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2019 Undergraduate Scholars Conference in Israel Studies

Abstracts, PowerPoints and presentation audio can be found below in alphabetical order by presenters' last names.

Panel I: Homeland-Diaspora Affinities and Tensions

Mellissa Meisels | Devorah Norton | Eden Zeboulon

Panel II: Constructions of Collective Identity

Amanda Elliott | Aaron Forman

Panel III: Charged Politics of Israel-Palestine

Yana Kogan | Christopher Luna

Panel IV: Ethnicity and Religion: East vs. West

Ryan Ang | Justin Feldman | Avery Weinman

Panel V: American Diplomats Mediating the Conflict

Francesca Bonaudo | Amir Kashfi | Tobias Knappe | Emma Teman


Ryan Ang | UCLA – Political Science

Title: In Search of Zionism's Cyrus - PowerPoint

Panel: Ethnicity and Religion: East vs. West

Cyrus the Great, the King of Persia, is often regarded as one of the greatest Gentiles in the Hebrew Bible. Adherents of Judaism honor this Gentile king because he ended their struggle against persecution and exile in Babylon, decreed that they should be restored to Israel, and sought to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. Debatably, even among non-religious Jews, King Cyrus might be a celebrated figure. Looking at Jewish history, one might suggest that Cyrus was probably the first Gentile who believed that Israel belongs to the Jews and acted to ensure that the Jews return to Israel. Certainly, without King Cyrus, Jewish history may have been radically different, and Jewish lineage may not have survived. The Jewish struggle against persecution and exile is not confined to a singular event however. The struggle seems to be a constant recurrence in their historical narrative. Hence, this begs the question: were there other Cyrus-es in the Jewish chronicle? Ostensibly, for students of Jewish studies, the answer might arguably be an affirming yes. This paper seeks to analyze Zionism’s history and identify the Cyrus-(es) that contributed to the success of this movement. In doing so, the study scrutinizes various historical accounts of non-Jewish Zionists and attempts to understand their rationale for supporting the Jewish liberation movement. During the course of the study, the research uncovered certain information–rarely spoken of–that appears crucial for understanding the history of Zionism better. Among other things, the research discovered that Protestant support for Zionism was absolutely integral for the success of the movement. Additionally, the research also found that many of the non-Jewish Zionists, who were Protestants, sought to distinguish themselves apart from Catholics. For these reasons, the research concluded that the Cyrus of Zionism might not be a single individual, or a group of individuals, but Protestantism.

Ryan Ang Audio

Francesca Bonaudo | UCLA – Political Science

Title: Understanding Obama’s failure on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: why did the peace process go nowhere? - PowerPoint

Panel: American Diplomats Mediating the Conflict

What are the reasons behind the lack of progress, during Obama’s presidency, in the IsraeliPalestinian peace process? This paper investigates the question at stake, and identifies two sets of factors as determinant for the Obama administration’s failure in the Middle East. The first set of factors, the “internal factors”, were in negotiating mistakes made by the US. The Obama administration didn’t pick up negotiations from Bush left off; labeled Israeli settlements as an “obstacle to peace” and put them under the spotlight since the very beginning; and failed to pressure both sides, in 2011, to start negotiations on borders and security. The second set of factors, the “external factors”, were elements on which the POTUS and his team had no control on - that is to say, internal divisions in Palestinian politics and Abbas’ lack of political leverage. This research concludes that the external factors were the most important ones in preventing the success of the Obama administration. Although Obama made some critical mistakes that didn’t help the goal of achieving peace in the Middle East, it is not to blame for this failure. The US government wouldn’t have been able to accomplish much anyway, because to achieve progress in the peace process a strong and unite Palestinian government is needed.

Francesca Bonaudo Audio

Amanda Elliott | UCLA – Political Science

Title: A Nation By Coincidence: The Creation and Disintegration of Palestinian Nationalism - PowerPoint

Panel: Constructions of Collective Identity

The conflict between Israel and Palestine remains one of the most significant diplomatic challenges of the 21st century. Palestine’s desire for statehood is founded in practical issues of economics and legal rights; however, the question of Palestine’s right to national self-determination also plays an important role in the debate. Palestinian national identity, by some accounts a concept almost as recent as the conflict itself, is at the heart of Palestine’s demands for a state composed of her historical territory. This paper will address the following question: What factors influenced the formation of Palestinian nationalism from 1918 to the present? Ultimately, this paper posits that Palestinian nationalism has arisen due to multiple factors. Reactions to Zionism, responses to dominance by external states, shared cultural and religious ties, and myths surrounding Palestinian territory have played large roles. However, Palestinian nationalism has been torn apart for as long as it has been constructed: by factionalism, by competing religious, regional, and cultural identities, and by the absence of a coherent Palestinian state. In part, the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of Palestinian nationalism may be due to the complexity of identifying what constitutes Palestine: while Palestinian nationalism meets one classic definition of nationalism, Palestine’s status as a nation, under several definitions, is more tenuous.

Amanda Elliott Audio

Justin Feldman | UCLA – Political Science & Middle Eastern Studies

Title: Diaspora Ethnic Dimensions & Nationalist Compasses in Contemporary Israel - PowerPoint

Panel: Ethnicity and Religion: East vs. West

The historical ethnic experiences of Jews with their various diasporic host populations, have significantly contributed to the divergence of political yearnings expressed by branches of ethnic Jewish consciousness, aspiration, and behavior within Israel to the present day. By inspecting the context of internalized trauma that is rooted in varied diasporic experiences, in tandem with modern streams of reaction towards rising Israeli national security and domestic cohesion challenges, we may conclude that there is a correlation between the intra-Israeli tensions of an ethnocentrism of culture and an ethnocentrism of trauma, which threatens Israel today. The purpose of this study is to help determine where modern Israel’s internal “eastern” and “western” Jewish personality struggles actually obstruct the capacity for Israel to address its growing national trials. The significance of this research is attributed to Israeli and intra-Jewish unification, not isolated from collective action efforts to address safety and the effective opposition of anti-Semitism. The methods employed to support this initiative have been ethnographic documentation, interviews, and historical analyses, including with individual Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Mizrahi-Israeli primary accounts in reflection of identity, combating anti-Semitism, and ethnic relations into the 21st century. Despite living in the same country, in tangible social application, we can affirm a trend reflecting Ashkenazi political prioritization of combating European-originated anti-Semitism, and Sephardi and Mizrahi political prioritization of combating anti-Semitism of Middle Eastern origin. By invoking this context in spheres such as public policy, we can begin to devote a more holistic approach to eliminating bigotry for public welfare.

Justin Feldman Audio

Aaron Forman | Carleton College - History

Title: Indigeneity and Anti-Colonial Uprisings: An examination of the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Dakota War

Panel: Constructions of Collective Identity

Comparing the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 CE and the 1862 Dakota War helps explain how national pride under imperial rule manifests itself in the form of rebellion, and how revolts symbolize movements of liberation for future generations of a nation. Additionally, in both cases, some members of each rebelling nation took measures to demonstrate their support for the imperial authority. To answer the question “what do we learn about indigeneity by comparing the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Dakota War?,” this paper will investigate different variables that characterized these revolts: the ignition point of each uprising, how members of the rebel indigenous ethnicity sympathized with the imperial opponent, what happened to the survivors from the losing side, and how these rebellions continue to be taught and memorialized in the present day with particular attention to the national story of the state of Israel and the Dakota Wacipi. Through examining these variables, it is clear that indigeneity is the source of both the Jewish experience of the Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Dakota experience of the 1862 Dakota War, and that both narratives continue to be presented within the context of indigeneity to modern-day members of the Jewish and Dakota tribes.

Aaron Forman Audio

Amir Kashfi | UCLA – Human Biology & Society

Title: On the 2000 Camp David Summit’s Role in Changing the American Government’s Views of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

Panel: American Diplomats Mediating the Conflict

The Camp David Summit and subsequent fallout was a pivotal moment in shaping the American government’s perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In my paper I argue that the failure of the 2000 Camp David Summit created distrust between the American and Palestinian Leadership, and brought the American and Israeli Leadership closer together. This skewed President Clinton and President Bush’s perceptions of the peace process to be more sympathetic to Israeli peace making efforts and less sympathetic to Palestinian peace making efforts, which they could no longer believe were in good faith. I originally wrote this paper for Professor Ben-Ephraim in fall quarter.

Amir Kashfi Audio

Tobias Knappe | UCLA – Political Science

Title: How did Henry Kissinger's academic work shape his policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict? - PowerPoint

Panel: American Diplomats Mediating the Conflict

The Arab-Israeli conflict experienced some major developments in the 1970s such as the Yom Kippur War and the Sinai I and II agreements. The key figure in determining U.S. foreign policy at that time was former political science professor Henry Kissinger. It is unusual that a person with a career in academics holds high-profile government positions such as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Following this exceptional qualification, this analysis focuses on the question how Kissinger’s early academic work shaped his policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict during his time in office from 1969 to 1976. The analysis is split into two steps. First, the examination of Kissinger’s early theoretical work as an academic with focus on repeated themes in his research. Second, the assessment of his practical policy approach as a government official in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The evidence suggests that there is no direct connection between Kissinger’s academic work and his Arab-Israeli policy. On the level of tactics, Kissinger did not have a pre-developed coherent set of policy tools that was repeatedly applied. Nevertheless, Kissinger’s Middle East engagement is related to wider Cold War considerations which are a main theme in his academic work. By dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict, Kissinger aimed to contain Soviet influence in the Middle East.

Yana Kogan | UC Santa Barbara – Global Studies

Title: Jerusalem: Politics and Narratives of the Settlement Movement - PowerPoint

Panel: Charged Politics of Israel-Palestine

A national push for a “united Jerusalem” emerged in the aftermath of the Six-Day War. The Basic Law: Jerusalem (1980) declares the newly annexed-city as the complete and united capital of the State of Israel. It asserts the protection of holy places, as well as the development and prosperity of the city. The victory of 1967 carried with it the promise of unification, co-existence with the Arab world, and recognition from the international community. But Jerusalem’s promise of peace was shattered by the reality of conflict in the fifty years since its “unification.” By looking at three neighborhoods in Jerusalem: The Old City, Silwan/Ir David, and Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon HaTzadik, this paper explores the motivations and consequences of the Settlement Movement, and the role it plays in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ranging from overwhelming criticism to fundamental support, views of the settlements are profoundly diverse. Some criticisms address issues of legality while support stems from concerns regarding security and unification. But what has yet to be resolved is the role of the Settlement Movement in the politics of Jerusalem, as well as the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yana Kogan Audio

Christopher Luna | UCLA – Political Science

Title: Relative Deprivation and the Second Intifada: What Led to the Second Intifada? - PowerPoint

Panel: Charged Politics of Israel-Palestine

The Second Intifada was one of the bloodiest episodes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raging over five years from September 2000 to February 2005. Despite conventional wisdom that assigns blame to Israeli and Palestinian leadership, these theories fail to provide a motivational basis for the collective violence that materialized. Ted Gurr argues that the necessary precondition for civil conflict is “relative deprivation,” which he defined as an actor’s perception of discrepancy between the goods of life to which they expect they are entitled to and the goods they actually receive. This relative deprivation fosters anger-frustration and it is that anger that provides the motivational basis for which aggression is expressed through. As such, the purpose of this paper was to determine if relative deprivation could provide a motivational explanation for the Palestinian response. If so, this study should find weaker socioeconomic conditions in Gaza/West Bank relative to Israel. An abrupt economic decline following a period of sustained or moderate growth would also support this. To determine this, information on 16 economic indicators were assessed. Interestingly, the research found deteriorating socioeconomic conditions did foster frustration-aggression within the Palestinian populace. Given rising expectations following Oslo, the intensifying Israeli occupation had a volatile effect on the attitudes and perceptions of many Palestinians. Discontent, further fueled by the failed 2000 Camp David summit, ultimately sewed support for insurgency against Israel. As Hamas calls for a Third Intifada following the U.S.’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it’s important to understand what might prevent another catastrophe.

Christopher Luna Audio

Mellissa Meisels | UCLA – Political Science

Title: Party ID or Jewish Constituency: What Determines Israel's Centrality in U.S. Congressional Campaigns? - PowerPoint

Panel: Homeland-Diaspora Affinities and Tensions

While support for Israel is prevalent on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. Congress, roll call voting provides little insight into how central the issue of Israel is to legislators’ policy agendas. Campaign platforms, however, serve to signal which issues are most important to politicians, whether for personal, political, or electoral reasons. What motivates politicians to push Israel to the forefront of their agenda? While an increasing number of observers claim that Israel is becoming yet another polarized issue, I argue that the key consideration in a candidate’s decision to vocalize support for Israel is the size of her Jewish constituency rather than her party identification. Because Israel is both important to and almost unanimously supported by the American Jewish community, a candidate appealing to a large Jewish voting bloc has strategic incentives to make Israel a central issue in her campaign. Drawing on a set of candidates who successfully ran for the House of Representatives in 2014, I find evidence to support two significant conclusions: first, that those who campaigned on their support for Israel had a sizable Jewish population in their districts, suggesting that constituency demographics play a key role in politician agenda-setting; and second, that party identification was a poor predictor of whether a candidate would champion Israel as a main issue, which suggests that Israel is a policy area that still resists partisan polarization.

Mellissa Meisels

Devorah Norton | UCLA – Philosophy

Title: Uti Possidetis Juris and the Illegality of the BDS Movement - PowerPoint

Panel: Homeland-Diaspora Affinities and Tensions

Uti Possidetis Juris is a principle under international law that dictates newly-formed sovereign states should retain the internal borders their preceding dependent area had prior to their independence. According to this doctrine, the modern State of Israel should have retained the borders as they stood under the British Mandate for Palestine. Instead, Israel has faced endless criticism in the international forum and is often called an occupier of areas that would be considered part of Israel if this principle was respected. The reasons cited by BDS supporters vary, but the movement was founded on the idea that Israel not only came to be unlawfully, but they continue to control land belonging to the “native Palestinian” population. Israel has done nothing that would impact the applicability of Uti Possidetis Juris, the way it was applied in the rest of the British and French Mandate territories after World War II. Therefore, the way Israel is treated in the international forum is unlawful and any governmental organization that engages in the BDS movement, on the basis of their occupation of the West Bank, is engaging in discriminatory behavior that holds Israel to a double standard.

Devorah Norton Audio

Emma Teman | UCLA – Global Studies

Title: Furthering the United States' Strategic Interests through US-Israeli Military Aid - PowerPoint

Panel: American Diplomats Mediating the Conflict

The United States’ generous annual military aid package to Israel is just one of the ways in which the relationship could be classified as special. As one of the largest recipients of military aid, Israel is indeed a close ally for America. However, while many scholars argue that this relationship is detrimental to American interests abroad, this paper aims to argue US military aid to Israel furthers American strategic interest in the area by the fact that the United States projects its power by creating a strong Israel. By primarily focusing on US objectives such as preventing nuclear proliferation, developing and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, and fostering free trade, it appears that US military aid makes up the backbone of a mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Israel. The pursuit of these goals allows the US to maintain its appearance as the world’s hegemon while simultaneously addressing Israel’s security and existential concerns. Furthermore, as evidence shows, the aid serves as a subsidy for American defense contractors who benefit twice over as having guaranteed sales to the Israeli government and by benefiting from Israeli technology adaptations that better address asymmetrical warfare tactics used in the region.

Emma Teman Audio

Avery Weinman | UC Santa Cruz – History

Title: "A Likud Stronghold and That is How it Will Remain": The Israeli Right and Mizrahi Israeli Identity - PowerPoint

Panel: Ethnicity and Religion: East vs. West

My proposed presentation demonstrates how understanding Israel’s complex ethnic identity clarifies the dominance of right-wing parties in Israeli politics. In the presentation, I would examine the continued success of the Israeli Right through the lens of political-affiliation-as-ethnic-identity: accentuating the common understanding among significant numbers of Israeli Mizrahim – Jews who trace their pre-Israeli heritages to across the Arab and Islamic worlds – that identifying with and supporting the Israeli Right is an integral and indispensable part of their own identities as Mizrahim. Using this framework to examine Israeli politics, I actively intend to complicate and correct the misrepresentations of right-wing Israeli politics as simply synonymous to European ethno-nationalism or notions of white apartheid that promulgate when Mizrahi Israelis are not honestly accounted for. Too frequently, those who lack a comprehensive understanding of Israel’s complex identity and its largely right-wing Mizrahi demographic majority settle for clumsily projecting American or European understandings of “left” and “right,” or “black” and “white” where they are not particularly applicable or useful in the Israeli context. By centering this history of the relationship between Mizrahi Israelis and the Israeli Right, I aim to steer towards a discourse on Israeli politics that is more nuanced and factually accurate, as well as ultimately more productive.

Avery Weinman Audio

Eden Zeboulon | UCLA – Gender Studies

Title: Women of the Wall - PowerPoint

Panel: Homeland-Diaspora Affinities and Tensions

The ‘Women of the Wall’ is a feminist group advocating for the right of Jewish women to freely hold communal prayer in the women’s section of the Western Wall. They wrap themselves in tallitot, lay tefillin, and read directly from a Torah scroll as they pray in groups. All of these practices defy the strict gender restrictions enforced by the administrator of the Western Wall and Holy Places, Rabbi Rabinowitz. The movement has led to the arrests of praying women and protests and outrage by ultra-orthodox communities. The group’s emphasis on social advocacy, education, and empowerment furthers their mission to shift the status-quo that prohibits women from practicing their religion freely at the Western Wall. They are a representation of Jewish pluralism as they welcome and support the rights of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular women alike. The women argue that their right to pray is a religious freedom protected by Israeli law. They also define the Western Wall as not only a religious site, but also national site which should be enjoyed by the entire Jewish population. By contextualizing their social advocacy work, this paper will analyze what motivates the 'Women of the Wall.'

Eden Zeboulon Audio