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Start with Them: Ethnic Studies, Israel Studies, and the “Others”

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This chapter explores the four key areas of difference between Ethnic Studies and Area Studies on the one hand and Jewish Studies and Israel Studies on the other as each set of fields relates to (1) nourishing ethnic pride, (2) advocacy and cultivating allies, (3) relationship to Europe, whiteness, colonialism, and the West, and (4) prescriptivist messaging. Familiarity with these areas of differences can help instructors build a more robust, intentional, balanced, and student-centered course that is legible on contemporary college campuses and aligns with your intellectual values. The chapter concludes with practical frameworks for maintaining narrative diversity in a syllabus and strategies for keep multiple perspectives part of a dynamic process that actively includes student voices throughout the semester.


  • Advocacy and allyship
  • Indigeneity
  • Jewish Whiteness
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Ethnic Studies
  • Settler colonialism

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  1. 1.

    Ethnic Studies most commonly include but are not limited to African American/Black Studies, Asian American Studies, Raza/Chicano/ Mexican American Studies, Native American/Indigenous Studies, and Arab Studies.

  2. 2.

    Intersectionality, first introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991), has achieved a central position in Ethnic Studies and has become part of popular discourse. It is most commonly defined as a concept that recognizes how race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, nationality, and minority characteristics “intersect” or overlap with one another and can be experienced as being greater than the sum of their parts. Intersectionality has been applied to understandings of structural and systemic discrimination and inequality (see also “Keywords” supplement).

  3. 3.

    Ventriloquism is the expression of one’s views and attitudes through another, most often used when a privileged group or individual speaks for a marginalized group or individual.

  4. 4.

    An anonymous donor had gifted me a 12-seat table full of $100 tickets to bring UT students to a multicourse meal and an open bar for students over 21 at the Jewish Community Center. I announced this to all members of my classes with the plan to randomly draw winners if there were more students interested than seats.

  5. 5.

    Morahg, Are Jewish Studies Ethnic Studies?

  6. 6.

    As Sawchuk (2021) summarizes, a question at the heart of the Critical Race Theory debate has emerged, “Is ‘critical race theory’ a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement.” It has become part of the left versus right culture wars and anxieties about “woke” ideology.

  7. 7.

    Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium

  8. 8.

    Ladson-Billings and Paris, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.

  9. 9.

    Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Consortium.

  10. 10.

    A social minority is distinct from an ethnic minority, which emphasizes ancestry.

  11. 11.

    This quote in its entirety was audio recorded and published by Tablet (Rosenberg 2016): “‘Jews controlling the media, economy, government, and other societal institutions,’ and it cites this as a fixture of anti-Semitism that we theoretically shouldn’t challenge. I think that that’s kind of irresponsibly foraying into another politically contentious conversation. Questioning these potential power dynamics, I think, is not anti-Semitism. I think it’s a very valid discussion.”

  12. 12.

    Marcus, Correction to: The road to Atil: Shlomo Sand, post-Zionism, and the dialectic of Khazaria.

  13. 13.

    The AntiOppression Network. provides a succinct definition of allyship, though see Bourne and Levy (2021) for young adults and Epler (2021) for the workplace.

  14. 14.

    The AntiOpression Network

  15. 15.

    Jasbir Puar, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Karma Chávez are examples of widely respected scholars who write, teach, and deliver public lectures about issues embedded in the politics of Israel/Palestine or theories that stem from these politics, based on minimal on-site fieldwork.

  16. 16.

    Not all campus environments are equally politicized, though an increasing number of university departments have taken a publicly critical stance on Israel’s policies, even if they have not passed or enforced boycott resolutions (ADL 2021).

  17. 17.

    “Global Social Theory: Settler Colonialism” provides a clear definition and academic resources which are particularly accessible to students:

  18. 18.

    Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Counter-narratives of Palestinian women.

  19. 19.

    Yiftachel, Israeli society and Jewish-Palestinian reconciliation.

  20. 20.

    Tamari, Palestinian refugee property claims.

  21. 21.

    For a brief, up-to-date, and well-referenced overview of the Jews of the Middle East, see Stein (2002); for an influential, dissenting voice in understanding European Zionist mistreatment, oppression, and colonization of Arab-Jews that led to an enduring class divide between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, see Shohat (particularly 1999a).

  22. 22.

    Bellerose, “Are Jews Indigenous to the Land of Israel?”

  23. 23.

    Oster, “Israel Envoy to U.N.”

  24. 24.

    Atzmon, The Wandering Who?: A Study of Jewish Identity Politics.

  25. 25.

    In addition to Brodkin’s (1998) and Goldstein’s (2008) academic treatments of Jewish Whiteness, there are many contemporary discussions that interest students and spark thoughtful discussion. These include Baddiel’s (2021) “Jews Don’t Count” on identity politics and the hierarchy of racisms; Whoopi Goldberg’s statement that “the Holocaust was not about race,” which was widely covered in the press, but see Autry (2022) for analysis; and Appiah’s (2020) reply in the New York Times “The Ethicist” column to the question, “I’m Jewish and Don’t Identify as White. Why Must I Check That Box?”

  26. 26.

    Judea Pearl is the father of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was kidnapped in 2002 in Karachi by the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty who then beheaded him while filming a video they called The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl. Daniel Pearl’s Jewish identity was central to the terrorist group’s motivation for public execution (see Pearl and Pearl 2011; Green 2015).

  27. 27.

    Pearl, BDS and Zionophobic Racism.

  28. 28.

    Chazan, “What Is ‘Informal Jewish Education’?”

  29. 29.

    “Learning outcomes” has become the standard term for an increasingly required component on syllabi. It is a list of specific skills and abilities students can expect to acquire after completing a course. In the past, instructors may have drummed up bullet points to vaguely capture their expectations or advertise the benefits of taking the course (e.g., “students will become familiar with the culture and geography of Israel”). Current pedagogical advice is to ensure that each assignment and assessment aligns with a measurable learning outcome to justify its inclusion in the course (e.g., “students will submit a 20-item annotated bibliography on an Israeli population sector to increase their familiarity with contemporary scholarship published in their area of interest; students will be able to correctly fill in a blank map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories from memory on a timed quiz, including major cities, towns, and natural features as a base to link geography to cultural groups”).

  30. 30.

    Michell Bard’s (2004) “Tenured or Tenuous, Defining the Role of Faculty in Supporting Israel on Campus.” It was released before BDS and anti-normalization movements were officially formed in 2005, so in this sense it is outdated, but still contains details relevant to the conversation of optics and job security. It falls squarely into the Israel advocacy camp and contains tips on caring for Jewish students.


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Correspondence to Amelia Rosenberg Weinreb .

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Weinreb, A.R. (2022). Start with Them: Ethnic Studies, Israel Studies, and the “Others”. In: Teaching Israel Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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