Parting Words

Martin Kramer wrote this parting message on conclusion of six years (1995-2001) as director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. Published in the Center’s Bulletin, no. 34 (Fall 2001), pp. 7-8. Posted retroactively at Sandbox.

Some write open letters upon their elevation to a position, to explain their plans and intentions. I’ve always regarded the practice as foolhardy. So much depends on happenstance, plans are sure to be scrapped, intentions are bound to be forgotten.

A retrospective view is another matter. These last six years, I have had the privilege of directing a center that has gone from strength to strength. The reputation of the Moshe Dayan Center has grown steadily, as the most respected research institute on the Middle East in Israel, and one of the most respected Middle East centers in the world.

Leafing through the last six years of the Bulletin, I am struck again by the range of talents and interests of our members. There is hardly any issue on which we cannot summon an outstanding expert, at a moment’s notice. Our publications have grown more authoritative, diverse, and attractive. The Center also has served as an idea-broker, bringing over leading experts in every field of Middle Eastern studies. Ultimately, our leadership in all these areas will depend upon our promotion of a new generation of scholars–the top priority in future.

The last six years have witnessed dramatic changes in the way we work. Among the advances: full computerizations, electronic distribution and digital storage of research materials, a dynamic website, desktop or electronic publishing for nearly all our publications, in-house production of CD products, full satellite television coverage of the Middle East, and more. We are now ahead of the curve in all these areas. Given the pace of change, it will be a daunting challenge to stay there.

An International Mission

There is no denying that politics affect the climate in which Israeli scholarship functions, for good or ill. During the last six years, Israel has had five prime ministers. The turnover has reflected the dramatic ups and downs–mostly downs–in the “peace process.” In this turbulence, public demand for our expertise has been unrelenting. However, the hopes I entertained back in 1995, for academic cooperation with Arab institutions, were not realized.

Fortunately, we found ample compensation in our academic ties with Turkey. Our partnership with the Higher Education Council of Turkey, in the framework of our Suleyman Demirel Program for Contemporary Turkish Studies, is an outstanding example of regional cooperation. The Center today has close ties with half a dozen Turkish universities and research institutions. Our mission is to extend our links to an even broader range of partners.

As someone born, raised, and educated in America, I have taken special pleasure in strengthening the Dayan Center’s standing in the United States. The Academic Ambassadorship Program, through which the Center sends visitors to American universities, has made our presence in American academe a permanent one. Brandeis Univeristy has been a faithful partner in this stage of the new program. In future, we must expand our reach to additional campuses.

Helping Hands

Personally, the directorship has afforded me many unexpected moments of satisfaction, which have outweighed the unavoidable moments of frustration. In administration, you discover who your friends are. I was fortunate to discover many (too many to name), among colleagues, staff, board members, and donors.

Of all the debts I incurred, only one is beyond repayment: Amira Margalith, my assistant, served as a virtual co-director, and provided me with loyal back-up year-in, year-out, through thick and thin. If one could dedicate a period of service like one dedicates a book, I would dedicate these six years to her.

I come away with the conviction that university administration is a necessary evil. After practicing its rites for a fixed time, one should leave it, lest it become a bad habit. I have missed the single-mindedness of research and writing, and I look forward to returning to the charmed existence of a rank-and-file member of the Moshe Dayan Center. I am absolutely certain that no place provides a better vantage point from which to study the Middle East.