UCLA Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, March 6, 2019 - Y&S Nazarian Center Postdoctoral Fellow Shaiel Ben-Ephraim didn’t first learn about global politics in a classroom. His initial experiences with international relations and their implications were in the streets of Jerusalem.
“When I was growing up in the city in the 1990s, several major buses that went through my neighborhood were targeted by bombings,” Ben-Ephraim recalls. “We later learned that the series of attacks was sponsored by Iran.”
These early life experiences combined with a sense in his childhood that Israel was at the “epicenter of global events” laid the foundation for Ben-Ephraim’s deep interest in international relations and Israeli foreign and security policy.
Today, he pursues those interests as the Y&S Nazarian Center’s Postdoctoral Fellow where he continues to distinguish his work from the research of other scholars focused on similar issues by focusing on the role of settlements in US-Israel relations.
But while Ben-Ephraim continues examining these complex bilateral relations at the Center, in Spring he will also use his international relations background while teaching “Modern Israel: Politics, Society, and Culture” to situate recent developments in Israeli society, politics and culture in a broader global context.
From the International Arena to Israel
When Ben-Ephraim began his studies at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, his intention was to focus exclusively on international relations. But because of the university’s strength in the areas of Israeli foreign and regional policy, he began to develop an interest in learning more about Israel’s external relations.
“At first, I wasn’t looking exclusively at Israel,” Ben-Ephraim says. “I started from a global perspective and began working from there inwards to focus on Israel.”
However, it wasn’t until he began his MA at Hebrew University in 2010 that he began to look at settlements. In his thesis, he examined the impact of British settlements in Rhodesia and Ireland on the functioning of the United Kingdom’s government and parliamentary democracy and vice versa. His findings would heavily influence his thinking about political actors.
“What my thesis taught me was to assess the behavior of different groups and governments through the lens of their security and political interests and environments, rather than looking at their behavior as being determined by ideology or ‘culture,’” Ben-Ephraim explains. “And this played a major role in my work on my dissertation and has continued to do so in my other research since.”
Ben-Ephraim took this lesson to heart as his work began taking its current shape during his doctoral research at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies. His dissertation “Can We Settle This: The Role of Settlements in the Occupied Territories and U.S.-Israel Relations, 1967-1981” looked at the role of settlements in the United States’ relations with Israel and its stance towards Israeli settlements during different periods.
“While US-Israel relations have been explored by many scholars in the past,” Ben-Ephraim says, “there has been little substantial research on the role of the settlements in influencing that relationship and I was glad to fill that academic void.”
Excluding “cultural” or ideological considerations as policy determinants, Ben-Ephraim’s dissertation examined how global and regional strategic considerations were driving factors in in American administrations’ relations with Israel and their stances on settlements.
“When the US saw the settlements as an obstacle for achieving regional or global goals, American administrations pressured Israel to slow or limit construction,” Ben-Ephraim says. “These policies were not based on ideologies, but rather were efforts to advance US strategic interests.”
With the Nazarian Center
Since completing his dissertation and joining the Nazarian Center in Fall 2017, Ben-Ephraim has continued his research, most recently publishing an article in the academic journal The International History Review titled “‘Therefore They Shouldn’t Exist’: The Carter Administration, the ‘Israel Lobby' and the Sinai Settlements.” He is also preparing to publish his dissertation as a book while serving as the Center’s Postdoctoral Fellow.
Beyond conducting research, this Spring, Ben-Ephraim will teach one of the Israel Studies minor’s core courses, “Modern Israel: Politics, Society, and Culture.” While the class focuses on Israel’s internal affairs, Ben-Ephraim believes that his international relations background will be a great advantage in teaching the course.
“In an increasingly globalized world, looking at Israel or any other country as a localized unit isn’t particularly useful,” Ben-Ephraim says. “What I look forward to sharing with my students specifically is how Israel has been transformed by globalization and how the country has put its own spin on globalization, which are essential themes for understanding modern Israel.”