“I was too young myself then…”

Fouad Ajami wrote this confidential letter in support of my university promotion in February 1996. (It’s addressed to the chairperson of the promotion committee.) Ajami faxed me a copy on May 7, 1996. The year is now 2019, Ajami passed away in 2014, and I’m retired from Tel Aviv University, so I presume it’s no great breach of confidentiality to place it here.

As usual with Ajami, it’s over the top in its praise. As he once wrote me, in connection with another letter, he had an ample store of “poetry and understatement” for such chores. I’m sure his other letters of recommendation also shined. Still, it’s something I treasure as a memento of our friendship. So rather than let the fax fade away in a forgotten drawer, I’ve stored it here, where I can more readily retrieve it. I assume the original is in the University archives.

Professor Michael Winter
Faculty of the Humanities
Tel Aviv University
P.O. Box 39040
Ramat Aviv, 69978
Tel Aviv, Israel

February 8, 1996

Re: Evaluation of Dr. Martin Kramer for the rank of Principal Research Associate

Dear Professor Winter:

Let me, at the outset state a special bond I have with Martin Kramer and a very easy conclusion. Martin Kramer was in the first class I taught at Princeton in the academic. year, 1974-1975. I take great pride in his work, and consider him perhaps the single best scholar of his peers and generation in the field. I wish I had something to do with his excellence; alas I don’t. I was too young myself then, not particularly ready for a student who knew more than was comfortable for me at the time.

In the intervening years, I have come to view his work with the greatest admiration. Few scholars anywhere handle primary research material with as much skill. Precious few have his literacy, his deep knowledge of history, his daring. More surprising still is the grace and beauty of his writing. Can there be a better tribute to the work of this exceptional scholar than the fact that Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in Beirut considers this young Israeli scholar in Tel Aviv, by the name of Martin Kramer, his principal interpreter and biographer?

It takes special genius to do the kind of work Kramer does, and he has that genius in abundance. Scholarship is Martin Kramer’s life and his calling. He would have made—forgive the license—a great religious scholar in the cloistered world of the religious seminars in Qom or Najaf. The work he builds often resembles fortresses built with the best of care. His essays on Arab Nationalism are grounded in the best research. At an early age, he has put together a scholarly trail that does honor to him and to Tel Aviv University.

It would be the easiest, the surest thing for me to vote for him an appointment at the rank of Full Professor anywhere. He is to my mind unique among his peers in the quality of his research, in the care with which he works. When Kramer ventures into policy analysis he is exceptional. When he steps into the scholarly tradition, he is equally incomparable

You and your committee have given me an easy assignment, and one I treasure. If I sound like an avid promoter of Kramer, I can assure you that this is no sign of an eagerness to please. Such is what I and how I think of Martin Kramer. He has my strongest possible endorsement. I admire his tenacity of purpose, his commitment to duty, his sense of the scholarly tradition to which he belongs and which he honors. We don’t train the likes of him often: a superb, exceptional scholar, an exemplary product and practitioner of our craft.


Fouad Ajami
The Majid Khadduri Professor and
Director of Middle East Studies