To fight the anti-Israel bias prevalent on many of America's college campuses, a major push has developed among concerned Jewish university students, faculty and alumni to establish Israel chairs, or academics who focus on the study of Israel. NYU has an Israel chair in the making, Berkeley received a donation for a visiting professorship in Israel studies, and at Columbia, too, an intention exists of finding donors to back the creation of such a chair. The
problem is that this focus on chairs in Israel studies as a solution to bias is misleading at best, and damaging to the cause of all those who seek balance in Middle East studies at worse.
It might seem illogical at first, to think that Israel chairs can further fuel anti-Israel propaganda in our classrooms and campuses. But after examining global trends in Israel coverage in the media, for example, one can clearly see that more discussion of Israel does not help Israel as much as it hurts it. Not because Israel does not have a legitimate point - I believe that, for the most part, Israel is fully justified in many of its actions, as long as the intention remains for two states for two nations. No, the reason is that Israel - and the professor that teaches about it - holds itself to a standard of integrity, while many of its detractors have no problem circumventing the truth.
With an Israel chair on campus, just think how much more liberty already-biased professors will take teaching their ideological position in the classroom. "If you don't like my course, take the other one," they might say. "I don't need to be balanced. If you want someone pro-Israel go take the Israel course," they'd continue. And many people will agree that they have a case.
If Israel studies chairs are not the answer, what is? Increased study of minorities in the Middle East could be effective in rebalancing the biases in Middle Eastern studies. It is not well known amongst the general population that the Middle East is home to a number of minorities, including Kurds, Copts, Assyrians, Berbers, Turkomen, and others - various ethnic groups that have been largely forgotten today when the region is called the Arab Middle East. It is almost forgotten to the public discourse that Arab Muslim tyrants rule over their minorities with an iron fist, and that these minorities were, for the most part, the indigenous inhibitors of their lands. For all the talk about the Israeli colonialism, there is nearly no discussion in the public sphere about the Arab colonialism decimating minorities region-wide.
When one learns about the plight of the Kurds - the world's largest landless peoples spread amongst five countries and brutally repressed in four of them until the present day, such that in some cases it is illegal for them to teach the Kurdish language and their literature - it is hard to think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the same light. It is hard for people to say that Israel is an apartheid state after they learn that Israeli Arabs are full participants in government and commerce while Palestinians are barred from over 80 professions in Lebanon, or that Saudi Arabia does not allow women out of the house without escort. It is hard to speak about the battle of Jenin as a massacre when one knows about the murders of Hama, where Syria's dictator, Hafez al-Assad, murdered over fifteen thousand in one day.
So yes, the Palestinian people not involved in acts of terror certainly deserve sympathy and empathy, but they should not be our only item of interest. Yet they have been for nearly fifty years - not just in our universities, but around the world. There is no United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Kurds or the Circassians or the Assyrians, no matter that they are all landless peoples not represented by their governments. This is because the West is obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, so obsessed that it has lost sight of the greater human problems of the region. We need to remind the world of these problems.
By supporting chairs for the study of minorities in the Middle East, we will not only be putting the Israeli-Palestinian question into the proper context, but we will also bring justice to the numerous minorities in the region forgotten by human rights activists and policy makers. By growing new generations of leaders who are aware of the Middle East as a whole, and not only of one prominent conflict, we will ensure more informed action by our government. And by reminding people that Israel is the only democracy in the region, the only state in which Arabs citizens have full democratic rights, we will be doing a far greater service to Israel, the Jewish people, and the world.