Donna Robinson Divine Responds to Daniel Pipes On Brandeis

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I write in response to an article printed in the SPME Faculty Forum by Daniel Pipes.

In that article, Pipes repeats and approves of a call issued last year that people concerned with Israel’s security and welfare should reconsider their support for Brandeis as long as Jehuda Reinharz “remains as the University’s president.” I want to examine the proposition that Brandeis under Reinharz’s presidency has somehow damaged or weakened Israel’s security and welfare. Underlying this proposition is the notion that Reinharz’s policies or decisions have created a campus more hostile to Israel’s interests and to the welfare of its citizens.

Let me begin by stating my own personal ties to the university. I am a graduate; my daughter is a graduate, and while I have no formal ties to Brandeis, I have always considered it a duty to contribute as a form of repayment for the outstanding education I received while a student. Thanks to the generosity of Brandeis, I had the opportunity to spend my Junior Year in Israel, and that experience shaped the course of my life and career.

Still, I wish to examine whether Brandeis has deviated from its founding principles under Jehuda Reinharz’s leadership. Once again, let me stress that I have no special information about the school nor about the policies Daniel Pipes finds so abhorrent.

I would note, at the outset, that Jehuda Reinharz is one of the pre-eminent historians of modern Zionism. Having studied with one of the founders of the academic study of Zionism–Ben Halpern-he went on to publish many important books and essays. No one can study the history of Israel’s founding without relying on the exemplary research of Jehuda Reinharz. Jehuda Reinharz knows better than anyone that a charge such as the one leveled by Daniel Pipes simply casts him into the pantheon of Zionist heroes such as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion who suffered similar assaults during the careers.

But let me examine Jehuda Reinharz’s record of deeds with regard to Israel during his twelve year tenure. As Brandeis’ president, he established an institute for the study of Israel. Every summer, faculty from across the United States spend several weeks on campus and in Israel learning how to teach courses on Israel or to expand their own academic offerings to include material on the history and society of Israel. During the worst of the Intifada violence, unlike many colleges and universities, Brandeis continued its support for students who wished to spend their Junior Year in Israel.

It recently opened a Middle East Center. Daniel Pipes expresses reservations about its director, but he was appointed after a long career at Tel Aviv University, hardly an anti-Israel bastion. I have not followed events closely at this new Center, but as a teacher of Middle East Politics, I can say the following: the Center has mounted interesting conferences and published some provocative but thoughtful working papers. Unlike the situation on many campuses, this Center does not segregate the study of Israel from its Middle East geographic context. Nor does it sponsor lectures calling for the dismantling of Israel’s Jewish identity, a phenomenon so routine as to go unnoticed at other universities.

If we are called upon to calculate the impact of Brandeis on Israel, we must, in fairness, calculate the benefits as well as the damages. Students and faculty at Columbia and at New York University were invited last week to participate in New York’s Israel Apartheid Week. I dare say most Brandeis students and certainly the faculty offering courses on the Middle East would still be wall flowers at such at this kind of pseudo-academic event. Whatever the mistakes occurred with regard to Daniel Pipes’ invitation to speak at Brandeis, Reinharz’s achievements as president of Brandeis, and Brandeis’ impact on generations of American Jews are a clear net benefit for Israel.

Donna Robinson Divine

Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government

Smith College

SPME Editor’s Note: Prof. Divine is also a member of the Board of Directors of SPME

Donna Robinson Divine Responds to Daniel Pipes On Brandeis

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Donna Robinson Divine

Donna Robinson Divine is the Morningstar Family Professor of Political Science at Smith College. She is the co-author, with Philip Carl Salzman of Postcolonial Theory and the Israeli Arab Conflict (2008 Hardback, 2009 Softcover). She serves on the SPME Board of Directors

Even after many years of teaching at Smith, the classroom still provides a magical experience for me and the map for my intellectual inquiries. My intellectual mission is engaged by the challenge to make connections: to show students how events which seem straight forward are often complicated by conflicting historical references and opposing collective memories and in particular, how even the often murky, seemingly irrational events in the Middle East can be made understandable with the right questions in mind or with appropriate conceptual tools in hand. Although my professional residence is in a department of government, I brew up my research projects in an interdisciplinary cauldron, consistent with my own formal education.

I began to undertake serious work on the Middle East as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, concentrating on the history of Islamic civilizations and on language study. My graduate training at Columbia University broadened and deepened my knowledge of the Middle East through courses on classical Muslim history and on the region's economics and politics. Among students of the Middle East, my training in three of the region's major languages is distinctive, enabling me to conduct original research in Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish. I carried out the first in-depth study of the Israel civil service in the research I undertook for my dissertation and published an analysis of political patronage [‘protekzia’] in its senior ranks. I then shifted my focus to Egypt where I lived and conducted an examination of its chambers of commerce on the eve of the revolution which brought Gamal Abd al-Nasir to power in 1952.

My nearly eight years of residence, at various times, in the Middle East allow me to undertake empirical research on both Arab and Jewish cultures. Long before attention was directed to Palestinian elites and to the evolution of its civil culture, I gathered material on the membership of Fatah. Concentrating on the obituaries of Fatah members killed in missions against Israel, I examined their family backgrounds. The issues defined in that rather study spurred my interest in Palestinian Arab society and my determination to find ways to subject it to sustained scholarly analysis. Thus an essay on Fatah drew me to the topic of Palestinian Arab women and the challenge of incorporating gender into an investigation of power and politics. In the course of pursuing the study of Arab women in Palestine during the period of British rule, background eventually became foreground. The archival material I located was so rich and elaborate that I enlarged the scope of my inquiry into a book exploring how cultural values provide resources for political action. My recently published-Exiled in the Homeland: Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine-has allowed me to return to the study of Israel’s history and is, in a sense, a book my education prepared me to write.

Exiled in the Homeland: Zionism and the Return to Mandate Palestine,examines the immigration of Zionists to Palestine during the 1920s in years when their experiences were turned into myth and when their personal struggles to make the land of Israel their home were ignored. The Zionist project I survey in this book concentrates on the period when Jews believed that moving to Palestine lifted them up to a new kind of solidarity, moral development and social coherence. I have chosen the first decade of British rule [1919-1929] as the temporal borders for this study because it was a formative time for developing a Jewish national home and can hold up a mirror to Israel’s conventional nation-building narratives. Thus, I am able to show not only how Zionists settled into Palestine when resources were severely limited but also how much they relied on their visionary hopes and expectations when circumstances provided no cause for optimism. The 1920s-a coherent period from the point of view of British colonial policy and the development of Palestine’s Jewish community-affords an ideal opportunity to examine whether the encounter of Zionists with what they understood as the land of Israel lived up to their expectations and to reflect on both the accomplishments and shortcomings of the Zionist effort to mold a new national identity and to transform the Jewish people. A scholarly engagement with the desires, values, decisions, and reflections of the early generations who created the economic and political structures for the Jewish state means following the individual men and women who crossed continents and seas to make Palestine their home. Immigration was a decisive element in the national life of Palestine’s Jews even though its nature and significance continue to puzzle scholars who seek to know it well.

I found my way to SPME as I watched what was happening at Columbia because when I studied at the school, there was an environment that placed a high value on analysis and scholarly rigor and attached no importance or respect to arguments in the classroom based on personal political viewpoints. Moreover, Israel was fully integrated into the study of the Middle East with Israelis and Palestinians sitting around the same seminar table in discussions not accusations. My commitment to the work of SPME is a commitment to restore the study of the Middle East to the scholarly status it once possessed.


SPME Faculty Profile: Anonymous and All Alone On Campus

This SPME Faculty Profile is being published anonymously, but powerfully demonstrates the need many of our colleagues have to feel connected with a peer group dedicated to academic excellence, honest debate and elevating the understandings of the issues of the Israeli Arab Conflict.

I learn so much from Philip Carl Salzman's articles. As a librarian in a college I am going to request that we purchase Philip's books.

My interest in SPME stems from looking for resources for combating anti-semitism and anti-Israel sentiments at my college. It is my solitary battle as the only Jewish employee (and faculty member) on campus. The articles that I have read on the SPME site have helped educate me and given me objective information for discussion, presentation material in the classroom and for library displays.Unfortunately, in order for me to not worry about job retention I cannot post for public viewing the reasons for my involvement with SPME as of yet. Hopefully one day soon my work environment will be more hospitable.

Read all stories by Donna Robinson Divine

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