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By | September 3, 2019

When I acquaint Americans about my adolescence in Israel, abounding ask what it was like benumbed a biscuit to school. Back I acquaint associates of the L.A. Jewish association about teaching classes on Israel on the UC Berkeley campus, they generally ask what it’s like “dealing with all the Israel haters.”

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Both these angle are out of blow with reality. SUVs accept continued aback afraid off the band that already roamed the streets of Tel Aviv (there weren’t abounding of them in the aboriginal place). Jewish acceptance who accept taken aback their campus accept continued aback drowned out the anti-Israel choir in Berkeley. Berkeley now is a abode area they and their aeon who are amorous about Israel studies and Jewish studies can authority their active high.

If you are a Jewish apprentice on the Berkeley campus, you ability alpha your day with a morning chic on Jewish mysticism, the Holocaust or advice the Bible at the Centermost for Jewish Studies. Your abutting chic ability be on the causes and approaching of the Arab-Israeli conflict, accomplished by Berkeley’s Assistant of Israel Studies (me), a chic on amusing protests in Israel or a academy on the history of Tel-Aviv. Next, you could cafeteria in the alone adequate dining anteroom at any West Coast university. Then, it’s off to Berkeley’s Jewish museum, the Magnes Accumulating of Jewish Art and Life, to conduct archival analysis on 18th-century ketubahs or the astonishing Vishniac accumulating of photographs from the shtetl.

In the backward afternoon, appear a affair with your apprentice accumulation at Berkeley’s Hillel to plan an event, advance or adapt the abutting cruise to Israel. In the evening, go to a accessible accident at the Berkeley Convention for Jewish Law and Israel Studies, area an Israeli announcer ability altercate with an Israeli political scientist about the accessible elections.

This is what Israel scholarship and Jewish activity is like on the Berkeley campus in January 2020.

Since abounding of our Berkeley acceptance originally are from L.A., it is time for Southern California to abandon its misconceptions about band and belief about Berkeley. It’s time to bless acceptable account for a change: There is an Israel studies phenomenon demography abode at one of the greatest accessible universities — and it’s accident now.

For nine years, Berkeley has been home to the best aggressive Israel Studies affairs in the Affiliated States: the Berkeley Convention for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. Every year, the Convention invites bisected a dozen top-tier advisers from Israel to advise classes about Israel above the campus. They ability hundreds of acceptance every semester, teaching capacity as assorted as Israeli high-tech, poetry, built-in law and affair politics.

This Israel Studies affairs is accompanied by a additional institution, a centermost for Jewish studies, amid centermost above campus. There, top advisers assignment with alum acceptance to abstraction Jewish history, scripture and literature. At addition end of campus sits the Magnes. No added university in the country has a Jewish museum. Berkeley boasts the third-largest accumulating of Jewish artifacts in any architecture in the Affiliated States. As of aftermost April, UC Berkeley is one of a dozen universities in the country with a abiding adroitness position committed to belief Israel: the Helen Diller Family Chair in Israel Studies.

Life has not consistently been accessible on our campus for acceptance who capital to abstraction Israel, or who capital to apprentice about their Jewish access to Israel. 

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There is no boycott, denial and sanctions (BDS) movement on the Berkeley campus; there has not been one there for seven years, at which time it failed. There is no “Apartheid Week” and no “Apartheid Wall.” Anti-Israel protests can be advantageous and should be acceptable on any campus. However, the Berkeley campus has not apparent a accessible beef aback October 2016. An angel from that day, added than three years ago, speaks louder than words: 10 anti-Israel protesters face an arc of 30 Jewish students, apery three Jewish groups that are not on accessible speaking agreement with one another. In their easily are ample Israeli flags and a affiche inscribed “Zionism: Self-Determination for the Jewish People.” 

Berkeley is home to the country’s alone affairs in Jewish law, anticipation and identity. The Berkeley Hillel, which afresh underwent a $10 actor renovation, welcomes 750 acceptance during the Aerial Holidays. Added than 100 acceptance bless Shabbat at Hillel every Friday night. The adjacent Chabad House hosts addition 100. Jewish apprentice groups are flourishing: A Jewish law apprentice group; a Jewish business apprentice group; a Jewish a cappella group; a Jewish fraternity; and Jewish political groups apery right, centermost and left. Of the 20 apprentice senators currently built-in in the apprentice council, two are Jewish students.

Every year, Berkeley’s Hillel organizes three apprentice trips to Israel. Law acceptance and business acceptance adapt anniversary trips of their own. The Berkeley Convention for Jewish Law and Israel Studies offers summer classes in Israel that Berkeley acceptance can booty for advance credit, as able-bodied as summer internships in Israel. Acceptance who excel in my classes on the Middle East battle will accompany me on anniversary abstraction trips to Israel, starting in winter 2021.

The absolute absoluteness of Israel studies on the Berkeley campus raises two questions: How did this phenomenon appear about? How accept you not heard about it before?

Taking aback the campus

Life has not consistently been accessible on our campus for acceptance who capital to abstraction Israel, or who capital to apprentice about their Jewish access to Israel. Back I aboriginal accustomed in Berkeley in 2004, two BDS attempts occurred in quick succession. The campus promptly alone both. A adventurous accessible statement, active by all 10 University of California chancellors in 2010, accursed BDS as “a absolute and austere blackmail to the bookish abandon of our students.”

But accompanied (as they usually are) with animadversion and bigotry, these bootless BDS efforts angered Jewish and Israeli students. That annoyance was not directed above at the activists who had approved to accompany abhorrence assimilate the campus: It was directed at us, the faculty, which had called to abide aloof. Our acceptance abashed us. “Where were you,” they asked, “when we confronted lies and misinformation?” The acceptance didn’t ask that we booty abandon in political debates on campus. What they accepted was ability and engagement. Area were the classes about Israel? Area were the arduous but nuanced opportunities to apprentice about the battle in the Middle East? Area could they appoint with their own Jewish identities, history, adoration and culture?

UC Berkeley adroitness rose to the challenge. As so generally has been the case in Jewish history, blackmail and aggravation affronted Jews to activate and booty action. Led by Kenneth Bamberger, a assistant of law, we affiliated to ameliorate and authorize Jewish and Israeli acquirements on our campus. We began with the founding of the Berkeley Convention for Jewish Law and Israel Studies in 2011, headed by Bamberger and me. Twenty-five Berkeley adroitness associates sit on its bookish board, and 20 undergraduates assignment anxiously with visitors from Israel and advisers from Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, Haifa, IDC Herzliya and Ben-Gurion University, amid others. They accept accomplished journalism, sociology, art history, gender studies, Middle East studies, law, history, etc.

There is not a bend of the campus in which Berkeley acceptance accept not affianced with Israeli society, technology or politics.

“As so generally has been the case in Jewish history, blackmail and aggravation affronted Jews to activate and booty action.”

The convention offers dozens of classes, adroitness seminars, graduate-student seminars  as able-bodied as accessible events. Guest speakers accept included Israeli Supreme Court justices, above British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and a ancient Nazi war-crimes prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Not already accept these talks suffered protests or interruptions. The apartment are awash with association associates and acceptance acquisitive to apprentice more. Two years ago, our convention hosted the better anniversary appointment of Israel advisers anywhere in the world: the Association for Israel Studies. Three hundred and fifty Israel advisers converged on the Berkeley campus for a anniversary of panels, lectures and workshops. If there were any BDS activists larboard on the campus, they absolutely seethed in silence.

Next, Berkeley acquired the Magnes collection, and the adroitness reestablished the Centermost for Jewish Studies, now headed by assistant Benjamin Brinner. It confused into a new space, appointed an controlling administrator and began hiring new faculty, alms added classes than before. None of these efforts would accept borne bake-apple were it not for an administering that accustomed the acceptation of Jewish and Israel studies and encouraged their flourishing.

The Berkeley adjudicator accustomed a alive group, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Jewish Life, headed by the above admiral of the University of California system, Mark Yudof. Its associates accommodate acceptance and faculty, but additionally association members, and the Berkeley leadership. It is consistently abounding by the chancellor, Carol Christ, the greatest adherent of Jewish Studies that our campus has anytime known.

No band here.

I appointment L.A. generally to acquaint audiences about Berkeley’s Israel Studies miracle. Abounding of our Israel Institute’s greatest supporters abide in L.A., as do the parents of abounding of our students. Back I allotment our accomplishments with Jewish admirers members, I appointment a cogent bulk of incredulity. I doubtable that in part, this skepticism stems from an inherent Jewish abhorrence of absolution bottomward one’s bouncer in the face of account that is “too acceptable to be true.” The Jewish media carries its own allotment of blame: It is quick to “advertise” and dramatize the best aged anti-Israel and anti-Jewish outbreaks on campuses. Jewish affidavit are far added chastened back it comes to overextension acceptable account about success and association building. I’m reminded of the old antic about the Jewish telegram: “Bad News, Details to Follow.”

“It’s as accessible for a corrupt to aerosol acrylic a swastika on the ancillary of a university architecture as it is for a bearded apprentice to admit addition bootless BDS effort.”

This is a abashment because it agency anti-Israel efforts that abort on U.S. campuses — as best do — are hidden from the accessible eye, admitting attenuate cases of “success” (whatever that alike means) are sensationalized. In turn, this encourages biased activists who contemplate riling up students. If success is bargain and advantageous and abortion is invisible, why not attack BDS for the third or fourth time? BDS spasms abide on campuses about the country admitting about two decades of base failure, in allotment because the Jewish association imagines it ability accomplish tomorrow.

Anti-Israel activism may able-bodied rear its animal arch from time to time. It’s as accessible for a corrupt to aerosol acrylic a swastika on the ancillary of a university architecture as it is for a bearded apprentice to admit addition bootless BDS effort. We care to acknowledge to these abandoned incidents forcefully, but not accommodate perpetrators with chargeless PR. We should acceptable abreast and effective critiques of Israel. But back anti-Israel bigotry crops up, our aptitude as empowered and emancipated Jews should be to bandy our abounding weight into acknowledging the account we amount most: the apprenticeship of approaching generations.

“The Berkeley association has announced audibly and confidently.”

The Berkeley association has announced audibly and confidently. Acceptance and adroitness accept invested their efforts and passions into creating institutions at which Israel and Judaism are advised rigorously, anxiously and enthusiastically. That accomplishment would accept been extraordinary had it not been for the abutment of the Berkeley administering and the generosity of the Jewish association of California and beyond. They accept accustomed of their time, their account and their assets to advice us assemble this phenomenon from scratch.

Our efforts accept alone above begun. In the abutting bristles years, we achievement to appoint bristles added adroitness associates to advise Israel and Jewish studies — one new appoint every year. We intend to amateur the cardinal of alum acceptance who acquire doctorates in Jewish Studies on our campus, and we plan on quadrupling the cardinal of undergraduates who booty our classes on Israel. Advisers from Israel will abide to breeze to the Berkeley campus. Soon, we achievement to action our undergraduates the achievability of minoring in Israel Studies and in the years that follow, as we abound our faculty, an Israel Studies major. Imagine admission with a amount in Israel from UC  Berkeley!

The added adroitness and classes we offer, the greater the cardinal of acceptance we will allure to Berkeley — not admitting Berkeley’s acceptability apropos Israel, but because of Berkeley’s acceptability as a centermost of arete for the abstraction of Israel. Aftermost year, The Forward ranked UC Berkeley as the second-best abode in the country for acceptance who ambition to appoint with Israel.

That’s not acceptable abundant for the best accessible university in the world. We will not blow until we are ranked first. 

UC Berkeley has become a civic archetypal for Jewish studies and Israel studies. If that doesn’t bout the angel of Berkeley in your head, maybe it’s time you came for a visit. Better yet, accelerate your kids.

Ron E. Hassner is the Helen Diller Family Chair of Israel Studies at UC Berkeley.

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