Israel Studies institute at Concordia "not about the politics" -

Israel Studies institute at Concordia “not about the politics”

Some students oppose $5-million gift to university


Concordia photo courtesy of Foxtongue on Flickr

Concordia University made it official Wednesday that it will house the Azrieli Instiute of Israel Studies on campus.

The ethnically-diverse Montreal school has often been a flash-point between pro-Jewish and pro-Palestinian students. That makes it unsurprising that some students are opposed to the $5-million gift to start the school, which was donated by developer David Azrieli.

Self-described social justice advocate Rushdia Mehreen wrote an opinion piece for campus newspaper The Link in which she opposed the institute on the grounds that it “effectively strengthens links between the university and Israel, a state in constant breach of international law.” She noted that Professor Eric Shragge, from the school of community and public affairs, plus the feminism- and social justice-focused Simone de Beauvoir Institute also oppose the institute.

But one of the institute’s founders says that the institute “is not about the politics.” Instead, co-director and religious studies professor Norma Joseph told the Montreal Gazette that “it’s about the study of a geographic area — its culture, its history, its economics, its diversity, even its food.”

She added that she believes institute will bring together Jewish and Muslim students, possibly preventing conflicts like the 2002 riots that caused the cancellation of a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Understanding eliminates conflict,” says Joseph.

Lex Gill, president of the Concordia Student Union, told The Gazette that the institute’s creation is supported by faculty and students alike.

The new institute comes the same week that Yale University has announced it will create a new Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.

That announcement followed criticism of Yale’s decision to close the Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) — a move that many supporters attributed to pressure from anti-Israeli groups, such as Palestinian Liberation Organization ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, who called the YIISA’s scholars “anti-Arab extremists.”

The Azrieli Instiute of Israel Studies will be the third such project Canada. There are Israeli Studies institutes at the University of Toronto and at The University of Calgary.