Visiting Israeli scholar touts critical thinking

Asher Susser
Asher Susser

Asher Susser, Ph.D., has returned to the Arizona Center of Judaic Studies, taking up an invitation extended to him when he was a visiting professor in Modern Israel Studies in 2010-2011. Susser, who’s on sabbatical from Tel Aviv University for the fall semester, will be teaching an undergraduate course on modern Israel and a graduate course on the history and historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

How historians study and write about that relationship “is almost as controversial as the conflict itself,” Susser told the AJP. “It’s a subject I find intriguing and intellectually challenging. It’s the first time I’m teaching this graduate course in the United States, where people have very strong opinions about Israel one way or another. But it’s a very complex situation.”

A group in Israel called “the new historians,” he says, “have been writing about Israel’s 1948 statehood since the 1980s, and are more critical. The most well-known is Benny Morris, who has written that the creation of Israel was more responsible for Palestinian refugees than Israel initially admitted. This caused a great deal of controversy in Israel and that’s still changing” the way some see the course of history.

Susser is a senior fellow and former director of the Moshe Dayan Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, and author of “Israel, Jordan and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative” (2011). In addition to teaching at the UA, he has taught in the United States for two years each at Brandeis and Cornell Universities.

As for the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, “I followed it very closely,” says Susser, although he was in Toronto with his family.

Understanding other political cultures — more than seeing them as “the other” — requires “a willingness to be more open-minded,” he says. “I’m not trying to make people more pro- or anti- this or that. [People] are often partially informed and more opinionated.”