Israel on Campus Coalition launches L.A. center

(JTA) – The Israel on Campus Coalition launched a center in Washington, D.C., to help faculty develop Israel studies curricula and programs.

In Thursday’s announcement of the opening of its Center for Academic Engagement, which was made in Los Angeles, the Israel on Campus Coalition released a paper showing that 15 percent of 34 campuses surveyed had an “openly negative” or “hostile” environment toward Israel and 60 percent had an “apathetic” atmosphere. Another 25 percent had a “positive” atmosphere.

Forty educators and Jewish professionals on the campuses were interviewed for the report but were not named. The campuses also were not named, but the coalition said they were diverse in size, geography and numbers of Jewish students. 

Selected faculty will be tapped for center workshops and training sessions at the new center. They will be nominated by students, student groups, Hillels, Jewish community leaders and other faculty.

“Today, of the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Jewish community puts into Jewish students from Birthright to Hillel to MASA, only a minute fraction goes to faculty development,” Samuel Edelman, the executive director of the Center for Academic Engagement, wrote in a document released with the announcement.

Edelman, who interviewed the educators and Jewish professionals for the paper, contrasted the situation to a pre-1993 Oslo Accords effort in which “large sums of money” were available to send faculty to Israel through Jewish-funded groups such as American Professors for Peace in the Middle East.

“Most academics are uncomfortable with the left-right partisan ideological approach,” wrote Edelman, an emeritus professor at California State University Chico. “However, they are comfortable supporting and helping students, even if the students themselves are ideologically motivated.”

One response, he said, would be to bring faculty dealing with Israel together annually, on academic-oriented trips to Israel, and to connect them with local Jewish communities.

Israel on Campus Coalition Executive Director Stephen Kuperberg said in a statement that “Bringing faculty and administration into the greater dialogue regarding Israel sentiment on campus broadens our horizons and points to more comprehensive programs in the years to come.”

The new center also will seek to promote student pro-Israel activities on campuses.