The most-recent-most-rightwing-government-in-the-history-of Israel is now on the way to accrediting the rightwing Shalem Center as an academic institution. It’s more American neoconservative hucksterism making its mark on Jewish Studies and Jewish philosophy, both here in the U.S. and in Israel. You can read about it here at Haaretz.
This is the Shalem Center’s mission statement: “It seems that the entire Jewish people is suffering from an identity crisis that’s intensifying, whose signs are seen in all areas of life. The need to provide a proper response to these processes is the force that motivated the founding of the Shalem Center.” It’s a statement that I can’t see in anyway comporting as as academic in any recognizable way.
The article in Haaretz quotes Amnon Portugali of the leftwing Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. According to him, “The Shalem Center imported American neoconservative and neoliberal ideas into the political and social discourse in Israel, as per the model of American right-wing think tanks, and its activity constitutes a classic paradigm of the way these American institutes operate, integrating strategic thinking and a neoconservative perspective with neoliberal social and economic policy.”
What bothers me about these kinds of conservative operations run by the Tikvah Fund and Sheldon Adelson types has in part to do with how big Wall Street money is used to subsidize (!!) neoconservative and conservative cultural agendas, agendas that would otherwise have no traction in the more liberal environs that characterize American Jewish society. The end result, ironically enough, is to insulate these programs from the free market of ideas. With all that money behind it, it doesn’t matter if the ideas are lousy.
But the bigger problem is institutional-constitutional. It has to do with the skirting of the line separating a think-tank from an academic program, the non-separation of which can only muddy scholarly waters. It would be like if the Hoover Institute or the Center for American Progress or the Van Leer Institute in Israel began granting BA degrees.
Much of the money supporting the Shalem Center is put up by the same people funding the Tikvah Fund here in the United States. So yes, it’s one more part of a massive “rightwing conspiracy.”