Reading Time: 16 minutes

By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay.
(Exclusively for al-Zaytouna Centre).


In general, do dissertation topics of all disciplines give indications about the orientations of the state and society? Within the framework of future strategic planning, do governments contribute in directing the researchers to study a specific topic or field in their dissertations? Or is the matter “entirely” up to the student and the administrative circumstances, such as the approval of the graduate studies committees in finding a supervisor to the thesis? For according to the Israeli academic regulations, the scientific thesis committees must approve the topics (as in paragraph N of Article 3.2 of the University of Haifa Guidlines), which is a conventional matter in all universities worldwide.

However, monitoring Israeli government interventions in academic work, especially concerning academic freedoms in political science, indicates that there are explicit official interventions. It indicates also that there are interventions behind the scenes, despite all the academic liberalism claimed by Israel.

>> Click here to download the Full PDF: Political Analysis: Trends in Political Science and International Relations Dissertations in Israeli Universities … Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay (15 pages, 10.3 MB)

Israeli Authorities Intervention in Academic Freedom

As an example of the above, suffices for us to mention several examples of the interference of Israeli authorities in academic freedoms, especially when the matter is related to state policy. In 2012, the Israeli military’s Council for Higher Education in the West Bank (WB) has upgraded a small college established by settlers, known as Ariel College, to university status. This was rejected by senior faculty members from all over Israel, who considered the move an advancement of settlement policies and interference in academic affairs. [1] In 2010, when Gideon Sa‘ar chaired the Council for Higher Education, a high-school history textbook was banned, because it was deemed “too sympathetic” in its portrayal of the Palestinians. [2] At different times, Israeli newspapers published reports on threats to some university professors, sending degrading messages to them, or inciting against them just because their political positions were not in line with those of the Israeli government. Miriam Eliav-Feldon, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, said the “threats reminded her of the McCarthy era in the United States.” [3] Bashaar, an unofficial body representing more than 700 faculty members across the country, denounced what it called “politically-driven intervention into the academic affairs of Israel’s universities.” [4] Furthermore, matters have even reached the point of threatening to cut off funding of academic departments whose academic discourse does not “conform to the Likud party platform.” [5]

A code for appropriate behavior in higher education institutions, which was written by Professor Asa Kasher, during the term of the Minister of Education Naftali Bennett 2015–2019, has stated that it “will bar professors from voicing their political opinions in classrooms.” Moreover, the Israeli government’s decision to step up its efforts to combat the BDS (“Boycott, Divest, Sanction”) movement has led to an increase in restrictions upon entry of foreign academics to Israel with BDS-sympathetic politics. Some visiting scholars have reported that they have been interrogated at the airport by Israeli secret services. [6]

Moreover, heavy pressure from pro-Israel groups has extended beyond Israel, for in April 2015, supporters of the Israel lobby at the University of Southampton cancelled a conference on Zionism. [7] And during 2008–2009, pro-Israeli lobby organizations and individuals made concerted efforts to block a planned conference at Toronto’s York University on models of statehood and paths to “peace” in Israel and Palestine. [8]

In 2009, the past president of Tel Aviv University, Zvi Galil, resisted calls that he expel a Palestinian student for supporting views inconsistent with Israeli policy. Also in 2009, the same situation was encountered by Dr. Neve Gordon, professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University, because he expressed his opposition to the Israeli practices towards the Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories.
In one case, in 2008, settlers even attempted to kill professor Ze’ev Sternhell, a Hebrew University professor and critic of Israeli settlers behaviour, and was wounded by a pipe bomb planted outside the door of his home in West Jerusalem. In addition, the Council of University Presidents accused the Israeli army of unduly interfering in academic affairs. [9] Also, the conflict that took place between Ben-Gurion University and the Israeli authorities concerning the orientations of the Politics and Government department, is a clear proof of the strength of the Israeli right, taking advantage of its presence in power. The department was closed for the sheer feeling that some academics espouse a “liberal” perspective. [10] Consequently, a reassessment was done to all the orientations of the political science departments at the Israeli University.

In addition to the above, Israeli higher education institutions receive some funding from the Israeli army and Shin Bet, for research purposes. Some universities and colleges have also signed contracts to provide special courses for military and intelligence personnel that allow them to conduct their studies over a significantly shorter period than normal. [11]

The University Academic Freedom Index includes the following indicators: Freedom of research and education, freedom of academic exchange and publishing, institutional independence, campus integrity (which means to which degree the campus is free from politically motivated surveillance or security violations), and the freedom of academic, cultural and political expression. When applying this index to Israeli universities, we find that in March 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law authorizing the Finance Minister to reduce state funding to an institution if it engages in an “activity that is contrary to the principles of the state.” [12] This goes in line with what Israel’s Education Ministry did, as it has disqualified a novel that describes a love story between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man from use by high schools around the country, since there is a need to safeguard the belief that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity.” Moreover, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art canceled an exhibition of works by a Chinese artist, featuring portraits of thousands of Palestinian refugees and refugee camps by an Israeli photographer. [13] Furthermore, Ariella Azoulay was fired from the Bar Ilan University because of her articles opposing Israeli policy. [14]

Political Science and International Relations Dissertations in Israeli Universities

To what extent are the Israeli authorities involved in the procedures for preparing and approving dissertations in the political science departments of Israeli universities?

Concerning governmental interventions in academic work mentioned above, especially in the social and human sciences departments and more specifically in political science, we add another incident that clearly proves interference in dissertations. This one happened with Ilan Pappé, the professor of History at Haifa University, who came to the defense of student, whose MA thesis revealed war crimes committed by Zionist Jews against the Palestinians in 1948. He mentioned a particular Israeli brigade based on academic documentation methods. However, this brigade’s representatives objected to what the thesis stated, prompting the university to form a committee of academic experts, who denied and rejected what the thesis mentioned. Pappé and the thesis committee, on the other hand, rejected the committee findings. The endorsements of Pappé led to continued pressure on him, who ultimately, in 2007, left the university to become a professor at the University of Exeter. He estimates that “half of lecturers in Israeli universities have ties to the security services.” [15]

This means that interference in directing the content and topics of the dissertations is probable, although it is hard to submit documented proof about the role of the authorities in that matter. However, in light of what was mentioned above, we do not rule out the possibility that this happens in one way or another. There are 1,300 dissertations that are annually defended in all Israeli universities and in all topics.

The author of this article tried to monitor the dissertations in the fields of political science and international relations, where he managed to monitor 74 dissertations in five universities:[16]

1. Bar-Ilan: Department of Political Science.

2. Ben-Gurion: Department of Politics and Government.

3. Hebrew University: Department of International Relations/ Department of Political Science/ The Federmann School of Public Policy and Government.

4. Tel Aviv: Department of Political Science/ Department of Public Policy.

5. Haifa: Department of Political Science.

Quantitative Results:

Dissertations were distributed based on their specialization in the field of political science and international relations. They are divided into seven sections:

1. Political theories and methods.

2. The political system (Decision centers and decision-making)

3. Local governance.

4. International relations (With the United States, the European Union, the Arab region, Africa, Asia, and Latin America).

5. Political media and public opinion.

6. The security aspects from a political perspective.

7. Political sociology.

It is known that these topics overlap one another due to their affiliation to the same epistemic field. However, I endeavored to divide them based on the general feature of the dissertation topic. For example, there is a dissertation that discusses how to deal with minorities in three models: Israel, Canada and Ireland, hence it comes under political decision and political sociology sections. Another one discusses the role of religion in the decision-making or the political behavior of the Israelis and Palestinians; or the relationship between medical treatment and politics, or investing international aid during environmental disasters to build political alliances, etc.

After monitoring the topics, they were distributed as follows:

Topic Distribution of Political Science Dissertations in Israeli Universities

Percentage Topic Distribution of Political Science Dissertations in Israeli Universities (%)

The Analysis:

Looking at the future, one can claim that the majority of the dissertation authors will become part of the Israeli think engine, as officials, political experts, or political researchers, orienting the political culture in Israeli society. This makes studying their topics of interest in their field of specialty necessary, while taking into account the overall direction of political science major in Israeli universities, hence we found that political sociology and public policy topics dominate. [17]

Viewing the content of these dissertations raises a number of observations:

1. There’s a disconnect between the Israeli official interest in security and that found in Israeli dissertations. For Israel is considered one of the most concerned countries with security. Hence the question is: Is turning away from this subject in dissertations the result of lack of information, because of the high secrecy with which Israel shrouds this matter? Or are there implicit formal guidelines not to approach this topic due to its hypersensitivity, for these dissertations can be a source of information to other countries? Based on that we ask: why security related dissertations are only 5.4% of total dissertations? It is noted that the topics of the security dissertations focused either on cell phones and their political dangers, or cyber security, or comparative studies of “terrorist” organizations, including Qaida, Taliban, Hizbullah, Hamas, Tamil, etc.

Supporting the claim that research does not focus on security issues due to lack of documents available to researchers and the sensitivity of the topic, is the following: Out of three million Israeli foreign policy documents in Israeli archives, only 550,000 documents are available (Only 18%), and out of million Israeli army documents, only 50,000 are available (Only 5%). [18] It is noted also that percentage of political moderate views of academics towards the Palestine issue in Israeli universities is much higher than those in the Israeli government, particularly the right-wing governments, [19] resulting in friction between the two, real examples were mentioned earlier. This situation is confirmed by field studies on what the Israeli academics have encountered when they dealt with Israeli students (especially in postgraduate studies), whose racist and violent tendencies were shaped by family education, on the one hand, and the periods they joined the Israeli army, on the other hand. [20]

2. It is noted that there was only one dissertation on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians (by a Palestinian student), constituting 1.35% of all dissertations. This can be the result of the concerns of the students and their supervisors about the possibility of collision with official authorities (Some examples were cited at the beginning of this paper), or due to the racist culture prevailing in Israeli society.

3. When comparing political topics and those of international relations, political science dominates, where 81.05% of the topics came under that section, while 18.91% came under the international relations section. Does this low percentage of international relations topics reflect the continuation of the “ghetto” culture? It is noted that 43.24% of the topics are under political sociology, for example, (the closest in its theories and interests to “ghetto” culture).That is, the focus is on self-study, which is evident in the predominance of topics concerning minority issues, religion, medical treatment and aid, and public policy (similar to political sociology). This is consistent with the results of special field studies on the political orientation of the “Jewish” students in Israeli universities. For these students are mainly interested in the Jewishness of the state and its cultural, social and political aspects. [21]

4. Concerning the topics of international relations, it is clear that:

a. Regionally, among the regions’ countries, the topics’ main focus was on Egypt and Turkey (While we find Iran is dominant in the studies of research centers, newspaper articles or statements). Perhaps studying Iran in an academic way in dissertations may reach results that either would clash with the Israeli government policies, or reinforce the view of an Israeli political trend at the expense of another, making supervisors and students stay away from this topic.
On the other hand, it is noted that the studies of Turkey, Egypt and Israel focused on the “relations between the military and civilians in the three countries, and comparing them”; this reflects the impression that the military establishment in the three countries represents a central pillar of their political decision-making.

b. Internationally, topics that concern Europe were given twice the care given to those of the United States. For example, the focus of the European topics was on the role of scientific cooperation in strengthening relations between the two parties. Asia got more attention than Africa (especially topics tackling the role of China). But what is striking is that Africa’s topics focus on the migrants issue, on the one hand, and on water, on the other hand. This raises the question about the importance of water in Africa to Israel, but can be explained that most of the water topics in these dissertations are relevant to Arab countries.

c. It is noted that in political science, the share of public opinion and media topics came in second, i.e., self-centered topics. For most of these studies are about mental images, communication channels, … in Israeli society.

Based on these observations, we can assume that this heavy focus on the internal structure conceals serious concerns about the future of the political and non-political community.


1. The lack of university theses or dissertations that hold a point of view close to that of the Palestinians, is due to the nature of the Israeli society, and the concerns of theses supervisors of the possibility of being harmed, physically or mentally, whether by Israeli official authorities or Jewish extremist groups.

2. The right-wing parties, especially the Likud, do not refrain from direct financial or administrative pressure on university departments, particularly those of social and human studies that have positions the Israeli government deems contrary to its directions.

3. Focusing on political sociology topics has many interpretations. However, we consider it expressing, on one hand, the “ghetto” culture, and the anxiety about the future possibility of spreading cultural tendencies unfavorable to Zionist ideology; for example, there is fear from the growing secularism within Israeli society and its university communities, for it threatens the legendary religious foundation upon which the state was built. On the other hand, the increasing role of the subcultures and their values may spread in the Israeli society (Eastern and western, Russians and non-Russians, religious and secular, black and white, nationalists and globalists…), which are considered cracks in the Zionist wall.

4. It seems that the security topics—which are the least among the dissertation topics—are almost blocked for researchers, since in the Israeli mind, the security issue is superior to any other issue. A fact confirmed by all Israeli or foreign studies on the Israeli political issue.

[1] Nir Gov, Keep politics out of academia in Israel, site of Nature, 15/8/2012,
[2] Matthew Kalman, News of Government Guidelines on ‘Pluralism’ Alarms Israeli Academics, site of The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/11/2010,
[3] Matthew Kalma, Israeli Professors Protest Calls for Increased Zionism in Teaching, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20/8/2010,
[4] Matthew Kalman, News of Government Guidelines on ‘Pluralism’ Alarms Israeli Academics, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/11/2010.
[5] Compulsory Zionism, Haaretz newspaper, 4/11/2010,
[6] Hayim Katsman, Protecting academic freedom in Israeli higher education, site of the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington , 29/1/2019,
[7] David Miller and Narzanin Massoumi, The Guardian newspaper, 15/6/2015,
[8] No Debate: The Israel Lobby and Free Speech at Canadian Universities, site of Canadian Association of University Teachers, October 2011,
[9] انظر تفاصيل هذه الوقائع وغيرها في:
David Robinson, “The Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,” Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2010, pp. 19-23,,%20the%20West%20Bank%20and%20Gaza.pdf
[10] Nathan Jeffay, Politics at Ben Gurion May Eliminate Politics in Class, site of Forward, 7/10/2012,
[11] David Robinson, “The Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,” Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2010, pp. 19-23.
[12] Stanley Cohen, Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book, site of CounterPunch, 30/9/2016,
[13] Ibid.
[14] Neve Gordon, The Firing of Ariella Azoulay, CounterPunch, 5/10/2010,
[15] Jonathan Cook, Academic Freedom? Not for Arabs in Israel, CounterPunch, 29/2/2008,
[16] These dissertations were compiled from the above-mentioned five Israeli university websites, covering the period 1990 until now. These dissertations are:
1. Symbolic communication of bureaucratic organizations with the public: influences on public perceptions and bureaucratic response
2. Conceptualizing and Measuring Egalitarianism in Cities
3. Groupthink, Polythink, and Con-Div in U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East
4. The Effect of Morality on Cognitive Images, Decision Making Processes, and Policy Planning
5. The Schmittian Jews: Leo Strauss, Isaac Breuer and the Invention of Jewish Theological Politic
6. Community Leadership in Divided Societies: Analyzing Residents’ Struggles over Recognition and Redistribution
7. Terrorizing God’s Enemies: The influence of religion on terror group activity
8. Comparative Public Diplomacy: three models of message-transfer strategies in democracies, non-liberal democracies, and authoritarian regimes
9. Heuristics in Voting Decisions
10. Moral Images in the Political World
11. Political Activists in Intractable Conflicts: Harmful or Helpful?
12. Computerized Analysis of Dialogue: Challenges and application in the political realm
13. Inner party personalization – an indication of party decline or party adaptation?
14. Civic Consciousness in Times of Emergency – Battle Missives in the IDF 1948-2014
15. The Human Foundation of the Liberal-Democratic Citizenship Political theory and the city
17. Friend or Foe? The Framing Process of Asylum Seekers on Collaboration Grounds and The Immigration Policy towards them
18. Tweeting Jihad: the Use of Social Media in the Salafi Jihadi Movement
19. Urban agency and artistic interventions as transitional justice mechanisms in contested urban spaces
20. The Puzzle of Legislative Division of Labor: A Comparative Study of the UK and Israel, 1948-2018
21. Spiritual Tradition: religious renewal of Israeli celebrities as a democratic post-secular citizenship
22. From In Camera to On Camera: The Impact of Transparency on Knesset Committees
23. All Things Being Equal: Exploring welfare policies and perceptions in municipalities
24. “Minority” in political theory – a sociological or political concept?
25. Exploring the reciprocal dynamics of rhetoric and action among radical Jewish activity since the Disengagement
26. Moral experts in public decision-making processes
27. The political economy of occupational licensing: The expansion of regulatory capitalism
28. Regulating Civil Society Organizations in Israel, 1980-2020
29. The Idea of Elites in French Liberalism from Napoleon to De Gaulle
30. Constructive No-Confidence Votes
31. Information Privacy and Users’ Behavior Parliamentary Oppositions in Established Democracies: A Comparative Study
32. Immigration to Nation States: a new policy model for resolving the identity challenge
33. The effects of election campaign rhetoric on citizens and the media
34. Effect of Neoliberalism on the Israeli public governance and the public’s ability to shape policy
35. The remembrance and commemoration of local battles that took place in five Negev kibbutzim
36. The 15M movement in Spain and the social protests of summer 2011 in Israel
37. Student composition diversity policies in higher education in Israel, focusing on the diversity perceptions, policies and practices, within the national, institutional and departmental arenas
38. Crisis of humanity in the modern era, according to Arendt’s theory which originates in a sharp thinking crisis, and the strong interaction that exists in her theory between critical thought and a moral political action.
39. The performative practices of border in relation to archival images of the built landscape in the state of Israel, taken between 1949-1967
40. Micro-histories of local struggles for recognition and belonging in the Israeli contested geography.
41. Connection between the political and therapeutical fields
42. Links between multi-level governance and territorial identity. Focusing on the sub-regional contexts of Quebec and Wallonia,
43. The boundary work between different types of knowledge and perceptions of risk in the case of mobile phones in Israel
44. How political power relations are shaping the daily life and produce spatial segregation and integration
45. Comparative study of indigenous mobilities to settler cities in Israel and Australia
46. The issue of political culture, and will examine whether Asian foreign students from who come to Israel to study, experience self empowerment which leads to a change in self-expression values and democratic values.
47. Independent migration of unaccompanied children and adolescents in Southern Africa
48. What is the treatment of relations of production within the platforms of current Center-Left and Left parties in Europe, and what does this treatment indicate regarding the current distributive justice discourse?
49. Water in rural Africa, sustainability of water projects and natural resources, the dynamics and discourse between society, natural resources and sustainability
50. The nature of Research and Development diplomacy and its contribution to advancing the relationship between Israel and the European Union as well as with other European countries
51. Latin America Jewry and the contemporary Jewish immigration to Israel from Latin America.
52. The impact of Chinese investments on Africa in various aspects
53. Neo-liberalization of the Israeli higher education system and the way in which this process shapes employment patterns, employee relations, and labor struggles
54. Political and theoretical question regarding conservation in Israel and mainly Palestinian heritage in Israel.
55. Discrimination in health and environment policy between Jews and Arabs, in the objective and subjective levels, and its effect on the health of the Arab citizens of Israel – case study Um-Al-FAHEM region (northern triangle), Hadera region, and Hadera.
56. Research deals with the civic studies and history high school program in three conflict zones: Israel, Northern Ireland and the province of Quebec in Canada. His research examines the perceptions and misperceptions presented in the High School textbook towards Europe, the EU, and the EU member states.
57. Political violence between minority groups in Israel towards the security forces, and emphasizes on the explanations provided by the violent players to their own acts.
58. Politics of infrastructure in the peripheral regions of Turkey and Israel.
59. Foreign policy decision-making and Turkey-Israel relations after 1991
60. Interrelations between religion and politics in Israel/Palestine. Focusing on the religious-Zionist movement and the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza,
61. Teaching controversial topics in social studies, global citizenship education, and the construction of knowledge
62. “Oscillating Civil-Military Relations in the Middle East: Cases of Turkey, Egypt and Israel, A Dynamic Regional Order Approach
63. The political mobilization of labor migrants and undocumented workers in Israel and the United States
64. The impact of different immigration, integration and asylum policies on public opposition to immigration
65. “Explaining National Cyber Insecurity: A New Strategic Defense Adaptation Analytical Framework”
66. “The War of Democratic States in Guerrilla and Terrorist Organizations Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah and the Tamil in Official Peace Processes”.
67. Putting Practice into Practice: Change in International Status – The Case of the PLO national legislature restricting freedom of speech during war
68. Interactions between the state and the medical profession in an era of profound economic and social transitions
69. The attitudes of Social-Democratic parties in Western Europe towards immigration 1990-2015.
70. Stigmatizing countries in the international arena: a political tool in self-determination conflicts”
71. The Role of Post-Disaster Aid in the Pursuit of Alliances
72. Terrorism and counter-terrorism policies
73. Origins and causes of judicial activism in Israel
74. Public Participation in governmental decision-making
[17] See details about this field in Israeli universities in Gila Menahem and Amos Zehavi (eds.), Policy Analysis in Israel, Policy Press (Bristol University Press, 2016), p. 188.
[18] Uri Bialer, Israeli Foreign Policy: A People Shall Not Dwell Alone (Indiana University Press, 2020), p. 2.
[19] Kenneth D. Wald and Danielle Feinstein, “Higher Education and Political Tolerance: The “Difficult” case of Israel,” in Neovi Karakatsanis and Jonathan Swarts (eds.), Political and Military Sociology: Political Attitudes, Perceptions, and Culture, Annual Review (N.Y.: Routledge, 2015), vol. 43, ch. 6.
[20] Ibid, pp. 149-166.
[21] Yaacov Iram (ed.), Educating toward a Culture of Peace, Peace Education Series (USA: Information Age Publishing, 2006), pp. 171-184.

>> Click here to download the Full PDF: Political Analysis: Trends in Political Science and International Relations Dissertations in Israeli Universities … Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay (15 pages, 10.3 MB)

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 5/6/2020

Read More: