Autumn 2003


University’s Traveling Workshop Informs Florida and Texas
“Real Realities” of the Middle East


The University in mid-September brought the “real realities” of the Middle East to the attention of Americans in Florida and Texas in the form of a traveling roundtable and workshop.  The aim of this unusual forum, which piqued great interest, was to provide information to American Jews and non-Jews alike and to counter “constructed realities” in the battle against anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, which often may be viewed as two sides of the same coin.

        Hosting this academic “road show,” formally entitled, “Mediating the Middle East: Constructed or Real Realities,” were, in Boca Raton, Florida, the American Israel Public Action Committee and, in Houston, Texas, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University.  Founding Director of this prestigious institute is Edward P. Djerejian, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Asst. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

        University of Haifa President Prof. Yehuda Hayuth and Vice-President for Development Yael Metser presented the University and its unique mission at each venue as a prelude to the discussions.   The non-political, academic nature of the presentations drew praise from the respective audiences, which especially at the Baker Institute threw out some provocative questions.  The answers they received from the five UH scholars on the roundtable made it difficult to respond with uninformed accusations and criticism.

        Our researchers, said Vice-President Metser, provided information that many who came to these events, both Jews and non-Jews, acknowledged they were missing.  The presentations, in the formal addresses and in the informal workshops, were stimulating and certainly gave much food for thought, she was told. 

        Providing this food were Prof. Arnon Soffer of the Dept. of Geography and holder of the Chair in Geostrategy, who spoke about demography and its implications for Israel’s limited resources; Prof. Joseph Ginat of the Dept. of Land of Israeli Studies, who addressed the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem and proposed a solution; Prof. Amatzia Baram of the Dept. of Middle East History, who described the formation of the Middle East in the modern era; Prof. Ron Robin of the Dept. of History and Dean of Students, whose topic was the theater of terror; and Dr. Ami Pedahzur, a Senior Lecturer in the Dept. of Political Science and deputy director of the University’s National Security Studies Center, who covered the spectrum of political positions in Israeli society.

        The audiences at the two locations differed.  In Florida, the organizing agencies AIPAC, JNF, Hillel, Jewish Community Relations Council, and various federations—limited tickets to students and to lay leaders and professionals of Jewish organizations.  The Texas roundtable saw a more mixed crowd; here Rice University students and lecturers joined regular Baker Institute lecture-goers and members of the Houston Jewish community.

        Summing up audience reactions, Metser noted that Americans were happy to see members of Israeli academia express their own views freely.  The main criticism of each of the two gatherings was that it was too short; many wanted at least another day of discussions.  Part compensation for the too-brief roundtable perhaps came in Houston, where the editors of the Chronicle, a respected newspaper that finds it way daily to the desk of the President of the United States, interviewed the five Haifa lecturers.


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