents another setback for BDS advocates on campus in Commentary magazine. AEN's own statement on the victory can be viewed here.

UIC Expands Study Abroad Programs in Israel
Starting in January 2018, students at the University of Illinois at Chicago will have the option to study abroad in Israel at the University of Haifa. This welcome development is thanks in part to AEN member Robert Gordon, the former chair of UIC's chemistry department, who approached UIC's administration last year and encouraged the university to expand its study abroad programs in Israel. 


Pitzer College Trustees Reject BDS
On June 16, the Pitzer College Board of Trustees nullified a student government vote, which was held during Passover of this year, to add an anti-Israel boycott into its bylaws. According to its statement, the Board "will not permit College assets to be restricted in order to endorse a point of view that is not the College’s and that, in the Board’s opinion, does not align with Pitzer’s commitment to inclusion and respect for diverse viewpoints."


Antisemitism Lawsuit at SF State
Students and Jewish community members have filed a lawsuit against San Francisco State University and Cal State’s Board of Trustees, alleging that the campus administration has cultivated a hostile environment for Jewish students. A copy of the complaint can be found here. In recent days, Jewish members of the California state legislature have pressured the Chancellor of the state system to be more involved at San Francisco, and he has consented.

A Conversation with Kent Harber

Kent Harber, Associate Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, received an AEN microgrant to assist his research study, entitled "Modern Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israel Attitudes," which seeks to better understand the nature of attitudes toward Israel, both positive and negative. AEN Senior Communications Associate Raeefa Shams spoke to Harber about the preliminary results of his research (edited for length and content). Photo credit: Rutgers University.
Could you briefly describe the topic of your study?
The study had several goals.  One was to develop a reliable measure of attitudes toward Israel, another was to see how these attitudes are affected by peoples’ political leanings and their current psychological states—that is, their moods, feelings about their life, and satisfaction with US politics. A third was to see if attitudes toward Israel affect perceptions of Israel’s size—of its geographic proportions and its population.
 
What prompted your interest in this subject?
I’ve followed popular opinion on Israel and observed how it’s become both more polarized and more negative in ways that seem disproportionate and excessive. This includes everything from the predominance of UN resolutions against Israel, to anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses to even informal conversations with friends that begin with accusations and that are rarely satisfied by information.  
 
When animosity is that outsized it raises questions about whether it is based mainly on a careful weighing of information.  For example, attitudes toward charter schools or fluoridated water are likely influenced by student performance and dental health, respectively.  But hostility toward Israel, in its intensity and ignoring of complexity and resistance to facts, seems to be informed by something else. The AEN-supported research tries to get at that something else.
 
On a more personal level, I come from a family long aligned with the Left; Grandma hid socialist contraband in her Lithuanian shtetl, Grandpa got into scuffles in support of Suffragettes, people in my family voted Democratic since the Wilson administration.  Being on the Left and pro-Israel used to feel comfortable—it no longer does, and I want to know why.
 
You've received the results from the first phase of your research. What are some of the more interesting or surprising findings? 
This study, done with my collaborators Jamie Gorman and Miranda Levy, was an online survey.  We surveyed nearly 200 people; as it turned out most were liberals and democrats, but there was also a substantial number of conservatives and independents.
 
Our measure of Israel attitudes—the “Middle East Opinion Survey”—separately measured support for Israel, hostility to Israel, and positive and negative attitudes toward Palestinians. The fact that support for Israel and opposition to Israel are distinct, and not simply opposite poles on the same continuum, is important.  It suggests that many people may feel ambivalently toward Israel, and that attitudes toward Israel are therefore fluid and changeable.
 
We also found that transitory psychological states affect attitudes toward Israel. Generally, people were more hostile to Israel and less supportive of Israel if they were in bad moods, had a low quality of life, and were more worried about the current state of US politics.  Interestingly, this pattern was mainly true for Democrats. For Republicans, the pattern reversed.  The worse Republicans felt—lower moods, less satisfied with their lives and with the national politics—the more they supported Israel.
 
So, what do these results mean?  The different patterns for Democrats and Republicans suggests that Israel represents something different for these groups. There’s a lot of talk now about “intersectionality” – about how concern for civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, etc. are all connected—and personally I can see how that is so.  However, proponents of intersectionality also include hostility to Israel as part of this mix. So, if you’re a conscientious liberal, hostility to Israel is part of your identity. When people feel threatened they more firmly hold on to their fundamental beliefs, including their political ideology. Ideology becomes a defense against anxiety. If hostility to Israel has become woven into liberal identity, then situations that heighten anxiety—bad moods, worries about US politics—might increase this hostility. The opposite would hold true for Republicans—in that support for Israel has become integral to the political right.  If this speculation is accurate, then the longstanding bipartisan support of Israel may be transformed into another feature of the worsening political divide.
 
The final part of this research concerned perceptions of Israel’s geographic and population dimensions.  People were generally accurate about the size of Israel (although over a third thought it was at least the size of Pennsylvania—6 times greater than its actual size).  However, Israel’s population was generally exaggerated, with most people believing it to be 25 million or more—about 4 times greater than it actually is.
 
We predicted, and found, that estimates of Israel’s proportions were related to attitudes towards Israel; those who were more hostile to Israel estimated it to be larger and more populace—a result we are informally calling “Israel, the badder the bigger”.  We are not certain why this occurs.  However, other research shows that people exaggerate the size of things that threaten them, suggesting Israel is a threat for some people.  Also, there may be a bit of “cognitive dissonance” at play here—animosity toward Israel may be more justifiable if Israel is seen as larger.  
 
What will the next phase of the study consist of?
The next step will be to refine and validate the Middle East Opinion Survey, which could be a valuable tool for understanding popular opinion regarding Israel.  I also want to get a better sense of the “badder the bigger” findings; that is, why does political ideology affect the physical perception of Israel?  I also want to see if our initial results connect to antisemitism.  Specifically, to what degree is hostility toward Israel connected to hostility toward Jews?  And does hostility toward Israel, at least for some people, serve as an acceptable cover for anti-Semitism?
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