Moment magazine runs a feature article on the proliferation of chairs for Israel studies at American universities. It contains lots of information that may or may not be reliable. But my views on one particular issue aren’t represented accurately.
The article reports that I and Ali Banuazizi (past president of the Middle East Studies Association)
see eye to eye on one crucial point: Establishing Israel studies chairs outside the auspices of Middle Eastern studies hurts both disciplines. “The answer to flawed Middle Eastern studies,” Kramer told the Forward last year, “isn’t Israel studies, it’s better Middle Eastern studies.”
It’s a crucial point indeed, which is why it bears correction. I do believe that creating chairs and programs in Israel studies won’t fix the problems of Middle Eastern studies, which go far beyond the misrepresentation of Israel. In my book Ivory Towers on Sand, I point to a wide range of analytical flaws in the field of academic vision, on everything from Islamism to civil society. Israel studies, no matter where they’re located, are no solution to these problems.
But it makes a difference whether Israel studies are situated inside or outside of Middle Eastern studies departments. In some of these departments, the atmosphere is so poisoned that the only safe place for Israel studies is elsewhere, most obviously in departments of Jewish studies. The situation varies from campus to campus, and I’m not dogmatic at all about the placement of these programs.
What I do know is that no amount of stacked chairs in Israel studies will make a whit of difference to the quality of Middle Eastern studies as a whole. University administrators shouldn’t delude themselves. The Middle East is a lot bigger than Israel. So is the problem of Middle Eastern studies.