Jewish Studies, and now also Israel Studies, did not arise on college campuses because the American academy recognized the importance of these areas. On the contrary, it was Jewish philanthropy that endowed chairs and centers of Jewish studies beginning in the 1970s and centers of Israel Studies beginning in the 1990s and accelerating in the first decade of the current century. Although the funding often came from wealthy individuals, the universities made it clear to the donors that faculty and curriculum would be unaffected by the philanthropists. One of the reasons that Jewish Studies flourished was because of the academic integrity and reputation of the discipline.
There are troubling signs that the "separation barrier" between donors with ideological axes to grind, and universities is breaking. In this post I will discuss three examples.
The Posen Foundation
Felix Posen is a very wealthy British Jew who, when it comes to matters Jewish, is interested in two subjects: secular Judaism and anti-Semitism. On the old model of Jewish Studies philanthropy, Posen would have given a lot of money to fund chairs and centers of the study of anti-Semitism, as well as the study of the secular Jewish writers and thinkers. But Felix Posen is ideologically driven – he wishes single-handedly to set the agenda for much of Jewish Studies because he has a vision of Judaism which he feels is not being taught or studied.
"The Posen Foundation works internationally as a service provider to support secular Jewish education and educational initiatives on Jewish culture in the modern period and the process of Jewish secularization over the past three centuries. At a time when the majority of world Jewry defines itself as secular and is not well educated in Jewish culture, the Foundation offers this growing community the opportunity to deepen and enrich the study of its cultural and historic heritage—from a secular, scholarly perspective."
What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that Posen's Foundation gives big bucks to scholars and universities that are willing to develop curricula in secular Judaism, curricula that are supervised by Felix Posen and his staff. They are willing to fund encyclopedias and series on secular and cultural Judaism that present Judaism as Posen wishes it to be presented. Some of the best-known names in Jewish studies in the US and in Israel are collaborating with Posen and his ideologically-driven agenda on popular works that include the encyclopedia, "New Jewish Time: Jewish Culture in a Secular Age—An Encyclopedic View " , and a multi-volume anthology to be published by Yale University Press, the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization. I do not know whether the latter effort will also have the hands-on involvement of Felix Posen (he is legendary for getting involved in the curricula that he funds). But the editors know where Posen is coming from, and I doubt that they will do anything that he will not approve of.
So what's wrong with this? After all, it is a free country and money talks. Why not take the Posen money and run? Well, the answer is obvious. The money comes with ideological strings attached. And there is always the worry that the ideology will spill over into the academic sphere. Call me old-fashioned, but academic integrity is seriously compromised when somebody with such an overt agenda starts throwing around dollars. I wouldn't take money from Chabad. Why should I take it from Posen?
How ideological? Check out the website. Note that very little money is given to fund original research(except for anti-Semitism). Posen wants to make his mark not in research but in anthologies, undergraduate curricula, encyclopedias – precisely where ideological biases can do the most damage.
His is not the only one.
The Tikvah Fund
With the Posen Foundation hawking (and paying for) secular Judaism, we now have the Tikvah Fund, funded by the late Zalman Bernstein, which pushes for Judaism in a rightwing mode. The mission statement of the Tikvah Foundation sounds innocent enough:
The mission of the Tikvah Fund is to promote serious Jewish thought about the enduring questions of human life and the pressing challenges that confront the Jewish people. Tikvah will support many programs, projects, and individuals—including new university centers and courses, books and journals, summer seminars and scholarships. Tikvah's work will be grounded in these fundamental convictions: that the great ideas, texts, and traditions of Judaism are a special inheritance, with much to teach everyone in search of wisdom about the human condition; and that the fate of the Jewish people greatly depends on the education of intellectual, religious, and political leaders, both in Israel and the Diaspora.
No problem with the above, nor with the neocon slant of the projects funded by the Tikvah Fund (whose staff and board includes folks like Eric Cohen, Neal Kozodoy and William Kristol). It's a free country, and rich people can spend their money the way they like.
But now the Tikvah Fund has started branching out to university campuses and is taking on the trappings of a portable think-tank that sponsors conferences, seminars, summer sessions, etc. Consider the "Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought at Princeton University"
The Tikvah Project on Jewish Thought at Princeton University will support new teaching and research on the great human questions, bringing Jewish thought and ideas into conversation with other philosophical and theological traditions of Western Civilization.
Let me get this straight - the same Fund whose board is overwhelmingly neocon, and which gives significant funding to Shalem Center is also…sponsoring courses at Princeton?
But how in blazes does an ideological foundation sponsor courses at Princeton?
And it is ideological: consider the two-week course on reading texts in Jewish civilization that will be offered this summer to undergrads from around the country. You won't find much secular Judaism or "Jewish culture" there. The entire program is devoted to classical Jewish texts. The only historical session in the whole period is devoted to -- you guessed it -- Zionism. Reb Zalman would have loved it – but what the hell does it have to do with Princeton?
And, indeed, if you look carefully at the announcement, you will see that the only thing the summer program has to do with Princeton is that it will be located at Princeton. In fact, the Tikvah Foundation has teamed with the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think-tank housed at Princeton, to sponsor the summer program. And who does it wish to attract? Undergrads and beginning grads from around the country, who will not only get free tuition, but a one thousand dollar stipend to attend.
So what's wrong with this? Very simple: it weakens the "separation fence" between the Academy – whose faculty is eager to pick up money, prestige, and influence for these things – and the ideologically driven. The faculty at the first Tikvah Forum at Princeton looked like an advertisement for the Zionist consensus, and included folks, who range from the liberal hawk to the neocon, but failed to include anybody on the left. You certainly won't see Daniel Boyarin or Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin there. Folks like the latter have been ruled out of the community.
This cozy relationship between a university and an ideological fund is deeply troubling for anybody who still cares about academic integrity and freedom from outside interference.
The Schusterman Foundation and AICE
I will make this section short, as Richard Silverstein and I blogged on it last year. After Berkeley brought Ben-Gurion professor Oren Yiftachel as a Visiting Israel Professor, much to the consternation of the donor, the Schusterman family decided on a novel way to ensure that our campuses would be free of the corrupting influences of post-Zionist Israeli professors . They set up an organization, headed by polemicist Mitchell Bard, that would give grants to pre-approved Israeli scholars. Bard would then go to universities and offer them the scholars for free. Thus was born the involvement of the American Israel Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) in academia.
When Richard Silverstein and I broke the story of AICEr, the reaction of AICE was to state simply (and truthfully) that the scholars represented the gamut of Israeli opinion from right to left. And AICE was right; certainly there were scholars identified with the (Zionist) left who were funded. And I, for one, don't know whether AICE turned down anybody of the post-Zionist or anti-Zionist Israeli left that applied for a Schusterman fellowship.
But once again, I find troubling the idea of an agenda-driven speaker's bureau, which, at the very least, is not philosophically congenial to many notable Israeli academics.
The Schusterman Foundation is not the only problem with Israel Studies. As long as Israel Studies is associated with Jewish Studies (as it often is), hires in Israel Studies will run the "gamut" from liberal to conservative…Zionist. That is because the search committees are mostly made up of Zionists, whether Jewish or Christian