Classroom (illustration)
Classroom (illustration) iStock

Over 80 college educators and researchers have established a new alliance advocating balance in Israel education. The Jewish Studies Zionist Network, as it is called, is specifically for individuals within Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and adjacent fields who believe that academia has become unjustly hostile to Israel. Its mission statement reads, “As experts in Jewish studies with a commitment to the peace and welfare of all communities in Israel, the world’s sole Jewish State, we reject characterizations of Zionism and Israel that seek to discredit their legitimacy and that judge them according to standards not applied to any other nation.”

The network was founded by Jarrod Tanny, associate professor of Jewish History at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Explaining why he started the movement, Tanny said, “As a professor of Jewish history I grew troubled at the extent to which anti-Zionism has become pervasive in academia. The animosity directed against ‘Zionists’ and Israel on college campuses, fueled by frequent condemnatory statements and petitions issued by scholarly associations and departments, BDS resolutions, and ‘Apartheid Week’ events, has led to an alarming uptick in antisemitism. Rather than speaking out against this, numerous Jewish studies scholars have publicly endorsed this trend, or at the very least have looked the other way.”

Also on the coordinating committee are Adam Fuller, associate professor of Politics and International Relations at Youngstown State University, and Naya Lekht, an independent scholar. Fuller said that the network is vital for promoting balance in higher education.

“It is our responsibility as educators to offer diverse perspectives to our students,” he said. “But unfortunately, students are getting a very distorted picture of the Middle East conflict. They aren’t being exposed to Israel’s side of the story. And major academic organizations are going along with it, such as the Middle East Studies Association, which has now officially adopted BDS. It is unbelievable that the most prominent association of scholarship of the region is boycotting scholars and institutions from one of the countries that it is supposedly devoted to studying.”

Lekht highlighted the impact academic anti-Zionism has had on Jewish youth even before they begin college. She said, “If once the epicenter of anti-Zionism was to be found in universities, today Jewish teens encounter anti-Israel bias in the classroom. How did this happen? It happened because for far too long anti-Zionism has remained unchecked in academia. This is why JSZN is such a vital initiative.”

Other than its members’ unified belief that Zionism is a valid political movement and legitimate expression of Jewish peoplehood, the network is non-partisan and has a politically diverse array of signatories. The mission statement states, “We have no unified position on Israeli or Jewish politics generally, or on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, other than to uphold the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination and of Israelis to craft their own future.

“We believe that the double standard to which Israel is held in the academy has not only stifled scholarship but has created a climate of fear among faculty and students who wish to express their Jewish identity – a Zionist Jewish identity – in public,” Tanny said. “So we created the Jewish Studies Zionist Network to show the world that there are scholars and professors of Jewish and Israel studies who will no longer remain silent. We are speaking out, collectively, as experts in the history and culture of the Jewish people and Israel.”