For students looking to learn more about the country, Binghamton University has announced the opening of the Center for Israel Studies for the fall 2015 semester.
The Center for Israel Studies, which will be housed in the Library Tower and will be working under the broader Division of Research at the University, plans to offer undergraduate students an Israel Studies minor and will offer research resources for graduate students and faculty drafting dissertations about Israel. Possible coursework for the minor includes studies of Israeli history, literature, society and majority-minority relationships, according to Randy Friedman, the director of the center.
Friedman, who is also an associate professor of Judaic studies and comparative literature, said the idea to start the center began nearly three years ago when a visiting Israeli scholar, Maoz Rosenthal, taught courses in the political science department at the University. Shortly afterward, other professors suggested bringing more Israel studies experts to campus.
According to Friedman, the center at BU is funded primarily by a grant from the Israel Institute in Washington D.C., a non-partisan organization that coordinates with universities, research institutes and cultural organizations to promote the study of Israel. The institute is providing a grant to hire three full-time professors focused on Israeli studies which, according to Ryan Yarosh, the BU director of media and public relations, will amount to $450,000 to be paid over three years.
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman was involved in the inception of the program and said he was hopeful of the educational value the new center would bring.
“The grant from the Israel Institute will support hiring three tenure track faculty members, allowing us to expand teaching and research about important issues in a critical part of the world,” Nieman wrote in an email. “I believe that the center will foster high quality research that helps us better understand Israel from social, political, cultural and international perspectives and allow Binghamton students to learn about Modern Israel and its role in the Middle East and the world.”
The University has selected Shay Rabineau as the first Israel Studies professor to begin teaching in August and plans to hire the second professor next year for fall 2016 and the third for the following fall semester. Both will be vetted and interviewed by faculty in the same process that Rabineau went through, but there are no requirements for candidates with particular specialties within the field.
Rabineau received his Ph.D. from the department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University in 2013, and is the trail research consultant for the Abraham Path, a long-distance walking trail that spans the Middle East and traces the journey of biblical figure Abraham.
Jenn Duppert, a junior majoring in nursing, said that she supported the creation of the center because it filled a large student interest.
“I think the Israel Studies program is a great idea for Binghamton,” Duppert said. “The University has a big interest in Judaic and Israeli Studies so this program will appeal to a wide variety of people.
On the other hand, Aidan Quigley, a junior majoring in urban planning, said he was skeptical of the addition of the center.
“It’s pretty hard to get actual dialogue going about Israel nowadays,” Quigley said. “If this institution turns into another advocacy group I think that would be bad, but as long it’s unbiased I think it’s fine.”