Faculty Hold Forums on the Middle East Crisis

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The next public discussion on the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza will be held on Oct. 12.

Susannah Heschel, Bernard Avishai, Ezzedine Fishere, and Jonathan Smolin
Dartmouth professors, from left, Susannah Heschel, Bernard Avishai, Ezzedine Fishere, and Jonathan Smolin at the Oct. 10 forum. (Photo by Sophia Scull ’25)

Faculty in the Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies programs are holding two joint public events this week to discuss the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that rules the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

“Dartmouth is the only university I know of, certainly in the Ivy League, that has such a close, congenial, working relationship between faculty and between students from the two programs,” said Susannah Heschel, chair of Jewish Studies, who helped arrange the discussions with faculty. “Working together, we have deepened each other’s scholarship and teaching.”

The events, open to all, include a discussion with Senior Lecturer Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian author and academic who has written extensively on the region; Heschel; Jonathan Smolin, a Middle Eastern Studies professor; Visiting Professor Bernard Avishai; and Tarek El-Ariss, chair of Middle Eastern Studies.

The first forum was held on Tuesday before an overflow crowd in Haldeman 041, with more than 1,000 people also watching online.

The second event is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 12, in Filene Auditorium. (See a video of the event.)

“This forum is an opportunity for the Dartmouth community to learn from experts in the field who have been studying and teaching courses on Israel and the Middle East for many years,” Heschel said before the first event. “We will welcome questions from those attending and look forward to thoughtful insights and analyses of a rapidly evolving situation of grave concern to us all.”

The Israeli government declared war on the Palestinian group Hamas Sunday after a full-scale attack by the militant group left at least 800 people dead in Israel with 150 Israelis taken captive.

As of Wednesday, the war had claimed at least 2,100 lives on both sides, according to the Associated Press.

“We have students and faculty who come from Israel, from Gaza, from Palestinian territories, from Lebanon, from Egypt, from Jordan, and who have family, and friends, and personal connections to one or more of those countries, so it is important for us all to come together for support,” Heschel said.

At Tuesday’s discussion, some students challenged the premise of holding an academic forum during a time of crisis. Saying he “unequivocally” condemns Hamas’ actions, Fishere—a former diplomat who has long worked on Arab-Israeli issues—made an impassioned case for understanding the context behind the atrocities.

“We can do two things at the same time,” he said. “We can be morally outraged at brutality. And we can try to understand what leads to it, where it comes from, what explains it, and so on. Those are not mutually exclusive things. And in a college, that’s what we’re doing. This is why we study.”

He continued: “Not just for the College, but for the sake of humanity, we need to do both. Because if we stay at the moral outrage and performative politics, it just creates more divisions and everybody gets in their own camp even further. Once you try to understand, you can go beyond that.”

Faculty from Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies are also working on other ways to reach out to students and the community through gatherings at House communities, the William Jewett Tucker Center, Hillel at Dartmouth, and other venues.

The forums are co-sponsored by the Office of the President, the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Institutional Diversity and Equity, the Leslie Center for the Humanities, the William Jewett Tucker Center, Hillel at Dartmouth, the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, the Department of Government, and the Ethics Institute.

This story has been updated to include some information from Tuesday’s forum and to reflect the change of venue for Thursday’s discussion.

Bill Platt