Tempers are still boiling over a conference about Israel studies that took place this summer, in which speakers were initially asked to lecture in English. Though the organizers of the annual conference of the international Association for Israel Studies eventually allowed renowned Israeli writer Sami Michael to deliver a speech about racism in Hebrew, the decision was made only after a pitched professorial battle. “There is no logic in having an academic organization that deals with Israel studies, whose members are supposed to know Hebrew as a prerequisite, exclude Hebrew,” said Zohar Shavit, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Cultural Studies. “It seems to be self-evident, and I don’t even understand how it is possible to have an argument over it.” Shavit was asked to take part in one of the sessions at the conference, which took place at the University of Haifa in June. But she would not agree to participate until the organizers conceded that she could speak in Hebrew, with simultaneous translation provided to non-Hebrew speakers in the audience.
On a related note, a great line from a critical review of Patrick Tyler’s recent book Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country–and Why They Can’t Make Peace about the fact that the author can’t read Hebrew:
It is impossible to imagine anyone writing a book like this one about America, for example, without knowing English.