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