Letters / On “The Fight for the Future of Israel Studies”

I am grateful for Mari Cohen’s reporting in “The Fight for the Future of Israel Studies,” in which she reveals the context behind the massive retraction of donor funds from the University of Washington’s Israel Studies program because of Liora Halperin’s political views. I was frustrated, however, to read the comments of Association for Israel Studies president Arieh Saposnik asserting that donor hostility to Halperin’s use of an “Israel/Palestine” framing in her courses was merely about “the integrity of Israel Studies as a field.”

Saposnik’s choice of analogy to make this dubious point is revealing. He suggests that donors to a hypothetical French Studies program would obviously be right to object if that program expanded to include studies of the Americas or if a professor taught a joint history class on France and another European country. But actually-existing French Studies programs have recognized that French Studies cannot be limited to France itself and must include the places that France colonized, like parts of northern and western Africa and, yes, regions of Europe and the Americas, where Francophone culture continues to thrive. This is why many such programs have changed their names to “French and Francophone Studies.” Those who have objected to this modified focus in French Studies have done so because they resent acknowledging France’s imperialist past—and present.

Putting Israel Studies and Palestine Studies in direct conversation with one another does not harm any scholarly field. Saposnik is being disingenuous when he purports to argue for academic “integrity.”

Arbella Bet-Shlimon
Seattle, WA

The letter writer is an associate professor of history at the University of Washington.