By Elisa Posner
In his second year as director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, Yoram Peri and his students conducted a study to find out which side students supported in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This was in 2010, and Peri found that young people are less supportive of Israel than older generations.
What was then a revelation is now common knowledge, said Peri, who stepped down as department director last month. Paul Scham, a historian and executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute, succeeded him on July 1.
The department’s goal is to immerse students in knowledge of Israel — including its long conflict with Palestinians and the Arab world.
“They see the country in a wider and more complex way,” Peri said of his students. And they learn that there’s two sides to every story. If a class reads an article that supports an Israeli position, they’ll also read an article that criticizes the Israeli position, Peri said. Such exercises are meant to be academic, not political.
Scham said he plans to continue that approach.
“Our political views should not appear in our teaching,” Scham said. “A variety of contrasting interpretations should appear in our readings and discussions.”
Peri said that in his time leading the department, campus sentiment regarding Israel has become more critical, exemplified by support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS.
Scham said his priorities are to strengthen the graduate program; take advantage of online learning; and initiate courses on Israeli literature and about Arab citizens of Israel.