Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jimmy Carter, Ken Stein and Apartheid

On occasion I am asked whether the Lookjed discussion list is different because it is based in Israel, rather than in a Diaspora setting (North America generally - and New York specifically – seems to be where people seem to assume that it would have been housed, were it not based in Israel). I think that having the discussion's foundation in Israel lends a number of different angles to it, but the main one is that I try (when appropriate) to focus on issues having to do with Israel. By chance, two of the queries that appeared in the last Lookjed asked about Israel issues, but I will also direct attention to such topics when I have the sense that it is what Diaspora teachers should be discussing with their students. At least part of this stems from my sense that although Israel was front-and-center in the Jewish education that I had as a student in the 60's and 70's, today there is less of an emphasis on it, in day schools of all stripes and sizes.

I may have begun this unintentionally (or, perhaps, subconsciously) in the beginning, and I recall receiving an email some years back from an irate Lookjed subscriber who wrote to me saying that he did not sign up to the list to read about the political situation in Israel, which he perceived as being removed from the core subjects of Jewish education that a list like Lookjed was supposed to be discussing. My response was – and still is – that Israel is central to the Jewish people, and part of a basic Jewish schooling should include educating students to be aware and concerned with what is going on here.

Having said all of this, I would like to introduce you to a personal hero of mine – Ken Stein of Emory University. I have never met Professor Stein, but have made extensive use of his work – both academic and pedagogic – in my own teaching about Israel. Stein directs the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University in Atlanta, which runs seminars and workshops about teaching Israel. Don't miss the newsletters that the institute puts out as well as the other resources that appear on the ISMI website.

The very fact that Professor Stein is passionate enough about the subject of teaching Israel to make sure that his work does not remain in the academic ivory tower - laboring to ensure that it is translated into classroom pedagogy - is enough to make him a hero to the community of Jewish educators who care about Israel. What drives me to write about him today is his resignation as a fellow at former President Jimmy Carter's think-tank following the publication of Carter's recent book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

When the former President of the United States says on record that Israeli policy is worse than that of South Africa's apartheid regime, it is essential that a scholar can get up and respond to him in a forceful way. It is also essential that Jewish educators learn how to respond to the misinformation that appears about Israel on a daily basis in the press. Visiting the ISMI website, making use of the materials that appear there and signing up for Ken Stein's workshops, is a good way to start.

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