More than merely academic

Two one-year MA in political science programs offered by the International School at Tel Aviv University come alive in the Israeli reality.

TAU students_521 (photo credit: Scott Krane)
TAU students_521
(photo credit: Scott Krane)
Terrorism and political animosity, sadly, are part of the daily reality in this country. The upshot, however, is that the often volatile situation presents an abundance of educational specimens for nonpartisan political scientists, intellectuals and academics.
With this in mind, the International School at Tel Aviv University is offering two English-language one-year masters in political science programs. One is called Security and Diplomacy, the first-ever class of which is set to graduate on August 5; and the other is called Political Science in Action: Leadership, Communication and Elections, the first class of which is set to commence in October of this year.
An eclectic and diverse student body, with applicants from Israel, the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, India, Colombia, Austria, Sweden, Germany, Nigeria and elsewhere, adds a unique nuance to the special academic program.
“Only about 50 percent of the students are Jewish,” said Shira Betesh, program coordinator for the Security and Diplomacy program. It is clear that the political situation, as it concerns the Jewish state, fascinates students from all different backgrounds.
Students who participated in Security and Diplomacy and have applied for Political Science in Action come to Tel Aviv University fresh from completing their Bachelor degrees at TAU or elsewhere, or are taking a break from their professional careers for the sake of this unique academic experience.
“One student who is graduating in August is a journalist, one works for the United Nations,” said Betesh. “Many have backgrounds in political science or international relations.”
Generally, students are between the ages of 25 and 30.
One student (who asked not to be identified) in the Security and Diplomacy program is a 30-year-old from Manhattan.
“I had a very successful experience, and I am glad I chose this program because it is complementary to my career path, which is journalism,” he said. “It met the criteria for what I want as a student. And it gave me the tools I needed to sharpen my journalistic skills.”
Another political science student at Tel Aviv University, Guy Baltiel, 28, is looking to continue for his PhD.
“Being in Israel to study political science is more immediate, he says. “Everything academic about the program is immediately tied to Israeli reality.
Studying political science in Israel is probably more interesting than anywhere else in the world because of the everyday conflict here.
So why Tel Aviv University? What is so unique about these two MA programs in particular? Lilach Ackerman is the program administrator for the brand new Political Science in Action: Leadership, Communication and Elections. “There are similar programs in the areas of government and communication. But this is a totally unique program.
There are no other programs in the country, or even in the world, that focus on these three particular subjects.”
Ackerman added that “there are field trips to Jerusalem and all of the country’s borders. These are meant to acquaint students with Israel’s border and security issues, so they can get a feel for the challenges Israel faces.”
Dr. Amal Jamal, department head of the new Political Science in Action program, said that the Political Science in Action track seeks to deal with “challenges that political leaders and democracies face today as a result of new media,” explaining that “there exists today a democracy deficit, a retreat in the number of those who go the ballot box to vote, and this has severe implications on democracy.
There is a need for political leaders to draw new tools to get people involved in the political system, and not distracted from it.”
New media, he explained, play a central role in this.
“New technologies pose new challenges to leaders.
They need to transmit messages to people. [US President Barack] Obama is a perfect example of the role of media in elections and politics. Six years ago, he was a not so well-known senator,” yet new media and technology played a huge role in transmitting his message to the masses.
“Leaders must operate on a global basis. Globalization has a huge effect on a government’s stability…” a phenomenon that has doubtlessly frustrated Israel over the years.
Prof. Michal Shamir and Jamal are the department heads for Political Science in Action: Leadership, Communication and Elections. Other courses are Political Communication in the 21st Century; Leaders and Citizens: Balancing Expectations in Democracies; Rhetoric and Leadership: From the Agora to the Internet; Interactive Media and Conflict Resolution and War in Live Broadcast.
Prof. Azar Gat, who holds a PhD from Oxford University, is the department head of Security and Diplomacy Studies. Courses include The Middle East as a Conflict Zone; Israel’s Strategic Doctrine, and a workshop titled Ambassador Forum and Security Field Trips.
Jamal noted that these programs are geared for “people who want to go into election campaigning, PR, public service, new media and communication, and people who want to be political leaders.”
Graduates will go on to work for government organizations, in journalism, lobbies, think tanks, academic research institutes and even diplomatic embassies.
To learn more visit the websites for these programs: content/;