Asher Arian, 72, a Political Scientist and Author

By Irving Leonard Markovitz

Published July 14, 2010, issue of July 23, 2010.
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Asher Arian, one of Israel’s most prominent political scientists, died on July 6 after a long illness. He was 72.

Born in Cleveland in 1938, Arian received a bachelor of arts degree from Western Reserve University in 1961 and a doctorate in political science from Michigan State University in 1965. From 1966 to 1989, Arian was a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, a founding faculty member of the school’s political science department. He also served as dean of the faculty of social sciences.

Arian continued his professional affiliations in Israel with appointments in 1990 as professor of political science at the University of Haifa and, in 1995, as research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

Arian wrote or co-authored more than 25 books and dozens of articles that have appeared in prestigious academic journals. Among his books are a series on elections in Israel and, in 1973, “The Choosing People: Voting Behavior in Israel.” He was considered the pre-eminent scholar of public opinion in Israel.

I first came to know Arian when he visited at Queens College, in 1984. In 1986, I helped persuade him to come to the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he first served as executive officer of the political science program. For years, he continued to split his academic life between the United States and Israel.

Arian’s decision to settle in Israel had to have been motivated by his idealism. But there was nothing romantic about his scholarly writing. It was driven by a quest for objective truth and critical understanding. In his “Politics in Israel: The Second Generation” (Revised Edition, Chatham House, 1989), for example, he wrote that politics in Israel is elite politics. Everybody’s vote might be equal to everybody else’s, but in reality, a ruling elite emerges. Ruling elites might change, but even in Israel, he wrote, they are likely to be “homogeneous, unified, and self-conscious.”

Arian was a person of great but controlled — and infectious — enthusiasms. In the last weeks of his final semester of teaching at the CUNY Graduate Center, he could barely speak. Yet his students did not drop his course or walk out. They empathized deeply with his plight, and felt his pain. His plans to return to teaching in the fall at the Graduate Center might have appeared to most of us as totally unreasonable, given his health. But, he said quietly, he would manage. The course was on Israeli politics, and he would have guest lecturers, he could write messages, his students would understand — and learn. It was for him, perhaps, a lifeline or a promise that there was a future.

During a Sabbath lunch he had with friends and colleagues when he was already very ill, Arian could not eat and, unable to speak, simply sat at the head of the table and enjoyed our enjoyment of the meal. We could not feel uncomfortable but instead joined in his pleasure. How was it possible that somebody who was in such pain and discomfort could invite you to dinner in his final weeks and have you share a meal without self-consciousness, happy in your company?

His love for his wife, Carol, and for his children and grandchildren, the glimpses that we had of his love for other family members, his great capacity for enjoyment and his ability to share those pleasures, along with his great scholarship and teaching, made him a colleague and friend like no other.

Irving Leonard Markovitz is a professor at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York Contact him at feedback@forward.com.






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