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Yossi Shain, a new MK, mixes academic success with political ambition

CM 30/07/2021


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When a new Knesset member delivers his maiden address to the parliament, it is traditional that his colleagues come up to him and congratulate him afterward.
But with Prof. Yossi Shain of Yisrael Beytenu, the MKs who gave him handshakes, hugs and COVID-19 mandated fist bumps on Monday included many of his former students over his 25-year career as a professor of political science. 
Shain has taught future MKs from across the political spectrum, including Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White), Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid), Amichai Chikli (Yamina) and Sami Abu Shehadeh (Joint List).
For those MKs, serving in the Knesset is the pinnacle of their career accomplishments. 

But for Shain, the shift from respected professor to backbencher in parliament is seen by some as a demotion. He has been asked why he would leave his comfortable life in academia for the all-night filibusters in the Knesset plenum. 
He answered in his maiden address, when he said that while he has addressed the British Parliament, speaking to the Knesset as an MK was so much more special for him.
“I am honored as hell to be here,” he says in an interview at his office. “I’m shaking about coming and speaking here.” 
Shain said he was entering the Knesset with humility and setting his academic ego aside.
“I am delighted to do something else,” he said. “It’s remarkable to renew yourself.”
 THE PROFESSOR is exchanging his lectern for a Knesset seat. (photographer: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) THE PROFESSOR is exchanging his lectern for a Knesset seat. (photographer: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
An extraordinarily accomplished academic, Shain shuttled back and forth between Tel Aviv University and Georgetown University in Washington, DC, for many years, teaching thousands of students in different languages in the two respected universities. 
Shain, 64, received his BA and MA from Tel Aviv University and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1998. From 1989 onward, he has held a slew of positions at Tel Aviv University including department chair, head of the Hartog School of Government, and co-director of the Israel Program on Constitutional Government. At Georgetown, he founded the Center for Jewish Civilization.
Yet, his academic successes are by no means limited to those two universities. He has had visiting appointments around the world at St. Antony’s College at Oxford University, the Paris Institute of Political Studies, Princeton, Yale, Wesleyan University, Middlebury College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts.
Shain was honored as the David and Goldie Blanksteen Lecturer in Jewish Ethics at Yale Law School (2000), as Olin Lecturer at the Harvard Lecturer Academy (2002), and as the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Chair at Georgetown (three consecutive times 1999-2002). His awards include the American Political Science Association’s Helen Dwight Reed Award, the International Fulbright Award, Israel’s Alon Fellowship, and Erasmus Mundus award by the EU. 
His academic interests include diasporas, corruption and migration reforms. In 2010, Dr. Latha Varadarajan referred to Shain in one of her books as “perhaps the most prolific scholar in the discipline on the issue of diasporas.” 
The author and editor of 10 books, his tome, Marketing the American Creed Abroad: Diasporas in the US and Their Homelands, received the 2000 Best Book of the Year Prize from the Israeli Political Science Association. 
His first two books, The Frontier of Loyalty: Political Exiles in the Age of the Nation-State and Governments-in-Exile in Contemporary World Politics dealt with the politics of exiles. He advised South Africa, as well as other states to help transition to democracy. The book The Frontier of Loyalty won the Best Books Award for International Affairs. It examined the impact of multiculturalism on politics. 
He has also published over 50 academic articles in journals such as International Organization, Comparative Politics, Foreign Policy and International Affairs. Aside from academic works, he regularly contributes to American and Israeli news outlets such as The New York Times, The American Interest and The Jerusalem Post and has been a guest on CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC and PBS. 
But Shain said his “greatest accomplishment” was raising two children in the US who decided to move to Israel. 
When describing himself, Shain jokes that he has been a political science professor “since the 19th century.” He was born in Kfar Saba and grew up in a Zionist family in Israel, with parents who fought in the War of Independence. 
“They raised me frugally,” he said. “We never had cars or TVs but it was a wonderful life. It was an era of naivete. We were dedicated to building the state. At the time, people lived frugally and happily with a pioneering spirit.” 
His mother was an educator who helped kids in disadvantaged areas in Tel Aviv’s Hatikva Quarter, and his father was an activist. 
He traveled the world after the army and in New Haven, CT, he met his American ex-wife, writer Nancy Schnog, the mother of his children, Eytan and Emily.
But in all his years living abroad, Shain always kept an eye on Israel and always knew he wanted to come back home, which he did at least part time after the 9/11 attacks.
During his time heading the School of Government at Tel Aviv University, he became more engaged with government and national security issues. He met Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in that capacity, when Liberman was foreign minister. 
He wrote a book on Israeli political and moral corruption, titled Who Controls Morality in Democracies: The Language of Corruption and Its Consequences.
In 2015, Liberman invited him to become an MK, but he turned it down, because he was busy writing one of his books and still teaching at Georgetown. 
Two years ago, he left Georgetown as an emeritus professor and got more engaged with Liberman, who again asked him to run. 
 ‘IF MR. [Avigdor] Liberman decides I won’t be there, I won’t be there.’ (photographer: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) ‘IF MR. [Avigdor] Liberman decides I won’t be there, I won’t be there.’ (photographer: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Liberman said would you be willing, and I said yes this time,” he said. “Not sleeping at night is great.” 
Shain will be on the Foreign Affairs and Defense, Education, and Science committees, where he intends to bring his experience, connections and understanding. 
He acknowledged that how long he stays in politics will depend in part on Liberman, who he praised as a global leader. 
“Liberman is interested in ideas, the world and religion and state,” he said. “I never ran in a primary. If Mr. Liberman decides I won’t be there, I won’t be there. He has never told me what to do. We speak freely and express ideas.” 
Shain said he has not yet been compelled to vote for anything he does not believe in, but he said he understood that will happen. 
“Reagan said you just have to agree on 75-80%,” he said. “If you want to be in politics, you can’t be a purist. Once you come here [to the Knesset], you have to understand the rules of the game. I wouldn’t have joined the coalition if it went against my set of values, but I know you can’t have everything.” 
His goals at the Knesset include embellishing foreign relations, contributing to building a university in the Galilee and changing the relationship between the judiciary and legislative branches. To that end, he will be on the ministerial committee on changing the Basic Law, which has one representative from each coalition party.
ASKED IF English is necessary to be a player in Israeli politics, he said no, but that it is helpful to engage in international politics. 
“Living in America for many years and knowing the intricacies of Washington helps me understand the actors and the sensitivity,” he said. “Speaking the language helps to understand the nuances of culture.” 
Shain revealed that when he first came to Yale, he was far from fluent in English and learned it from studying a dictionary and a thesaurus.
He says there is tension now because of Israel’s changing demography. Israel is approaching 10 million people after being founded in 1948 with 600,000. He cited tensions between decision-makers and minorities.
But he said he is happy with the very diverse representation in the coalition that has representatives from the Right, Center, Left and an Islamist party in Ra’am (United Arab List).
“It’s remarkable,” he said. “It’s a tapestry of Israel and it’s remarkable we put it together. I’m quite optimistic about it. And the coalition is so unique because it brings all the parties together. Many women, Arab and Druze members, lots of immigrants. I think there is a good chance this coalition will not only survive but thrive and do good things.”
While most new MKs have their party leader welcome them after their maiden address, Shain invited Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to deliver the welcome speech.
Lapid told the MKs that they are lucky to have such a clear thinker and experienced educator in the Knesset. He praised Shain for understanding the role of Israel and the Jewish people.
Asked about his ambitions, Shain responded, “to do something meaningful and helpful.” 
“I don’t want to be prime minister,” he said. “I see this as an important junction in Israeli politics. And unlike other MKs, I always have a place to go back to.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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