About Jeremy Pressman

professor, Arab-Israeli stuff, Middle East, Red Sox fan. Twitter: @djpressman

Reflecting on Ukraine-Russia

A twitter essay:






Back to Normal Political Instability

Jay Ulfelder (@jay_ulfelderasks if the present level of political instability is the world boiling over or just getting back to normal. I was surprised to see that his answer is the world is getting back to normal. According to Ulfelder, over the last decade, observed (actual) political instability has been noticeably below the predicted level of instability. The drop from 2000 to 2010 looks especially steep.

Which led me to wonder: Why was I surprised? Are the Arab Spring or events in Ukraine having an outsized impact on my perception of the level of political instability? One possibility is that in contrast to a data set that codes all cases of different types of political instability we, and the media upon which we rely, only focus on a few big illustrations.

So we may be significantly below predicted levels of political instability but a few “celebrity” or much-covered examples may distort our perception of the global total. Maybe no matter what you tell me about the relatively low level of political instability in 2011 – both compared to predicted levels for 2011 and to historical annual rates as high as 4% – I will remember the wave of Arab uprisings and the fall of long-time dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

This does raise a question, as Rex Byrnen noted:

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In my mind, our media-influenced perception is actually a weighted perception; we care about or pay attention to some places more than others, a potential explanation for my initial surprise.

A Reply to Kristof: Come Visit My Class at UConn

Dear Mr. Kristof,

I was sad to read your dismissal of political science. While you had a few useful thoughts, much of it was dated and ill-informed. I think you need to learn about political science in 2014.

So please, come to my undergraduate class on recent events in Egypt and Syria. OK, officially it is Contemporary International Politics (POLS 3402). We meet TuTh, 9:30-10:45 am in Storrs, CT. [TuTh is academic jargon for Tuesday & Thursday.] Not far from New York at all. If you email me, I’ll send you the room number.

In this class we discuss political change in Egypt and the war in Syria, real-world events. We read ACTUAL political scientists (and others) who have written in academic journals, blogs, and mainstream publications. We talk about violence, civil war, military intervention, dictatorship, democracy, gender, refugees, and many other issues you would understand without a poli-sci decoder.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.


Prof. Jeremy Pressman

How to stop the Israeli occupation: An answer to Corey Robin

Corey Robin asked the following about the ASA’s recent pro-BDS resolution:

For the last month I’ve been responding to critiques and challenges of BDS. Now I have a question for its opponents and critics. What do you propose as an alternative strategy?

I am not sure I am entitled to answer since I have not written any critique of the ASA resolution, but I think you have to ask a prior question. If you are an American academic association and you want the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to end, what tactics are most likely to work? (No guarantees; history obviously shows coercion can work for a very long time.)

In others words, what is more effective, the ASA endorsing “a boycott of Israeli academic institutions” or the ASA doing something else? I pick something else.

If I were counseling the ASA, I would suggest the following:

1. You are, I imagine, mostly* residents of the United States. If that is the case, the best thing you can do is lobby the US government to change its policy toward Israel-Palestine. However limited, you have access to US halls of power that a Palestinian in Nablus does not. Change your own government. So pass a resolution condemning current US policy. Write. Call. Visit. Donate. Form a PAC. Organize. Vote.

2. Focus on the denial of academic freedom to Palestinian academics and universities. Work to break it down. Hold conferences and workshops with Palestinian professors. Engage in joint projects. Given the difficult travel policies they face, allocate funds to bring them for scholarly exchanges. I do not know what the MLA will ultimately do, but a draft text I saw went more in this direction. A related variant: formally support Israeli academics who oppose the occupation.

3. Publicize and support on-the-ground Palestinian efforts based on non-violent change. People should know about movements in Bil’in and Budrus and Nabi Salih and Sheik Jarrakh and the like.

Make that list the operative part of the resolution, and the ASA will still get a lot of pushback. But the ASA will also have a better chance of effecting meaningful change.

(For the sake of discussion, I set aside the Middlebury objection. That’s a prior issue the ASA has to address.)

* Please correct me if “mostly” is inaccurate.

Points of (Dis)agreement on a Two-State Solution

With rumors swirling that US Secretary of State John Kerry is close to convening Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it seems like a good time to remind ourselves about the various aspects of a two-state solution. In short, what issues are likely settled and what issues are open to question? The list is admittedly not set in concrete, especially number two, but why not start somewhere:

1) The aim is two states, Israel and Palestine.

2) The June 4, 1967 lines are the starting point or basis (exact word matters) for the border between Israel-Palestine.

3) Land swaps (concept).

4) West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

5) No full implementation of the Palestinian right of return.

6) Isolated Israeli settlements in West Bank are withdrawn.

Lingering questions:

A) What happens to the holy sites in Jerusalem?

B) Is Palestine demilitarized, non-militarized etc? Pick a word.

C) Will Israel acknowledge Palestinian suffering (exact wording matters) in 1948?

D) Will Israel agree to the token admission of Palestinian refugees?

E) Do Palestinians concede the Ariel salient? Maale Adumim?

F) Will Palestinians accept the “Israel is the Jewish State” language?

G) Will Israel hold out for a Jordan Valley presence?

A lot of judgment calls. What would you add or change?

Female Bloggers in IR

Taylor Marvin and Barbara Walter at Political Violence @ a Glance have started an important conversation on the paucity of female bloggers in international affairs. IMHO, the issue of blogs is just one example of many arenas in which gender may be an issue. In the last three years, I’ve been involved in speaker series, dinners with speakers, committees, faculty presentations, research grants, and conferences & workshops, and in every one, the nature or composition of the invitees or participants is a question.

Four thoughts in the hopes of continuing the conversation:

1. Gender is one of MANY characteristics that people want to see represented. Others include race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, level of seniority, academic/practitioner, nationality, type of academic institutional affiliation (R1 vs others; location inside US; US vs rest of world; north/south; public vs private), political views, discipline or field, and method. People will vary as to which ones are most important, and, obviously, every invitee is some combination.

2. Judging whether someone is paying attention to such issues solely based on outcome is limiting. You can ask people to speak, to serve, to blog etc. You can do your best to meet their needs and make the environment conducive. In short, to me the process matters too: was a serious, concerted effort made to get diverse and excellent participants? Across a range of situations, I followed (or, in some cases, observed others following) roughly the same process to try to get broad representation; if I look at the outcomes, it worked better in some cases than others.

3. If you want diverse bloggers, panels, speakers, members etc, you have to reach out and be pro-active about it. Who do you know that I don’t know? Who do YOU think would be good that is not in my network or on my radar? Who is up and coming? You have to be willing to take the time to gather prospective names, talk with people, and have some (or many!) people decline. That is time consuming and may conflict with other time pressures or resource demands.

And it is not just about having the knowledge of who does what. As one colleague pointed out to me, friendship matters when you are trying to get people to do things, especially if such things may be onerous and take them away from things they’d rather or must be doing. A cold call/email may be very different from a friend asking.

4. Marvin and Walter rightly point to a structural factor, the high percentage of tenured, male faculty in IR programs. But I want to kick the question backward: is that a reflection of   IR students in top PhD programs? Maybe the assessment has to start even before the hiring and tenure processes with the PhD admission process.

Awareness about the people invited to do academic things, both pleasant and burdensome, is helpful. But awareness alone only goes so far.