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Students weigh in on Mideast conflict, Israeli politics, foreign policy and more at Nazarian Center conference

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Drawing students from around the world, the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies held its third annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference in Israel Studies on June 15. Students presented research on a wide range of subjects, including the recent conflict in the Middle East, Israeli politics, foreign policy, society, and culture.

June 22, 2021 – The UCLA Younes & Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies held its third annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference in Israel Studies on June 15. This year’s online format drew the brightest undergraduate scholars from all over the world to apply for the opportunity to present their work to their fellow undergraduate peers, UCLA scholars, mentors, family and friends and for a chance to win prizes.
Twenty-two participants from universities in nine time zones, seven countries, and four continents were selected to showcase their cutting-edge research in Israel Studies. With projects that advanced the study of Israeli culture, diplomacy, society, and politics – both within Israel and in the international arena – the scholars who participated in this year’s conference debuted work of great value and insight not just for undergraduate scholarship in Israel Studies, but for Israel Studies as a whole.
The panels were “Fighting for Representation: Schisms and Trends in Israeli Politics” (chaired by Nazarian Center research fellow Dr. Liron Lavi); “Literature and Culture: Finding and Defining Identity through Creation and Translation” (chaired by the center’s visiting scholar Dr. Nili Alon Amit); “Israeli Diplomacy in the MENA: Past, Present, and Future” (moderated by center’s visiting lecturer Dr. Scott Abramson); Israeli Society: Between Rhetoric and Reality” (moderated by the center’s Harry C. Sigman Graduate Fellow, Avery Weinman); and “The Conflict Over Israel-Palestine: On the Ground and in the Imaginary” (moderated by Professor Dov Waxman, the director of the Nazarian Center and UCLA’s Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair in Israel Studies). Click here for a list of presenters, with their university affiliations and paper topics.
The conference concluded with remarks by Professor Waxman and a ceremony in which first and second place prizes were announced for the best research papers submitted in the competition. For the first-place award, the center recognized University of Cambridge undergraduate Jessica Bink’s paper, “Unlocking the Door: Levantinism as a Literary Tool.” Binks carefully considered Levantinism – which can be broadly defined as an alternative conceptualization of identity in the Middle East and North Africa that emphasizes fluidity, hybridity, and multicultural tolerance in contradistinction to rigid nationalist identities – through a comparative analysis of Israeli authors Anton Shammas’ Arabesques (1986) and Ronit Matalon’s And the Bride Closed the Door (2017).

 For the second-place prize, the center recognized Sciences Po Paris undergraduate Sabrina Barré’s paper, “Israel and Morocco: An Unavowable Tie? Discreet Diplomacy as a Means of Nation-Building from 1948 to 2000.” Combining original interviews that she conducted in multiple languages with members of the Moroccan diaspora in France and existing scholarly literature on Jewish history in Morocco and the history of Israeli-Moroccan ties in English and French, Barré put current interest in Israeli-Moroccan relations into a larger and longer historical context. Barré is a UCLA exchange student.
“It was a wonderful experience listening to students from all over the world present their own research on Israel," said Professor Waxman, the Nazarian Center's director. “Not only did these students demonstrate sophisticated and nuanced understandings of Israel's history, politics, society and culture, but also they expressed their passion and enthusiasm for learning about Israel. They are the next generation of Israel Studies scholars and, judging from their work, the field of Israel Studies has a bright future..” 
As the only global conference of its kind that provides undergraduate scholars with the opportunity to share their work and preview what the next wave of Israel Studies scholarship will bring, the Nazarian Center was very pleased to provide this unique and fruitful platform for the third time.

For more information about the conference and video of the different sessions, visit here.