Holy city sparks unholy row

August 11, 1995

An academic argument has blown up over a new study option at Exeter University to examine the role of Jerusalem in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Exeter's department of politics is to run the option as part of its MA in Middle East studies programme from September.

But there have been claims that the subject is too politically sensitive to be handled without bias by Exeter's academic staff and theirstudents.

Philip Alexander, president of the Oxford Centre for Jewish and Hebrew Studies, claimed that the course would be run by a Middle East Arab-dominated department. He added that he thought it would take "the most amazing good judgement" to treat the option with academic objectivity.

But Michael Dumper, course leader and lecturer in politics, dismissed the claims of bias as "inaccurate" and "insulting", and argued that in any case "the fear of bias should not inhibit academic inquiry".

In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, Dr Dumper said that it was illogical to imply that because students would have access to the Arab studies department and research centre at Exeter there would be a bias in the course.

"The teaching of politics is inherently controversial," he said.

"One needs to strive to avoid value judgements, and political science has developed many techniques to minimise the intrusion of value judgements into the subject," he added.

Charles Tripp, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said almost anything taught on Middle East politics was deeply controversial.

And Michael Gilsenan, Khalid bin Abdullah al Saud professor for the study of the contemporary Arab world at Oxford University, agreed saying the subject was "bedevilled" with accusations of bias.

"Accusations fly and it tends to cause anxiety on all sides. But that does not mean the subject should not be tackled," he said.

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