January 4, 2012
CSU system debates restarting Israel study abroad programs
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To help clarify the knotty situation, The Journal sought to speak to three people on the Northridge campus — Klein, then-Provost Hellenbrand and Jody Myers, coordinator of the Jewish Studies Interdisciplinary Program.
By his own description, Hellenbrand fits into the sizable group of Jewish university administrators and senior professors whose formative political experience was the anti-establishment movement of the 1960s and ’70s, marked by agitation against U.S. foreign policy.
Like many of his contemporaries, Hellenbrand grew up in a home with parents to whom the Holocaust and the birth of Israel were part of contemporary history, and they were warm admirers of David Ben-Gurion, the state’s first prime minister.
As is common in such families, there is a divide among the generations: “I have been arguing with my parents in Brooklyn over these issues since I was 13,” Hellenbrand said, so the current campus confrontations cover familiar territory.
Hellenbrand readily acknowledged that he had signed the petition against resuming the CSU study program in Israel. However, he asserted that he did so primarily to endorse one of the petition’s points, calling for additional study programs to be established linking CSU with a Palestinian or Arab university, parallel to those with Israel.
Parting ways with some other signers of the petition, Hellenbrand said that, in his opinion, Israel is not an “apartheid state.”
On the other hand, he rejected the charges of critics that Klein’s Web pages are not only anti-Israel, but also anti-Semitic, dismissing the suggestion that anti-Zionism is used frequently as a cover for anti-Semitism.
On his CSUN Web page, Klein notes his strong interest in math education, cosmology and climate science. He also lists his roles as faculty adviser to the campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the CSUN Greens, which has endorsed the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) program.
The site also features a Boycott Israel Resource Page, with links to like-minded organizations, tips on consumer, academic, cultural and sports boycotts of Israel, in addition to the “most racist nation” quote and photos of allegedly mutilated Palestinian children.
In response to a phone call from The Journal requesting an interview, Klein said he was busy but agreed to answer e-mailed questions over the upcoming weekend.
Klein, nevertheless, did not respond to numerous e-mails, nor to a number of subsequent phone calls, even after Hellenbrand said he would urge Klein to speak to a Journal reporter.
Among the questions sent to Klein, the final one asked about his reportedly Jewish background, how his views on Israel had evolved over time and whether he has found himself affected by the hostility of his Jewish critics.
Although some of his colleagues have assumed that Klein is Jewish, it is a topic he does not discuss. An early December interview with Klein in the Los Angeles Daily News reported, “The ... CSUN professor declined to discuss his own religious background.”
In another interview, on the Inside Higher Ed Web site, Klein is reported as observing that cutting off relations with Israeli universities is an exercise in academic freedom, not an abridgement of it.
“We’re choosing not to have relationships with institutions that participate in apartheid, in the same way that in the lead-up to World War II, universities broke off relations with universities in Nazi Germany,” Klein is quoted as saying.
Myers, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at CSUN, heads the Jewish Studies program on campus, whose courses enroll about 800 students per semester.
“I refuse to debate professor Klein or participate in public programs that involve him,” she said.
As an authority in her field, she believes questions about Judaism, Israel and the Middle East should be discussed in an objective, scholarly fashion with respect for all the peoples of the region.
Myers said she appreciates the support and respect for Jewish studies extended by the campus administration. However, she is puzzled by the tolerance shown Klein in using the campus Web site for his anti-Israel campaign, while, she said, in other departments such personal advocacy is closely regulated.
Nevertheless, Myers warns against overestimating Klein’s campus impact and influence. “He has only a handful of student followers, while campus clubs, including the Muslim students, do not invite him as a speaker,” she said.
Although she is worried that the Klein controversy will “pull the campus into the mud,” she hardly considers him the main threat facing Jewish life and studies on campus.
Rather, Myers warns that the continual state budget cuts for CSU and its campuses already have reduced the number of students she can enroll in her classes, while, at the same time, lowered support from Jewish community organizations has severely affected Hillel’s staff and outreach on campus.
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