Israeli africanists: Inter-disciplinary scholarship provides a broader perspective on politics

To Mr. Shimshon Shoshani, Deputy Chair of the Council for Higher Education

And Mr. Gideon Saar, Minister of Education

Jerusalem

Re: Recommendations of the Sub-Committee of the Council for Higher Education for quality assessment not to allow student registration in the Department of Politics and Government, Ben Gurion University 2013-14

We, lecturers and researchers in the field of African Studies, hereby express our support for the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University and strongly protest against the recommendations of the Sub-Committee of the Council for Higher Education not to allow student registration in the department in the 2013-14 academic year, a recommendation that is tantamount to closing the department. This recommendation stands in stark contrast to the decisions of the professional committee, which came to the conclusion that the department took appropriate steps towards making necessary changes following the report of the international assessment committee commissioned by the CHE.

One of the criticisms voiced against the Department of Politics and Government, and used as the basis of ongoing attacks against it, is the department’s inter-disciplinary character. We, scholars engaged in African Studies in Israel, want to draw attention to the tremendous benefits of inter-disciplinary scholarship and teaching.

The inter-disciplinary approach that characterizes the Department of Politics and Government has fostered an intellectual environment that is open to a wide array of perspectives, ideas and methodologies that are not necessarily Eurocentric in nature. The faculty of the department do not see politics as a western or European invention, or a field that is relevant only in limited regions of the world. In contrast to other departments of political science in Israel, the BGU department recognizes that by exposing students to knowledge of political systems in Africa, we can provide them with a broader perspective on the notion of politics in general.

A good example to the benefits of the inter-disciplinary approach is the significant contribution made by the Department of Politics and Government to the revival of African Studies in Israel. In 2008, the department demonstrated its intellectual openness and the importance it attaches to the African continent when it hired Dr. Lynn Schler, a specialist in African Studies. Immediately following this, the department initiated a process to establish a minor in African studies, thereby exposing a large number of students in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and other faculties to the field.

The Department of Politics and Government also supported an initiative to establish an inter-university program in African Studies, shared by Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University and the Open University of Israel. This program brought together Africanists from all over Israel to offer a rich and diverse academic program by drawing on resources at all three universities. The program is entering its third year currently and continues to attract students who are interested in expanding upon their knowledge of the African continent.

In light of the neglect of African Studies in the years preceding these developments, the role played by the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University is truly inspirational. This investment in African Studies, to our regret, has not been duplicated elsewhere, and the commitment to African Studies demonstrated by the department reflects an openness and broad-mindedness that moves beyond a narrow western perspective in formulating an academic curriculum.

Closing of the Department of Politics and Government will deal a crippling blow to efforts to revive African Studies in Israel, but beyond this, it will have a damaging effect on all of Israeli academia because it will remove from it a group of scholars and lecturers who embrace an inter-disciplinary approach that is relevant to all citizens of the world, and not only to those living in the West.

Respectfully,

Dr. Yael Abessira, African Studies, Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University

Dr. Yohonatan Alshech, University of the Free State, South Africa

Dr. Louise Bethlehem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Prof. Zvi Bentwich, Ben Gurion University

Dr. Avishai Ben-Dror, Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Irit Bak, African Studies, Tel Aviv University

Dr. David Goss, African Studies, Ben Gurion University

Dr. Ruth Ginio, Ben Gurion University

Prof. Yekutiel Gershoni, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Nurith Hashmony-Yaffe, The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo

Prof. Naomi Chazan, The Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo

Ms. Idit Toledano, African Studies, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Leonardo Cohen, African Studies, Ben Gurion University

Dr. Aryeh Oded, Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Nehara Feldman, l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris

Dr Ayelet Palti, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Anat Rosental, McGill University, Montreal

Prof. Galia Sabar, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Steven Kaplan, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Dr. Ella Keren, African Studies, The Open University

Dr. Guy Rofeh, African Studies, Ben Gurion University

Dr. Ori Schwartzman, African Studies, Ben Gurion University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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