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Northwestern to Offer Program on Modern Israel

May 17, 2005

Northwestern University, working with Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, is launching a postdoctoral fellowship program on modern Israel.

The Moshe Dayan Center will select a list of finalists from applicants who have recently completed their doctoral work.  After receiving the list of finalists, Northwestern will choose the first fellow, who may start teaching at the University as early as fall.

“There is a huge demand from students for courses on the modern Middle East,” said Daniel Linzer, dean of Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.  “Students recognize that complex region as a key area in thinking about international issues and conflicts that play out in the news daily. The courses that will be taught by these postdoctoral fellows are sure to broaden our students’ understanding of those issues and conflicts.”

One of the oldest and largest institutions of its kind in Israel, the Moshe Dayan Center is dedicated to bringing scholarly objectivity to the analysis of subjects that often stir passions.  The relationship between Israel and Arab countries is a prime area of research interest, and most of the center’s members are expert on some aspect of Israel in its regional context.

The fellowship program evolved from discussions between Linzer and Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.  It was made possible thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Israel Studies Project.

Kotzin has spoken out about the scarcity of college courses on modern Israel and, on behalf of the Federation’s Israel Studies Project, has reached out to Chicago area institutions to expand them.  In an article Kotzin wrote in the “Forward,” he talked about the need for courses that explain modern Israel -- its philosophical underpinnings  in Zionist thought, its connections with a historic Jewish presence, its culture and society, and its relationships and conflicts with its neighbors.

“This is a most welcome development,” said Steven B. Nasatir, president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund.  “We are most pleased to see that Israel will be receiving this kind of academic attention in a pathbreaking partnership of these two eminent institutions.”

Northwestern’s decision to hire postdoctoral fellows to teach the courses on modern Israel was in part related to the difficulty of hiring tenure-track faculty in Israel studies because of the small number of scholars in the field. Compounding that difficulty, most of the scholars in Israel studies are from Israel and unlikely to relocate permanently, Linzer said.

“So the two-year postdoctoral appointments fit well with the state of the field right now,” he said. “And they offer great opportunities for newly minted Ph.D.s in the field as well as for our students.  The fellows will be able to grow their scholarship under the supervision of a mentor and gain great experience teaching.  In the process, the fellowship program will advance Northwestern’s ambition to enhance student and faculty engagement with the world.”

After the list of finalists is received from Tel Aviv University, the candidates will be scrutinized to see who is the best fit to contribute to the intellectual life of Northwestern according to the needs of various departments and programs.

“We want to place the person whom we choose in an academic unit that will contribute to the postdoctoral fellow’s scholarly development,” Linzer said, “and, accordingly, make sure that he or she contributes to the intellectual life of the University.”

Topics: University News