Associate professor Jeremy Dauber was appointed early last week to be acting director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, the division formed in 2005 to reconcile a clash over what some called an anti-Israel bias in classes on the Middle East.
Dauber, a professor of Yiddish in the Department of Germanic Languages, previously served as the institute's associate director. While the center has already operated for four years, it still does not have a permanent director. "He [Dauber] is already deeply involved in the running of the institute and he was happy to continue in the foreseeable future," Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks said. "Of course we'll have a committee that will convene at some point to find a permanent director."
Last week, the New York Sun reported that sociology professor Yinon Cohen was appointed permanent director of the institute. The article quoted several professors upset by Columbia's decision to appoint Cohen, who signed a letter condemning Israel's policies concerning 2002 military operations in Gaza. The Sun also wrote that it found the information about Cohen on a blog named Sandbox, written by academic Martin Kramer who obtained his master's degree in history from Columbia in 1976.
Dirks said the Sun's article was completely false. "I don't know what the basis for the attack on Professor Cohen is," he said.
Cohen came to Columbia in fall 2007 as a visiting professor from Tel Aviv University. While Cohen was never appointed director of any institute at Columbia, he recently received the endowed position of Yosef Haim Yerushalmi professor of Israel and Jewish studies—a name similar to that of the institute, which may have been the source of confusion.
"It [the Sun's article] all just struck me as being gratuitous and profoundly wrong," Dirks said. "We were happy and lucky to recruit professor Cohen. He's a terrific demographer."
Dauber said that as associate director, he focused on the institute's programming, and as acting director, he will work more on fundraising and staffing. For example, the institute just found a new postdoctoral fellow.
"I'm very happy and honored that Nick [Dirks] asked me to serve as acting director," Dauber said. "The institute's two previous directors, professors Yerushalmi and Stanislawski, have done wonderful work expanding Jewish studies on campus, and I'm glad to follow in their footsteps."
Dauber said he hopes to increase collaboration between faculty and students interested in performing research on Israel and Jewish studies. He added that he wants to maintain the scholarly standards of the institute while building new global connections.
"All of this has to be managed carefully, of course, but following on the expansion that's been taking place in recent years, I think we're off to a good start," Dauber said.