Sussex University is set to welcome the arrival of its new Israel studies professor— one of only two professors in the field in the UK.
Professor David Tal, formerly of Tel Aviv University, will be the first holder of the Yosi Harel Chair, which is named after the captain of the Exodus, the ship that tried to bring Holocaust survivors to Israel in 1947.
The post was established on the initiative of the publisher Lord Weidenfeld, who helped to muster the support of a number of trusts to fund it.
Professor Tal, whose most recent position has been a chair in Israeli studies and history at Calgary University in Canada, said that he hoped “to help strengthen two fields of study, one existing and one in the making: Jewish studies and Middle Eastern studies — both essential to the understanding of modern Israel.”
He said he was “especially thrilled” by the intention of Sussex vice chancellor Michael Farthing “to create a framework for the study of the Middle East, which will include Israel. This approach is quite rare in academia and will add depth and strength to the study of Israel and the Middle East.”
As well as his post, the university has created three new lectureships on the Middle East.
Professor Farthing said: “In this period of huge social and political change in the wider region, the development of our research in this area is timely. We hope to play our part in aiding understanding and scholarship”.
Professor Derek Penslar arrived at Oxford University last year as the inaugural holder of the Stanley Lewis chair in Israel Studies.
Until then, the first and only academic to have held a designated chair in Israel studies at a British university was Professor Colin Shindler, who retired from London’s School of Oriental and African Studies two years ago.
Professor Shindler said that Professor Tal was an “excellent choice” and his appointment “symbolic of the expansion of academic Israel studies not only in the UK, but across Europe”.