UCLA has inaugurated a Center for Israel Studies, the first of its kind on the West Coast. A $5 million endowment for the center was provided by Younes and Soraya Nazarian, the Iranian Jewish couple in whose honor the center is named.
The need for the Israel studies center, one of three such endowed and named academic units in the United States, was most succinctly expressed by Sherry Lansing, former head of the 20th Century Fox and Paramount studios, at an October event inaugurating the center.
Lansing, who is a regent of the University of California and a member of the center’s advisory board, observed, “The Israel I love, the creative, intellectual, self-critical nation, is not the one I see in the news.
“Almost all of the 10 University of California campuses have experienced anti-Israel actions, and the only way to change that is through education,” she added. “We will be a model for all UC campuses and beyond.”
Included in the center’s curriculum are courses in Israeli politics, law, economics, film, theater, environmental policy and the early history of Zionism, said professor Arieh Saposnik, the center’s incoming director. In addition, the center will offer students and the general public a wide range of speakers, conferences and artistic performances.
The center’s research projects will reflect the fact that “in many ways, Israel stands at the nexus of central issues in a range of academic disciplines, helping to shed light on modern nationalism, politics, environmentalism and a wide range of other contemporary topics,” Saposnik said.
Younes Nazarian left Iran for Israel in 1948 to fight in the War for Independence. “In Israel,” he said at the event, “I was treated like a full citizen for the first time.”
He established successful enterprises in both Israel and Iran but left his native country for good following the Islamic revolution.
Arriving almost penniless in Los Angeles in 1979, with his wife and four young children, Nazarian built a large fortune through various manufacturing, technology and real estate enterprises.
After mentioning his debt to Israel, which “helped make me who I am today,” Nazarian said he wanted “to use my own experience in life to make a difference for my family and for my two adopted countries, Israel and the United States.”
He paid special tribute to his youngest daughter, Sharon Baradaran, a UCLA adjunct professor in political science, who heads the family foundation and was instrumental in establishing UCLA’s Israel Studies Program, which led to the establishment of the center.