Dr. Ariel Ilan Roth is Executive Director of the Israel Institute. The Israel Institute works in partnership with leading academic, research and cultural institutions to enhance knowledge and study of modern Israel in the United States and around the world. This weekend, the Institute will host its annual board meeting, an exclusive concert with Israeli singer/songwriter Keren Peles and its inaugural Forum, "Israeli Security in the Face of Arab Turmoil," at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
1. What drew you to your role at the Israel Institute? When I first heard about the job at the Institute, it felt like the position that I had been seeking for a long time. Here was a chance to do the things that I love to do—help build something new, work with colleges and universities, engage with up-and-coming scholars—and to do them in the service of an academic mission that I deeply believe in. I made aliyah right after high school and lived in Israel for the better part of a decade. Life has brought me back to the US, but working at the Institute has allowed the compromise of living outside of Israel to be a lot less painful. At the Institute I speak Hebrew every day and I am connected to Israel in a very satisfying way. Finally, the chance to work with Itamar Rabinovich was a huge motivator in getting me to leave my former post at Johns Hopkins!
2. What has been the Israel Institute’s biggest success in its inaugural year? The greatest success is the extent to which we have been able to take dreams that existed only on paper just a year ago and translate them into concrete programs at more than a dozen campuses around the world less than a year later. In time for this academic year, there are already Israel Institute-supported people and programs all over the US, Israel, Europe and China. Our mission of enhancing and expanding the field of Israel studies is advancing across the board.
3. What do you anticipate as the biggest challenge in pursuit of the Institute’s mission? In a word, politics. On so many campuses today, the very word “Israel” is fraught with controversy and implications surrounding a political stance. Our objective is to have Israel treated as a normal subject of academic inquiry. For that to happen, faculty, students and administrators need to set politics aside and reaffirm their commitment to academic integrity. We believe that there is work of tremendous value being done in the field of Israel Studies and that making that scholarship accessible to students on campus strengthens academia and helps universities fulfill their mission, which is to provide students with the best education possible.
4. What is the best piece of leadership advice you have ever received? Take responsibility and do not sell your people out. My former boss was a great teacher in this regard. Many people are tempted to publicaly blame their subordinates for things that go wrong while claiming the credit for themselves when things go right. A good leader does the reverse, I think.
5. If you could bring back a lifetime supply of one Israeli product, what would it be? Just one!? Well, it is not exactly a product so much as a meal, but steady access to a well-constructed shawarma with hummus, fries, salad, cabbage, pickles and tahina would be great.