PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Adding to a growing array of academic programs advancing scholarship on specific nations and regions across the globe, Brown University has established an initiative to promote new research and educational opportunities related to Israel.
Since initial programming began last year, the Israel Fund initiative has supported study and internship opportunities including a Wintersession course titled “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives,” which included an immersive, weeklong trip to the region, and a lineup of summer internships in Tel Aviv.
Maud S. Mandel — dean of the College at Brown and a professor of history and Judaic studies — says the intent is to enhance a robust set of opportunities that undergraduate students and members of the Brown community already have to engage in scholarship on Israel and the Middle East more broadly.
“As a complement to our Middle East Studies and Judaic Studies programs in particular, this new initiative is enabling a deeper focus on Israel and immersive scholarship centered on one of the most complex regions in the world,” Mandel said.
The expansion into academic programming in Israel adds to the University’s existing regional studies programs focused on Africa, China and Brazil. Brown also is home to the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Center for Contemporary South Asia, and the Middle East Studies program, which hosts the New Directions in Palestinian Studies initiative. Israel Fund programming is broadening this set of regional studies initiatives, which enable scholars to develop in-depth knowledge of specific regions through the lenses of many disciplines.
“At the Watson Institute and at Brown, we believe that deep empirical knowledge about places — particularly when presented in comparative, cross-disciplinary contexts — is critical for developing frameworks for understanding and addressing the great challenges facing humankind,” said Edward Steinfeld, who leads Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and directs the China Initiative.
Whether those challenges relate to public health, climate change, armed conflict, civic strife or social inequity, Steinfeld says they all demand solutions grounded in a deep understanding of countries, cultures and regions.
“Our regional studies programs at Brown catalyze distinctive forms of research, teaching and public programming that provide precisely these types of understanding,” Steinfeld said. “It is in this spirit that support from the Israel Fund is allowing us to continue our academic mission and extend it in new directions.”
One distinctive aspect of the initiative is that it will support activities that are administered through a range of existing programs, including CareerLAB’s BrownConnect internship initiative, the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship and the Wintersession program. And as it expands in the years to come, the fund will support opportunities across a wide range of academic departments and centers. As envisioned, programming will include new partnerships, courses and experiences for Brown students and faculty to learn, conduct research and work in Israel. The fund will also bring visiting professors, postdoctoral scholars, speakers and an entrepreneur-in-residence to Brown from Israel.
In 2017, the Israel Fund enabled Professor of Judaic Studies David Jacobson and students to embark on a weeklong experience in the Middle East as part of “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Contested Narratives.” Jacobson describes the educational impact of the visit as invaluable for students in his course, which he created to present an alternative to what he calls the “often-polarized discourse on campus when people speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
“Students who go on the tour in conjunction with taking the course gain a much greater understanding of the dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they could by just studying it at Brown,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson says his students had opportunities to be led by both Israeli and Palestinian guides.
“The guides made sure that both the Israeli and the Palestinian narratives were well represented but also modeled the possibility of an Israeli and Palestinian working together on a joint project even though they were far from agreeing on how to the view the conflict,” Jacobson said.
Separately, the Israel Fund launched a set of summer internships in Tel Aviv through a partnership between BrownConnect and the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship. Danny Warshay, executive director of the Nelson Center, says that last summer’s pilot program focused on technology startup opportunities, because so many startups are clustered in Israel’s technology sector.
“We were thrilled to help catalyze this internship program, which had a strong high-tech theme,” Warshay said. “Students had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles, from programming to marketing and project management.”
Students also learned how to navigate cultural differences, Warshay adds, characterizing the general tenor of Israeli interactions as more direct and less formal than they might find in the American business world. Warshay and colleagues from BrownConnect are actively growing this international internship program, both in Israel and other cities with startup cultures including Barcelona and Stockholm.
In the years ahead, Brown expects to bring to campus post-doctoral scholars from Israel — a program that could mirror the post-doctoral research associate in Palestine and Palestinian studies position in Middle East Studies.
Brown’s goal for the Israel Fund is to establish a $10 million endowed fund, which will generate approximately $500,000 in spendable resources annually to support programming. To date, the University has raised $3.8 million toward the goal along with $1.5 million in current-use funds to support the initiative’s early activities.