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Mordechai Gazit Returns to Academe

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Following a 31-year career in one of the world's most volatile regions, Mordechai Gazit, former director general of the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs, returned to the more sedate life of scholarship this year as a fellow at the Center for International Affairs (CfIA).

The 58-year-old Gazit emphasizes that his turn to scholarship does not represent a divergence from his diplomatic career, but an academic extension of it. "You can offer the discipline of political science a different angle as a practitioner rather than a theorist," he says.

And Gazit's credentials as practitioner are many. In the past ten years, he has handled a series of important diplomatic assignments, including heading the Israeli delegation at the 1975 Geneva peace talks with Egypt, serving as ambassador to France, and acting as director general of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

Recalling the Egyptian-Israeli peace talks, Gazit says he felt frustration when Egypt's President Anwar Sadat refused to let negotiations run over schedule into 1976 because he feared that the American presidential elections would adversely affect the Egyptian position.

"We found out we were dealing with a very serious government, bent on a settlement," Gazit says. But he is quick to point out the lighter side of the difficulties. "The negotiations were in September and between the Moslem Sabbath on Fridays, and Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur falling on Sundays and Mondays that year, it made for amusing negotiations and necessitated and two consecutive 24-hour sessions," he says.

Gazit began his career far from the negotiation table. At the age of 14, he joined the Jewish underground army, the Haganah, and attended its officer-training school in 1943.

In the 1947-48 Israeli War of Independence, Gazit served as chief intelligence officer for a brigade and then commanded his own company. But a serious gunshot wound he received while fighting in Jerusalem ended his military career and resulted in the loss of a lung. The injury, he says, "gave me further impetus to go on in government."

The war also thwarted Gazit's academic ambitions. Although he received his mater's degree in archaeology from Hebrew University--like fellow Israeli diplomat Moshe Dayan--escalating hostilities with the Arabs led Gazit to conclude that he had to "continue serving the new state rather than minding my own little shop."

Despite his sacrifice of the scholarly life for the diplomatic one, Gazit lectured widely on international affairs and wrote numerous articles. Well--prepared for his academic turn, Gazit is now studying the Middle East policies of President John F. Kennedy '40. He contends that Kennedy's policies in Southeast Asia have obscured important gains the late president made in other foreign policy areas.

Gazit is excited about his work at the CfIA, but his past is still very much a part of his life. "I belong to the generation of the Israeli War for Independence," he says.