Editorial | Visiting scholars and academic study antidote to anti-Israel line at U.C. Berkeley

After years of battling calls for the destruction of Zionism, Israel’s friends at U.C. Berkeley learned they cannot out-shout the BDS crowd. They can, however, out-educate them.

The Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies at Cal has pulled off a remarkable feat since its founding in 2011. Through its Israel Studies program, the institute has brought world-class scholarship to the study of Israel, and in so doing, mellowed the climate on what had been one of the most hostile of campuses vis-à-vis Israel.

Our cover story this week probes the various aspects of the program, focusing on the Israel Studies fellows. Those select undergraduates are given opportunities to pursue the study of Israel from almost any angle they choose, whether business and sociology or history and economics. They create their own classes on a wide variety of Israel-related topics. They also book guest speakers, organize events such as film screenings and, in the process, raise the profile of Israel on campus.

One of the core missions of the institute is to bring in visiting scholars from Israel and embed them in various U.C. Berkeley departments. Professors of public policy, law, sociology, anthropology and other fields have all spent a sabbatical year at Cal under the aegis of the institute.

The ripple effects have been profound. Not only do these scholars further their research at U.C. Berkeley, taking advantage of the extraordinary resources there, they also share their research with Cal counterparts, deepening the scholarship and forging bonds between Israeli and American academics.

And all this came about with maximum calm, comity and collegiality. There could be no better way to push back against the calls for an academic boycott of Israel.

To be clear, the Cal campus is home to many pro-Israel organizations such as Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, as well as student clubs such as Tikvah and Bears for Israel. U.C. Berkeley also boasts the Center for Jewish Studies and houses the priceless Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

No matter how hostile the anti-Israel rallies at Sproul Plaza, U.C. Berkeley is a world center for Jewish and Israel studies. We are pleased to spotlight the institute and salute its staff, faculty advisers and students, who chose to buck the anti-Israel line and give Israel the academic focus it deserves.