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Other Institutions
Academy in Conflict of Interests: Van Leer Jerusalem as a Case in Point

24.05.17

Editorial Note

In January 2013 IAM reported on a research group hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute resurrecting Marxism. The group looked at the world through Marxist prism even when their conclusions detached from reality. In particular, Marxists ignore radical Islam, as Marx viewed religion as a form of false consciousness. At a time of sea-change in the Middle East that needs research and explanations, Van Leer and the Dutch Foundation behind it sponsor the lambasting of Israel never to mention the Islamist agenda in the region. 

The staff of Van Leer belongs to the political left.  In February 2016 IAM reported on a Van Leer senior fellow who called for the boycott of products from the settlements and contacted various countries to encourage them to do the same. Also, Shai Lavi, the new director, a professor in the faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University, the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, has been a supporter of army refusal, opposed the government Prawer plan for settling the Bedouins, and petitioned in support of Breaking the Silence  demanding it "deserves great respect and appreciation for its courageous struggle for the public, for human rights - for every human being - and for allowing a chance for peace."  Recently Newsweekreported on a research conducted by Shira Havkin of Van Leer, on how Israel has gone through privatization and privatized security in the West Bank.  The article neglected to mention that Havkin is an activist with the group Machsom Watch since the 1990s.

This coming June, Van leer will host a conference looking at "the concept of progress as particularly relevant for examining Islamic modernist movements (Nahda) who thought to “join” a universal paradigm of progress, compared to other modes of political Islam who at times question the whole idea of
progress and at other times place emphasis on alternative visions of progress." It will also look at how "the Zionist project was imbued from the start with colonial language, which deployed a discourse of progress." The papers to be submitted could include thinkers like Hegel, Franz Fanon and Muhammad Abdu.   Not surprising, one follower of such thinkers intended to lead devout Muslims to "spirituality of liberation" promising to "attempt to decolonize our hearts and minds," and hoping also to include text by "the Muslim International which has been grossly under-studied" in order to discuss "the role Western epistemology has played in colonizing the heart, mind and spirit."  

Similarly, this type of discourse was previewed recently in May in the conference "The Occupation at 50: Pasts, Presents, Futures" by Sussex University, organised by Amir Paz-Fuchs, a co-academic director of the privatization project at Van Leer.  The invitation to the conference reads,
 
2017 marks 50 years for the longest standing military occupation in the world. During that time, the political, demographic, legal, economic and social dimensions of the occupation have changed dramatically – in Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, in the region, and beyond. The two-state solution has moved from being perceived as a threat to Israel’s existence, to the only possible solution, to one that is now slowly fading into the realms of an unrealistic prospect. The West Bank and Gaza, once viewed as indivisible, have taken different trajectories. Resistance has taken the form of violent uprising, civic protests and international collaboration. The legal system has been portrayed by some as the final frontier for the protection of Palestinian rights, but is seen by others as one of the main facilitators of the occupation. The terms of economic engagement have changed dramatically, from the incorporation of Palestinian labour and markets into the Israeli economy, to selective disengagement during times of upheaval, to complete removal of non-citizen Palestinians from the Israeli labour market, and to calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. And the international community has moved from bewilderment, to active engagement, to frustration and, perhaps, to apathy.

This conference intended "to take stock and shed light on these issues, by reflecting on the pasts, presents and futures of the occupation; on its implications not just for Palestinians but also for Israelis, and worldwide; on the multiple connections between Israel’s occupation and developments elsewhere in the world; and on the distinctiveness of the occupation in global and historical context."  Yoni Mendel, also of the Van Leer is the chair of the panel "1948, 1967 and the Occupation".  This panel discusses how, "Israel’s independence in 1948 was simultaneously the Palestinian Nakba" potentially making Israeli Arabs "stand in the way of a permanent two-state solution." Such a statement suggests to promote a one-state solution. Speakers include George Bisharat's "Law and the Continuing Nakba," for example. A perusal of the list of speakers indicates that this is not a scholarly discussion but rather a political one. 

There is an explanation to why this is happening, Van Leer was established in Jerusalem in 1957 by the Van Leer family. "The Institute was designed to serve as a center of intellectual excellence and advanced learning - serving science, ethics and society."  The problem lies when Van Leer claims that "Alongside its commitment to academic excellence, the Institute and its resident community of scholars seek to play an active role in civic life in Israeli democracy and its immediate hinterland. To that end the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute has set up Centers for the promotion and innovation in the field of Tolerance Education, the Center for the Study of Arab Society and the Mediterranean Forum. The Institute's projects and personnel are placed in nearly 200 secondary schools throughout Israel, where they implement innovative educational projects. Because of its intellectual prominence and political independence, the Institute functions as a sort of "national town-hall" where Israel's ethical and political agendas are often shaped. The main auditorium which, with Polly Van Leer's insight, was built for this purpose, draws Israel's intellectual and cultural elites for public deliberation and political discourse."

The mixing of academics and activism by Van Leer is just one more example of how anti-Israel activists have derived their legitimacy.   








Call for Proposals
Narratives of Progress: Global and Local Perspectives
20-21.6.2017, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
International Workshop organized by the Minerva Center at Tel Aviv University and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

The idea of progress, which has its origins in religious discourse, gathered its main momentum during the eighteenth century and the age of Enlightenment, and seems to have reached its full force during the nineteenth century. Its rise seemed to follow the great advances in the
natural sciences and the industrial revolution. These laid the basis for the (at least allegedly) rational belief that the human race as a whole is on a path of advancement, and for the expectation that the future will be better and more developed than the present. It was mainly the twentieth century, with its mass-scale disasters, that brought not only this historical prognosis but also the very ideal of progress under severe critique.
In this workshop we would like to raise questions about the concepts, dynamics, and ideologies of progress from philosophical, historical, rhetorical, and other perspectives.
We propose doing so by looking at three contexts or dimensions.
On the global or universal dimension, we would like to examine whether the debate over the usefulness of the concept of progress is still viable. Is it still an indispensable concept? Can there be any political critique that does not resort to some ideal of progress (or alternatively to a diagnosis of regress)? What kind of “humanity” does the concept either presuppose or seek to construct? Are we talking about a single notion of progress that features in, say, both religious discourse and political discourse; in both conservative and revolutionary politics? Or is it rather a plural term that signifies different ideals altogether? Is progress a concept (mindset, ideology) that is uniquely tied to the West (however construed); to monotheism; to Christian or other eschatology? Or is it a universal structure that assumes local shapes in different eras?
The second dimension or cluster of questions is the colonial/ post-colonial context. We are interested in the challenges posed to the idea of progress by the concrete positions and struggles of those who turned out to be victims of regimes that regarded themselves as progressive—where such progress all too often manifested itself in the form of imperial projects, colonial settlement, and economic expansion. What, if any, are the relations between progress and colonialism? Is there a necessary causation between the two, or is it a matter of ideological distortion? Is it possible to hold on to the idea of progress on the one hand and still resist its colonial and imperial implications, or does such
resistance necessitate a rejection of the very mindset of progress? And if so, what should replace progress as that in the name of which resistance takes place?
Third is the local context. We regard the concept of progress as particularly relevant for examining Islamic modernist movements (Nahda) who thought to “join” a universal paradigm of progress, compared to other modes of political Islam who at times question the whole idea of
progress and at other times place emphasis on alternative visions of progress. It is also an important marker of the political landscape of Israel/Palestine, seeing how the Zionist project was imbued from the start with colonial language, which deployed a discourse of progress, while at the same time criticizing the European world of ideas that left the Jews outside history. In this sense one can notice similar ambivalences in some versions of political Islam and Zionism when it comes to questions of modernity and progress. We would be interested in questions such as the way these movements understand, appropriate, reject, and trnasform the concept(s) of progress; and which, if any, aspects of it do they seek to affirm, reject, or somehow transform?
***
We invite interested participants to send proposals that deal with these or related questions. We also encourage approaching these questions by examining specific case studies, or by examining specific figures relevant to either of these dimensions (e.g., Hegel, Franz Fanon, Muhammad Abduh, to name but a few).
We suggest three formats of proposals:
1. Round-table discussions of an article or book chapter related to one of the above topics
2. Panel discussions
3. 20-minute papers
We are aware of the relatively short notice. We hope, and plan, that this workshop will be followed by another one next year, developing some of the themes raised in this coming workshop.
Please send abstracts in one of the above three formats by 30.4.17 to galhertz@post.tau.ac.il

 ==================================================


Supported by the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University 2016–2017
Head researcher(s): Gal Hertz

Hebrew Literature as Modern Literature. Jewish Writers as Critics of Enlightenment

Project description

Modern Hebrew literature, from its beginnings with the Haskalah movement, understood itself as fulfilling a mission: to civilize the Jews, 'improve' them and make them part of modern European culture. Herein lies a tension between literature as medium of the Enlightenment and its subject, which comes to the fore in Jewish life as found in the works of writers like Yosef Perl and S. J. Abramowitch. This tension continued to haunt Hebrew writers of later generations, such as Joseph Haim Brenner, Uri Nissan Gnessin and Gerschon Schofman among others. They were simultaneously enchanted and imprisoned by the Enlightenment paradigm, as they struggled to reconcile literature as a universal medium of Enlightenment with their state of exception and exclusion as Jews. These writers met this challenge by giving voice to modern Jewish existence, but moreover by using the literary medium to present the paradoxes engendered by the enlightened gaze. While numerous studies have examined and identified the main characteristics of the resulting Modern Hebrew literature, including self-contempt, tragic failures, melancholy and social detachment, this project emphasizes how these works present protagonists’ difficulties in assimilating and adapting to Enlightenment ideals together with their critique of the repressive nature of those very ideals vis-à-vis new forms of sovereignty, shifting social structures and of modernity in general.

CONTACT
Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung
Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin
Tel.: +49 (0)30 20 192 - 155

CONTACT
Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung
Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin
Tel.: +49 (0)30 20 192 - 155
the Center went through a four-year transition period within the Förderungsgesellschaft Wissenschaftlicher Neuvorhaben mbH established by the Max Plank Society in 1992. Its aim was to institutionally reestablish a selection of prestigious humanities research centers that were formerly part of East Germany’s Academy of Science. 
Over the years, the ZfL has gained renown worldwide as a center of innovative cultural research with a strong focus on the early 20th-century thinkers who established the so-called first cultural science (Aby Warburg, Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin), as well as on the cultural legacy of premodern concepts and traditions.




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