Campus News

Teaching about Israel in India

Professor Rohee Dasgupta, seen here in Jerusalem in July 2016, always starts off her course in Israel studies at the Jindal School of International Affairs in New Delhi by having her graduate students write down their opinions about Israel.

By Ira Stoll

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Jerusalem this week, it marked the first time an Indian leader had made a summit trip to Israel since diplomatic relations were established between India and the Jewish state 25 years ago.

As significant as the Netanyahu-Modi meeting was, however, the future of the Israel-India relationship ultimately may rest just as much – or more – with people like Professor Rohee Dasgupta.

Dasgupta teaches Israel studies at the Jindal School of International Affairs in New Delhi. Every time she gets a new class of graduate students, she starts by handing out blank sheets of paper and asking her students to write down their opinions about Israel. Then she collects the papers and puts them away in a box.

At the end of her 16-week course, the students repeat the exercise and compare notes.

“There is a lot of difference,” says Dasgupta, 36.

Dasgupta is an example of what can sometimes seem these days like an endangered species: a liberal academic, trained as an anthropologist, who openly describes Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” one with a “very free press,” perched in a “hostile neighborhood” that’s “not easy.”

“I certainly do believe in the Jewish state and the Jewish people,” she says.

The Israel Studies center that Dasgupta founded at the Jindal School has hosted more than 30 academic events. Twenty of its students have visited Israel, and the center has forged partnerships with the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, Israel’s embassy in India and the American Jewish Committee.

It was a Brandeis program Dasgupta attended in 2012, the Schusterman Center Summer Institute for Israel Studies, that helped inspire Dasgupta to teach about Israel in India and to establish the center at the Jindal School, which trains aspiring public policy professionals.

The summer institute “was basically an Israel studies boot camp, and we loved it,” Dasgupta says.

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Categories: Campus News
Date: July 7, 2017