October 18, 2013
Miriam Berger studied Arabic at Wesleyan University, lived twice as a student in Jordan, did thesis research in the West Bank and, after graduation, worked in Cairo. And like many of the Americans she has met each step of the way, she is Jewish.
“I don’t see it as a contradiction at all,” said Ms. Berger, 23, who grew up near Philadelphia where she attended a Jewish day school. “I grew up hearing so much about the Middle East, how it was this dangerous place we can’t understand, but as I learned more, every day it felt like old ideas were being challenged, and I wanted to contribute to better understanding.”
In the United States, colleges and universities are riding a two-decade surge in Middle East studies, reflecting that region’s consistent pull on American economics and security. And while there are no definitive demographic data, students and professors say that in classrooms, or in undergraduate study-abroad and postgraduate fellowship programs in the Middle East and in Arabic, it is not unusual for one-quarter or more of the students to be Jewish.
These students say their interest grew because of their heritage, not in spite of it. They feel a desire, even a duty, to understand a region where Israel and the United States are enmeshed in longstanding conflicts, and to act as bridges between cultures — explaining the Arab world to Americans, and America (and sometimes Jews) to Arabs.
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/us/more-american-jewish-students-take-up-study-of-arabic.html
SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California’s governing board confirmed its first Muslim student member Wednesday, despite some Jewish groups’ claims that she marginalized Jewish students and promoted an anti-Israel agenda.
Regents voted unanimously to ratify UC Berkeley student Sadia Saifuddin’s nomination, with one regent, Richard Blum, abstaining from the vote.
UC Berkeley senior Sadia Saifuddin was picked from a field of 30 applicants to serve on the UC Board of Regents during the 2014-15 academic year. As student regent-designate, the 21-year-old Pakistani American would participate in meetings but wouldn’t be able to cast votes during the school year that begins this fall.
Saifuddin’s critics had urged the regents to reject the nomination, pointing to a student government proposal Saifuddin co-sponsored calling for the university to divest from companies with economic ties to the Israeli military or Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The critics said it was evidence she is unqualified to represent all of the UC system’s more than 222,000 students.
Jewish Voice for Peace, a Berkeley-based group that opposes Israeli settlements in the West bank and Gaza, issued a statement Wednesday saying that Saifuddin had been “made the target of yet another intimidation and repression campaign against anyone who dares criticize Israel on campus.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy has told Israel in his state visit that there will be no Middle East peace without ceding sovereignty over some parts of Jerusalem. Speaking to the legislature, Sarkozy also called Israel to stop settlements in the West Bank, tempering his message by assuring Israel France would back the halting of Iran’s nuclear program. Reactions were less enthusiastic than his opening, which praised Israel’s democracy and quoted a biblical passage where God promises the Holy Land to the children of Israel. Sarkozy’s visit includes talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a visit to Bethlehem and a meeting with the parents of an Israeli soldier (who holds French citizenship) held by Palestinian militants.