This past Thursday I had the pleasure to meet, greet and address nearly 300 faculty colleagues at a reception arranged by the Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council of Philadelphia which was co-hosted by the Israeli Consul General of Philadelphia. I was given the privilege of introducing SPME to those assembled, though there were many familiar faces in the crowd, long time supporters of SPME. But there were lots of new faces from such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Villanova, Haverford, Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University College of Medicine and others.
In the course of meeting with colleagues, I was struck by the need to correct the perception of what SPME is and isn’t. So, I thought that it might be important to share my understanding of who and what we strive to be simply because there appears to be a good bit of misunderstanding, as I learned from some of the feedback I received. I will share some of those and try to clear things up.
” Is SPME for scholarship or advocacy?”
This is a question I have been asked over and over again, no matter where I go and this is my ever-expanding answer. My response is that SPME has always and will continue to strive to be a home for scholarship, advocacy and scholarly advocacy.
With respect to SPME’s record on scholarship, SPME has engaged in various forms of interdisciplinary scholarly activity either as sponsors or as participants ranging from a conference on ” Postcolonial Theory and the Middle East” at Case Western Reserve University in 2005 which resulted in the publication of Postcolonial Theory and the Arab Israel Conflict (Philip Carl Salzman and Donna Robinson Divine eds. Routledge Press, 2008 Hardback, 2009 paperback) or the soon-to-be published papers from our conference on The Islamic Republic of Iran: Multidisciplinary Analyses of Its Theocracy, Nationalism and Assertion of Power, conducted in conjunction by the Program of Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University this past November 0r our upcoming publication of a collection of papers on the special relationship between the United States and Israel which is being compiled by Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver and Sam Edelman, California State University-Chico. Our SPME Chapter in Austria has just published a highly acclaimed series of academic presentations on the history of Israel in German for use in German speaking universities.
So, in a very real and substantive sense, SPME is an organization that produces scholarship dealing while elevating the discussion of the Middle East conflict from a multidisciplinary perspective apart from traditional Middle Eastern Studies, Israel Studies, Jewish Studies and Political Science/International Relations perspectives.
In addition, SPME members from many disciplines reach out across disciplines to their colleagues and have presented or written for such collegial academic institutions as the Yale Inititiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, the Global Forum Against Anti-Semitism and have participated in such highly successful programs as the highly competitive SPME Faculty Fellowship Program Summer in Institute in Israel where 20 Jewish and non-Jewish Fellows were selected from over 200 highly qualified applicants to spend several weeks in Israeli initiating join areas of academic interest, research and scholarship.
It is our hope that with the support of our network of over 30,000 faculty members, supplemented by grants and gifts, we can continue and grow to produce more scholarships and opportunities for scholarship of this nature.
SPME can and has been a strong advocate for many matters academic. SPME has been the lead international faculty association in combatting Israel academic boycott activity and divestment in the the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway and even in the United States, working with faculty colleagues from around the world, including Nobel Laureates and institutional presidents condemning and helping to reverse boycott and divestment movements and decisions.
SPME has taken positions on academic freedom, academic integrity, freedom from intimidation on campus and is developing positions on academic responsibility and accountability. SPME members at many chapters have been involved for such things as advocating for reopening of study abroad programs to Israel when they’ve been shut down, dealing with hate speech and incitement on campus, addressing issues of promotion and tenure with colleagues clearly fomenting anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on campus, conducting teach ins and advocacy seminars with various student and community groups such as Hillel, local JCRC’s and Federations and presenting community programs on Israel.
SPME has made history in garnering over 53,000 colleagues from around the world to sign petitions ranging from supporting reinstatement of a fired professor for expressing his views on the Middle East at a major university to petitioning for the freeing of Iranian scholars from imprisonment in Teheran jails without charges, to petitioning for the dropping of charges of sedition for a Bangladeshi journalist for applying to Israel or simply, supporting the rights of students accepted by Israeli University who clearly represent no security risk to study when sometimes they have not been able for other reasons. Our history of advocacy on academic matters is well documented at our website and in our Faculty Forum archives.
With respect to scholarly advocacy activity, SPME chapters and Task Forces have been in the lead of this effort and strike at a core activity of SPME. In academic literature and associations throughout our disciplines, SPME members are working hard in their respective disciplines to address issues of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. SPME’s Task Force on Medical and Public Health Issues has been hard at work addressing continual articles demonizing and delegitimizing Israel in such prestigious journals as Lancet, British Journal of Medicine, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry and other academic journals in the field where polemics and shoddy research sometimes is presented as scholarship, whether it be holding the Israeli Air Force responsible for traumatizing Palestinian youth for flyovers or most recently a publication holding Israeli security procedures in the disputed territories accountable for the increase of domestic violence of Palestinian men against their wives. Through networking SPME scholars, these and other article have been addressed in these journals.
From the the earliest days of SPME, when we held our first “teach-in” at Columbia University with over 800 participants on a Sunday afternoon listening to Efraim Karsh, Donna Robinson Divine, Alan Dershowitz, Phyllis Chesler, Rachel Ehrenfeld, Martin Kramer, Laurie Zoloth and others discuss the delegitimization and demonization of Israel and my earlier experiences presenting at the combined meetings of the Asssociations of Jewish and Christian Ethics asking for that society to take a moral and ethical stand on the use of civilians victimizing other civilians with suicide bombings or more recently my own attempts to go to my academic and professional home…the American Counseling Association…to condemn the practice of state sponsored educational television to promote incitement to commit genocide with young children in the Middle East.
Still others in SPME are fighting anti-Israel resolutions in the Modern Language Association, an extremely influential academic group in the humanities.
By presenting scholarly research and evidency, many of us are approaching our disciplines and saying enough of this demonizing and delegitimization. Let’s look at the facts on the ground and take social justice issues that many of our associations claim they proclaim and take positions on important issues.
This is the first of a series of articles, I hope to write for the Faculty Forum… My next article will be: SPME: Too Liberal? Too Conservative? Too Centrist? or “A Big Tent?” The opinions expressed in these articles are purely my own and may or may not reflect other Board Members’ understandings or views of what SPME has been or should be; but this is the word from the horse’s mouth as the horse has seen it over the years who now finally has time to share and reflect on the thoughts that have shaped and formed SPME from the horse’s mouth.
(Edward S. Beck is a Professor in the Schools of Psychology and Counseling and Behavioral Sciences at Walden University. He has served on the faculties and administrations of Penn State University, New York University, Rutgers-The State University, the City University System of New York and other colleges. He served as SPME’s first president from 2002-2009, having co-founded the organization with Judith Jacobson of Columbia University. He has a long history of leadership service in his academic and professional societies as well as in the Jewish, Interfaith and mental health communities in which he has lived. He currently lives in Harrisburg PA, but is looking to relocate to Philadelphia. He continues to serve SPME on the Board of Directors, as co-Editor of the Faculty Forum and in development and other areas. He has given up a good bit of leadership responsibility in recent months having become a grandparent with three children in the past 18 months and wanting he and his wife to spend more time with the small, but now growing family.)