Professor Paul Scham poses by a bookshelf with a copy of Polarization and Consensus-Building in Israel. Scham is one of several contributors to the book and the only one from this university (Courtesy of Paul Scham).

COLLEGE PARK – In their first event of the season, the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies held a book launch over Zoom on Wednesday, Sept. 13 for a recently published book, “Polarization and Consensus-Building in Israel: The Center Cannot Hold.” 

The launch was held in Hebrew earlier this summer, but as Elie Friedman, contributor and editor, put it, “It’s really I think important and timely to hold an event in English over Zoom, particularly during these fateful times.” 

Ilai Saltzman,the Gildenhorn Institute’s director, expressed a similar sentiment: “I think some of the conversations, some of the themes will [accompany us] for a long time now.”

The book launch featured a diverse array of speakers from a variety of different backgrounds. Among them was University of Maryland professor, Paul Scham who wrote his own chapter for the book. 

Scham described his educational journey as “a very unusual path.” After attending graduate school for European History, he switched to law school and received his law degree, but found he did not enjoy it. He describes getting the “Israel bug” and moving to Israel, which launched him into his current career.

Unlike the other contributors to the book who are political scientists, Professor Scham is primarily a historian. “I use the past as a lens for understanding disagreement in the present.” In writing the book he describes “I was trying to think about how my interests would fit.” 

He decided to use the 80’s as a time that he believes “many of the conflicts we see in Israel today really took form.” Professor Scham was living in Israel at this time and noticed the direct cause the Lebanon war seemed to have in shaping the divide and conflicts that can be traced to the present day.

The book explores various aspects of Israeli society, including the cultural divide among the secular left and the far right, as well as between Israelis and Arab-Israelis. 

Professor Scham expressed hope that “people who read [the book] will emerge with a greater understanding of how this polarization emerged and what the dynamics are. I think that this book is a good expression of what Israel studies does, it is looking at different facets of Israeli society and trying to answer it.” 

This sentiment was mirrored in many of the other presentations, including Friedman’s. “The studies in this book… each provide a unique perspective into how we arrived at the situation that we are at today,” said Friedman.

Professor Scham noted “We don’t do our work in order to support the current government, nor do we work against it, we try to present research from a different point of view.” 

This is something Professor Scham carries with him as a professor at this university. “I try to respect every set of views and give students a collection of different views to understand the conflict from a different aspect.” 


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