I had the opportunity to sit down recently for a conversation with Dr. Or Honig. Dr. Honig is a professor in the Department of Political Science, where he teaches at both the graduate and the undergraduate level in Hebrew, and he also works closely with Research Assistants from the Security and Diplomacy program. Dr. Honig completed his graduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary, and shared with me his perspective on graduate study at Tel Aviv University.
Q: To start, can you tell me a little bit about your background and research interests?
A: Sure. I started in political psychology, looking at subjects like foreign-policy advisors to decisionmakers and how rivalries between them arise. Some of my research ideas come from my military experience: I was an officer in the strategic planning division of the IDF, where I had the opportunity to observe how policymakers think and make decisions based on what options are available to them. I noticed that there are factors in decisionmaking that are idiosyncratic – this taught to me to appreciate that we as political scientists should not over-rationalize everything.
Q: And what are you working on now?
A: Following my early research in political psychology, I shifted to working within the framework of rational choice theory. It has the advantage of allowing for clear predictions, although it does not necessarily predict well. I’ve found that it’s useful to reintroduce psychology when you’re looking at divergence from rational choice. Right now, I’m focusing on two main actors in international relations: terrorists and generals, and students from the Security and Diplomacy program are helping me with my research in those areas.
Q: Are there factors – both institutional and geopolitical – that make the study of Security and Diplomacy, or political science more broadly, unique in Israel?
A: There are. The first relates to the emphasis placed in Israel on the study of International Relations. By way of comparison, it is common in U.S. universities for American Politics and Comparative Politics to be central, with smaller faculties for International Relations and Political Theory. Of course, there are some exceptions –Dartmouth College, for example, comes to mind with its IR faculty. On the other hand, in Israel, IR is much more dominant in political science departments. This to my mind reflects what goes on in society. Here, people live IR. They consume IR.
Beyond that, Israel is a lab for International Relations. In Israel, you’re surrounded by events, and you see puzzles all around you, all the time. It can actually be quite distracting at times. You want to write articles about everything. I have to keep telling myself that my role as an academic is to generate knowledge (based on abstract models and long term history) that will allow a better understanding of the events which surround us.
Q: What are some of your impressions of the master’s programs here from the perspective of someone who has studied in the U.S. and in Canada?
A: Tel Aviv University teaches at a really high level. Professors here invest a lot of time teaching methodology. Rather than just teaching theories, they teach students how to make existing theories better. This is similar to the instruction I received at UCLA. It can be frustrating as a student to hear a professor say, “Your methodology is flawed,” but it teaches a lot, and that’s what happens here.
Another important point is that, in addition to being methodologically savvy, TAU as a school takes a pragmatic approach, We aren’t married to any single theory or ideology.
Also, many professors at Tel Aviv University were trained in the U.S., or at places like Oxford. Accordingly, TAU is also the university that is most like U.S. universities with regard to its academic approach. It takes as its model the U.S. standard, rather than standards set elsewhere in Israel or in Europe.
Speaking of the professors, we have a true team here of scholars. Overall, I would say that my experience in America has led me to appreciate the academic experience here even more.
Today’s post is the first in a series of profiles and reflections written by alumni and current students in the Security and Diplomacy program. This week’s guest blogger, Nezka Figelj, is currently completing her master’s thesis for the program, about “The influence of the Israeli army on different groups in the Israeli society and their contribution to political decision making in Israel.”
Being bilingual in Slovenian and Italian means not only speaking two languages, but also being capable of understanding two different worlds without translation.
I was born in Slovenia and raised in Italy, where I lived until the age of 19. From primary school I studied and spoke both Slovenian and Italian. Being bilingual in Slovenian and Italian means not only speaking two languages, but also being capable of understanding two different worlds without translation. I currently speak Slovenian, Italian and English fluently, Hebrew almost fluently, I understand German and I have basic knowledge of Arabic.
I hold two Bachelor’s Degrees. I completed the first one at the Università degli Studi di Padova where I majored in Philosophy and wrote a thesis on “Jewish Kabbalah.” After that, I was accepted to the Faculty of Oriental Studies where, in addition to Hebrew and Arabic language, I focused on the conflict between Israel and the Arab world and on possibilities for its resolution. I perceived the Middle East as a unique place in the world, and with the aim of experiencing its political and social aspects, I spent two months in Israel working as a volunteer on a kibbutz, three months before the outbreak of the Cast Lead Operation. I met people from different backgrounds and questioned their opinions and their aspirations for the future. Everyone I spoke with believed that peace is a necessary condition for the possibility of cooperation with the Palestinian population and the Arab countries. In fact, I believe that changes in social and political issues are not effected only around a table but especially through meeting people who are facing and living in a given crisis every day. I next moved to Rome, where I started to work as a journalist reporting and writing articles about Israel and its contemporary social reality, as well as about the condition of the Slovenian community in Italy. I successfully completed my second Bachelor’s Degree with a thesis about “The Israeli army and its influence on Israeli society,” which I approached from an anthropological perspective, at which point I applied to Tel Aviv University to pursue a Master’s Degree.
In the International M.A. Program in Security and Diplomacy, taught in English, I further enhanced my knowledge of the Middle East with its regional political and humanitarian crises, and, more broadly, my understanding of life in the region. The prominent professors in the program provided historical, political, security and legal knowledge about these subjects and encouraged me to come up with potential resolutions to the conflict. Among many other topics, I studied international law as it relates to the peace process, focusing on many peace agreements and treaties that have been signed between Arab countries and Israel, as well as relevant UN Resolutions. During the Program, I also participated in a simulation of a global crisis precipitated by an Iranian threat to use a nuclear device. I represented the team of the European Union and played the role of President of the European Commission Jose M. Barroso. The other participants and I worked on finding diplomatic solutions in order to stop Iran from using the nuclear bomb. Moreover, studying at Tel Aviv University gave me the opportunity to fully develop my Hebrew language skills. I’m currently in the process of writing another thesis, this time for the completion of the Master’s Degree; the proposed topic is “The influence of the Israeli army on different groups in the Israeli society and their contribution to the political decision making in Israel.”
Now, as I approach the end of the Program, I’m looking forward to starting an internship at the Slovenian Embassy in Tel Aviv. I’m very much interested in starting a diplomatic career, for which the International M.A. in Security and Diplomacy provided me with specific knowledge and practical examples; moreover, the upcoming internship can even further develop my skills in diplomacy in order to provide me with rich experience for my future diplomatic career.
I can recommend the Program to everyone who is interested in and has some background in international relations in the Middle East, especially as they are oriented toward the United States and Europe. The Program serves the purpose of developing the subject from historical, political and economic points of view. Moreover, the focus on security concepts is relevant to Israel, a country where security is a main focus area of government policy, not to mention that almost 7% of the Israeli GDP is devoted to security issues. The Program complements security studies with coursework in the field of diplomacy, and it develops skills to work in governmental and non-governmental organizations, private companies, academic careers and journalism. The optional thesis is another advantage of the Program which facilitates the ability of students to apply to PhD programs. The M.A. in Security and Diplomacy is a program which definitely satisfied my expectations.
On Monday, Security and Diplomacy conducted a study tour to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, which hosted us for a series of presentations and question-and-answer sessions, followed by a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. For this trip, we partnered up with another program in the political science department, Political Science in Action: Leadership, Communication and Elections. Together, we gleaned some fantastic insights into the work of the contemporary diplomat, the Arab Spring, and successful political communication strategies.
Of particular note for the Security and Diplomacy students was a presentation on “Modern Diplomacy and the Structure of the Foreign Ministry,” led by David Roet, Head of the Bureau for Personnel Training and Development. Mr. Roet articulated how, in the responsibilities of the diplomat, emphasis has shifted from conveying information to the public to building personal connections.
“The aim of diplomacy is to be a phone call away.”
This was the central message of our conversation. If a decisionmaker in one country needs to access a decisionmaker in another country, how quickly and directly can that be made to occur? A good diplomat, Mr. Roet explained, facilitates the ability of that communication to happen.
In the past, the role of the diplomat involved a much greater degree of information gathering, but modern technology and systems of information exchange have rendered that responsibility less important. For example, because of the time difference, Mr. Roet pointed out that he can read a day’s edition of The New York Times in Tel Aviv before people in New York can. Similarly, citizens of different countries exchange information directly more frequently today than they did in the past. Furthermore, while diplomats do still retain an ability to obtain useful information in advance of the public, their ability to do so is a function of personal connections that they have cultivated.
Mr. Roet recalled how one diplomat from another country had made a strong positive impression within five minutes of their first meeting. This diplomat came to Israel and “instantly understood how he could become a phone call away.” He identified strengths within his own country and cultural commodities, like music from the country he represented, that were relevant and popular among Israelis, and then he leveraged those strengths to build ties.
On a separate note, we also considered how today’s diplomats, in contrast to those of the past, must be versed in global issues like energy and water security, and must represent their countries with regard to those issues.
This presentation was our first event of the day, and set the tone for an exciting and eye-opening trip. Study tours like this one are part of a larger course: a weekly workshop series consisting of site visits and meetings with ambassadors and other diplomats. The course affords students firsthand exposure to security and diplomacy in practice in Israel – what a great way to start the week!
Welcome to the blog of the international masters program in Security and Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University!
By dint of necessity, Israel has produced – and continues to produce – some of the world’s leading thinkers in the fields of security and diplomacy as well as some of the most distinct case studies in responding to security threats and diplomatic challenges. While you can read about the overarching mission and design of Security and Diplomacy (or SecDip, as we often refer to it) on the About Security and Diplomacy page, I want to take the opportunity in this first post to highlight one specific aspect of the program and then to lay the foundation for the conversation that I am excited to see unfold in this blog.
Students in this program have unique opportunities to bridge the gaps between abstract concepts in international relations and their practical applications, both in the classroom and in the field. Take, for example, the question: “What is an unlawful combatant, and how do existing protocols and conventions define and protect or leave vulnerable that category of fighters as well as their opponents?” Security and Diplomacy students consider this in the course Terror and Moral Dilemmas, and then evaluate how the answers might affect Israel’s strategy regarding Hezbollah. (As a side note, there is no law that clearly defines “unlawful combatants.”) Or, if you were to stop by a class on Public Diplomacy and Propaganda, you could deconstruct the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon in terms of the target audiences of the leaflets, announcements, and other media products disseminated by both sides. And just yesterday, I posted a photo to our Twitter account of the Iron Dome missile defense system – a photo that we just took on a tour of the border with Gaza.
In this blog, we will of course return from time to time to looking at specific courses and the work that students in Security and Diplomacy undertake, especially with regard to how that work relates to current events. But there is also a lot more to explore. Here is just a sampling of some of the topics we will be investigating in this space:
• Conversations with faculty
• Student research and publications
• Careers of Security and Diplomacy alumni
• Guest speakers and other special program events
• SecDip perspectives on unfolding events in the news
• Roundups of and commentaries on notable security and diplomacy related articles
With the start of each calendar year, Israel and the global community face an evolving array of security challenges. I look forward to some exciting conversations as we discuss the Security and Diplomacy program in the context of the events that unfold.