PROFILE OF VISITING PROFESSOR DR. ISAAC KFIR


Back in Fall 2007, the Maxwell Perspective featured an article entitled “Trying to Change the Rules” that sparked controversy within the greater Syracuse University community. The article focused on several collaborative projects related to a partnership between the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) at the Col- lege of Law and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) located at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel. Syracuse alumnus Linda Ford, along with her husband Ira Glunts, penned a highly critical response to this partnership in Counterpunch (issue August 3, 2007) entitled “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” a pun on the eponymous song by the Beatles. The authors accused the university of militarizing scholarship by collaborating with an institution that has “extremely close connections to the Israeli government and military.” While Ford and Glunts do raise several important questions, by presenting the ICT as a homogenous and uncontested instrument of Israeli hegemony they overstate their case. In fact, the institute invites critical thinking without receiving money from the State of Israel. And if the authors were able to meet this year’s Visiting Assistant Professor from the ICT, Dr. Isaac Kfir, they would likely rethink their position. Charismatic, humorous and highly intellectual, Kfir is also deeply self-reflective. Indeed, after his experience of living in America for several months he admits that reading the work of Sayyid Qutb takes on new meaning. For Kfir, America is all about choice and when one is unfamiliar with the extent of it, it can be overwhelming. Had Qutb tried to understand American culture by working through his fear and loneliness, Kfir thinks that he would have benefited, as would many of today’s Islamists. In other words, the reason why they hate America is because they do not understand it.

Kfir received his Ph.D. in international affairs from the London School of Economics and shortly afterwards his law degree from BPP Law School in London. His doctoral thesis explored the relationship between the ‘New Right’ and the Reagan administration, specifically looking at how the ‘New Right’ ideology influenced the administration’s approach to the United Nations and UNESCO. Since 2005 he has held the position of Assistant Professor in Political Science and Terrorism at the Raphael Racanti International School at the IDC, where he teaches courses on Peacekeep- ing, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Terrorism. He has published numerous scholarly articles and chapters on topics including terrorism in Southeast Asia and Africa. Last year when Professor William C. Banks extended the invitation to spend a year here at Syracuse, Kfir jumped at the opportunity. His fellowship is facilitated by the American-Israeli Cooperation Enterprise, which is supported by the Schusterman Foundation. During the fall 2009 semester at Syracuse Kfir is teaching two graduate courses: Non-State Actors in Combating Terrorism, and UN Peacekeeping in the Middle East. The following spring he will be teaching courses on Radicalism in the Greater Middle East and International Hu- man Rights Law, which he is very excited about.

When asked about how he likes his fellowship so far, Kfir responds that he is thoroughly enjoying his teach- ing experiences here at Syracuse. The diversity at Maxwell means that he is learning just as much from students as they are from him. The smaller class sizes also invite more teacher-student interaction, whereas in Israel there may be over one hundred students in a class. Students at Syracuse are also responding warmly to Kfir’s pedagogical style. He includes extensive bibliographies on his syllabi that offer a myriad of perspectives on any one topic and he encourages practical activities in class, for example challenging students to draft their own Security Council resolutions. Kfir’s ap- proach is certainly thought provoking, with one student suggesting that he is one of the most engaging professors here at Maxwell. When Kfir presented a lecture on Afghanistan for the Program for the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts (PARCC) in mid-October, the event was so popular that the room had to be changed to accommodate the dozens of faculty and students in attendance. Kfir stresses the importance of such exchanges with the faculty and staff here at Maxwell, which have allowed him to develop and grow as a teacher, a scholar and as a person. This, he says, is why the partnership between INSCT and ICT is so important.