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Skidmore College
Greenberg Middle East Scholar-In-Residence


2009 Scholar-in-Residence: Benny Morris

Benny Morris, professor in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University, will be in residence at Skidmore from the first of September through mid-October 2009.

While in residence, he will be teaching a five-week course, HI 398 "History Workshop:  Milestones in the Arab-Zionist Conflict 1881–1948" and on Tuesday, September 29 he will deliver a public lecture on the Israel-Palestine conflict, drawing especially on his two recent books: 1948, A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (Yale University Press, 2008) and One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel\Palestine Conflict (Yale University Press, 2009). Throughout his residency he will also visit classes and meet with students and faculty in other formal and informal venues.

Born in Israel in 1948, the year of Israel's founding, from parents who emigrated from Britain to Israel in 1947, Morris "grew up in the heart of a left-wing pioneering atmosphere."* His father was an Israeli diplomat, and Morris attended schools in Jerusalem and New York City, graduating from Ramaz High School in New York. He earned a B.A. in European history and European philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in Modern European History. Morris completed his military service as a paratropper, serving from 1967 to 1969, and in 1982 his division was called up to take part in the invasion of Lebanon. At that time he was also working as a journalist, and he interviewed Palestinian refugees from Gallilee who were then living in a refugee camp near Tyre. In 1988, during the first intifada, he was jailed briefly for refusing to serve when his division was called to go to the West Bank. While a journalist at the The Jerusalem Post for many years, Morris established his reputation as an historian—and as preeminient among the "new historians"—with the 1988 publication of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949, in which he "revolutionized Israeli historiography and, to a great extent, a nation's understanding of its own birth." In this and subsequent writing—nearly a dozen books and countless articles—Morris has painted "a far more complex picture [of the Israeli-Arab conflict] than many Israelis were prepared to accept," and indeed a more troubling picture than the scholarly and general public on all sides of the political divide have frequently been happy to receive. Indeed, though he characterizes himself as a liberal Zionist, his work has frequently provoked both Zionists and Liberals. Without abandoning his allegiance to the historical record, Morris has also played out the consequences of his findings, as he sees them, in commentaries on the current political conflict between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world. Never one to "flatter anyone's prejudices, least of all his own," and possessed now of what he has called a "cosmic pessimism," Morris' mastery of and perspective on the history of the Arab-Zionist conflict is unique, if not unmatched.

Morris is a senior associate member at St Antony's College, Oxford, was a MacArthur fellow at the Brookings Institute, a fellow at the Truman Institute at Hebrew University, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Florida-Gainesville, Dartmouth College and the University of Maryland-College Park. He has lectured widely at a number of colleges and universities, including Oxford University, MIT, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Wesleyan College, Middlebury College, University of Brussels, Georgetown University, Yale University, University of Indiana, University of Leyden, University of Utrecht, the University of Amsterdam and at many other venues in the U.S. and Europe.

*Much of the biographical detail here has been drawn from David Remnick's excellent review in the New Yorker (May 5, 2008), the full text of which may be found here:

Benny Morris and Robert Malley, panel discussion
"After Camp David: The Future of the Two State Solution,"
moderated by Steven Hoffmann

Thursday, October 8 at 8 p.m.,
Gannett Auditorium

Robert Malley is currently Middle East and North Africa program director for the International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C., where he directs analysts based in Amman, Cairo, Beirut, Tel Aviv and Baghdad. Together they report on the political, social and economic factors affecting the risk of conflict and make policy recommendations to address these threats. The team covers events from Iran to Morocco, with a heavy focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the situation in Iraq and Islamist movements throughout the region. Malley also covers developments in the United States that affect policy toward the Middle East. Indeed, from 1994 to 1996 he worked in the White House as director for democracy, human rights and humanitarian affairs with the National Security Council; from 1996 to 1998 he was executive assistant to Samuel R. Berger, then the national security advisor; and from 1998 to 2001 he was special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs and a senior member of the American team at peace talks held at Camp David in the summer of 2000.

Readers of the New York Review of Books over the last decade know Malley as among the most thoughtful and best-informed observers of the Middle East today. He is and continues to be more than an observer, working not merely to articulate the conflicts for policymakers and scholars but also to engage those involved in conflict to find their way or ways out. Malley is a graduate of Yale University, was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy. He also earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School and from 1991 to 1992 clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White.