“My goal is giving good insights into Israel and the rest of the strategically important area we call the Middle East,” said Michael Widlanski, 2013-2014 Schusterman Visiting Israel Professor at the University of California, Irvine. “I hope I can do this for students and also for faculty colleagues, but I want to do some of the same in larger off-campus community in Orange County and perhaps further afield. The idea of the visiting professorship, sponsored by the Schusterman Foundation and aided by The Rose Project, is to be a resource for campus and community.”
Dr. Widlanski specializes in Arab politics, communications and counter-terrorism. He wrote Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat (Simon & Schuster—Threshold Books, March 2012), an exposé of how Western intelligence officials and mass media have failed to confront Arab-Islamic terror.
“I think that my special background has allowed me to see and to show angles that most professors might not,” Dr. Widlanski explained. “My academic background is political science, political communication, Islam and counter-terrorism, with five academic degrees on three continents, three in the US, one in Egypt and one in Israel. But my professional life has included stints as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor, negotiator and security official for organizations as diverse as The New York Times, Israeli Army radio, The Jerusalem Post, Cox Newspapers, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Israeli Minstry of Public Security.”
Born in New York, Dr. Widlanski has five degrees from three continents. From Columbia University, he has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s in international affairs and a post-graduate certificate in Middle East affairs. He also holds a certificate in advanced Arabic from the American University in Cairo and a Ph.D. in political science and communications from Bar Ilan University. His doctorate probed the role of Palestinian broadcast media in the Palestinian state-building process.
Dr. Widlanski’s background combines the field experience of a journalist and security official with the intense academic research of a scholar. Fluent in Hebrew and several dialects of Arabic, he is a former Middle East reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at the New York Times, the Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also written for The Daily News, The New York Post, National Review, The New Republic and Ha’aretz. In 1982, he was Arab affairs correspondent during the Lebanon War for Israel Army Radio, and was later diplomatic correspondent for IBA Israel Television (English).
From 1991 to 1992, Dr. Widlanski served as special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks, and was Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, Israel’s version of Homeland Security, from 2001 to 2002, where he edited captured PLO archives depicting PLO and Hamas activities.
Dr. Widlanski has taught Middle East politics, political communications and comparative politics for two decades at Hebrew University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and was a research fellow at the Shalem Center. He currently teaches at Bar Ilan University.
“At UCI I am planning to teach four to six courses in two trimesters, and I want to speak inside the political science department and social science faculty but perhaps also at larger campus events,” Dr. Widlanski said.
How does he feel about the peace process? “Giving peace a chance” is always a good idea, he said. “That is something that has united Israelis since Israel’s modern founding in 1948, but most Israelis are dubious about the chances for any real progress.”
While Dr. Widlanski and many other Israelis welcome diplomatic activity spurred by the United States, the claims by leading US officials that peace will be achieved in nine months is “wildly unrealistic,” he added. “The Palestinian leadership is divided between Hamas and the PLO. Hamas swears it wants to smother Israel, while the PLO leadership smiles at Western audiences in English while telling its own people that Israel must disappear.”
Dr. Widlanski explained that PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas is, “in fact, not really head of the Palestinian Authority. His term expired several years ago, but not his unilateral actions against Israel. He dresses more like a businessman than did his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, but he shares Arafat’s agenda.”
The Schusterman Visiting Professor concluded, “As someone who did his doctorate on the Palestinians and speaks Arabic, I have seen this up close many times. It is good to hope for peace, but it is dangerous to build hopes on mirages.”