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UA Modern Israel Conference will address a changing nation

Asher Susser
Asher Susser
Anita Shapira

Asher Susser, a professor emeritus of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University, signed on as the Stein Family Professor of Modern Israel Studies at the University of Arizona four years ago. He is the moderator for the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies’ second annual Modern Israel Conference, “Balancing Unity & Diversity: Israel’s Changing Society & Politics,” which will be held later this month.

“It is an occasion for people in Tucson, in the university and the general community, to be exposed to a caliber of expertise on Israel in particular which is not usually available,” says Susser, who launched the event with J. Edward Wright, director of the center.

The conference runs from Sunday, Dec. 4 to Monday, Dec. 5 and will feature eight noteworthy historians and social scientists from Israel and the United States. The two-day event will take place at the UA’s Student Union Grand Ballroom, and will close with a dinner lecture at the Tucson Marriott University Park, 880 E. Second St., on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

The first conference focused on Israel’s place in the changing Middle East, so examining its domestic strengths and liabilities was a natural progression, says Susser. During the past few years, Israel has changed dramatically, he says.

“It would be a good idea to discuss these changes that are taking place in Israel by people who are experts in their respective fields,” Susser says. “And I think it will bring a lot of new thinking to the people here at the university and in the community.”

Featured guest speaker Anita Shapira, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, will present the keynote address at the dinner, “Israel 2016: Vision and Reality.”

Shapira told the AJP the world has entered a new era that mirrors the Industrial Revolution. The income disparity continues to increase between working-class people and the highly educated, she says, and “as a result of that we see the rise of the demagogue.”

The dramatic change in Israel’s political landscape is affecting every aspect of life today, she says.

“We have today a policy of identities instead of a policy of statehood,” Shapira says. “And we are affected by the fact that the unity that was part of Israeli reality is dissipating. Although I don’t think this is terrible, it is nevertheless disturbing and it’s a source of political partisanship.”

Shapira is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a national bipartisan think tank dedicated to supporting Israel’s democratic system. She founded the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israeli Studies at Tel Aviv University, and has written multiple books on Jewish history including “Israel — A History,” for which she won the National Jewish Book Award.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in history and Jewish history from Tel Aviv University. She went on to earn her doctorate degree summa cum laude in history and Jewish history in 1974, and began her 40-year teaching career at Tel Aviv University in 1969.

In 2008, Shapira won the Israel Prize in history, which is the highest national honor awarded to individuals who excel in their field of study.

She feels personally responsible to present the changes to Israeli politics and policy to a greater audience, and address how to best negotiate Israel’s evolution because the process is irreversible, she says.

Information about Israeli cultural and political life impacts the Jewish community and the world stage overall, she notes.

“We are not an insignificant player and, once more, I think we are an island of stability in an extremely volatile area,” she says. “And we are very important not only to American policy, but to the Middle Eastern policy at large.”

Opening the conference on Dec. 4, Dan Ben-David, professor at Tel Aviv University, will talk about Israel being at a crossroads and how it can address the cultural and economic shift from its current paradigm.

Aomar Boum, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, will discuss Moroccan Jews in Israel and how “Moroccaness” has affected the political and cultural tapestry of the nation.

Elie Rekhess, Crown Visiting Professor in Israel Studies at Northwestern University, will dissect the “1948 Paradigm” and the new Nakba (Arabic for “disaster”) discourse as well as the apparent contradiction, via the lens of Palestinian-Arab intellectuals, between Israel as a Jewish nation and a true democracy.

The second day will begin with a discussion about Israel’s foreign policy by Joel Peters, professor and chair of the Government and International Affairs Program at Virginia Tech.

Shibley Telhami will focus on public opinion polls taken in Israel and the United States about changing views on Israeli citizenship, Jewishness and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Telhami is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.

Ilan Troen, the Karl, Harry and Helen Stoll Professor of Israel Studies at Brandeis University, will highlight three land issues Israel faces today: the unidentified boundaries of the Jewish state, Jewish land ownership, and the ongoing debate about proper use of real estate for conservation, historic preservation or industry.

Yoram Peri, director of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, will speak about the decline of Israel’s political left during the late 1970s, and the rise of its religious-nationalist right party.

Susser will close the afternoon with a general overview of this year’s conference, “Israel at 70: Options for the Future.”

The cost of the conference is $100 per person, $150 for two admissions and $30 for students. The conference dinner is $50 per person. For registration information and additional details, visit or call 626-5758.