The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies (MDC) is a non-partisan interdisciplinary research center devoted to the study of the contemporary Middle East and Africa. For over half a century, the MDC has helped to explain the complexities of the modern Middle East. Our guiding principle is that in order to understand the region, one must understand its cultures, peoples, languages, religions, and history, alongside more traditional diplomatic and political factors. MDC researchers, who have been trained in a variety of theoretical backgrounds and disciplines, and collectively possess a command of English, Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and Farsi, capitalize upon their linguistic and cultural expertise to develop new analytical paradigms for understanding the region. We believe that our approach, and our mission, have never been more critical. While the future path for the region is fraught with uncertainty, we will continue to guide the way for scholars, practitioners, and the public alike.
The MDC operates eleven specialized research programs, each with a particular regional or disciplinary focus. Alongside an ambitious program of events, conferences, and symposiums, the Center also regularly publishes both short-form analytical pieces and long-form books, some in collaboration with top academic institutions of the United States and United Kingdom. The intent of all Moshe Dayan Center publications continues to be to contribute to the expansion of the knowledge and understanding of the region and to provide the Israeli public with a comprehensive understanding of the country’s positioning within the Middle East.
We are governed by an Israeli Board of Governors, on the advice of an International Board of Overseers. The current Director is Professor Uzi Rabi. The MDC is a non-profit institution funded primarily by endowments, research grants, and individual and institutional contributions.
Although the Moshe Dayan for Middle Eastern and African Studies received its current name in 1983, the MDC’s history at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in fact began on February 1, 1966, when its’ predecessor, the Shiloah Institute for Middle East and African Studies, was founded. The Shiloah Institute originated as the Reuven Shiloah Research Center, founded in 1959 as a non-profit association physically located in the Israeli Directorate of Military Intelligence but sponsored by the Israeli Oriental Society. Upon its incorporation into Tel Aviv University, it was dissolved and its researchers and collections became part of the newly founded Shiloah Institute.
The driving force behind the Center’s creation and operation in those early years was Yitzhak Oron, who, during his tenure at the Research Department of the Intelligence Corps, developed a well-earned reputation for thorough research. Then-intelligence chief Yehoshofat Harkabi lent his support to the initiative, as did Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Harkabi, as a member of both the intelligence and academic communities, felt that there was a need to encourage thorough and wide-ranging research of the modern Middle East. That same year, Reuven Shiloah passed away. Shiloah had been one of the shapers of Israeli strategy in the Middle East and the founder of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service. It therefore was deemed fitting to name the new Center after him.
The objective of the center was to conduct research on contemporary issues to which the intelligence apparatus was not able to devote time, and of which academia disapproved during that era. The vision for the Shiloah Center was to grow it into a research center on the model of the British Chatham House. Oron assembled a team of researchers and the Center began to operate out of three rooms located in the Ministry of Defense’s Kirya complex in Tel Aviv. From the beginning, however, the Shiloah Center believed it necessary to affiliate with an established academic institution. It unsuccessfully approached the Hebrew University, which opposed both the creation of the Center and any institutional connection with it. Regardless of the Hebrew University’s rejection of the Center, however, a number of its lecturers participated on the Center’s board.
Six years later, Oron reached the conclusion that the desired type of research could not be accomplished outside of a formal academic framework. Tel Aviv University agreed to absorb the center, provided that it convert into a center based on an academic model. In the same time period, Tel Aviv University established the Department of Middle Eastern and African History with a structure that incorporated the Shiloah Center. The Center, which transformed into the Shiloah Institute, maintained a focus on contemporary issues, while the Middle Eastern and African History Department was organized along the lines of other humanities departments; both would work in synergy. Through the lens of history, the Institute, its faculty, and its students conducted research on current affairs with a profound knowledge of the past. With the past informing the present, the Institute offered its students and associates unique opportunities to analyze regional events and trends as they occurred.
In this spirit, one individual headed both the Department and the Shiloah Institute, who ensured that the historical and contemporary approaches to the research continued to inform each other. In 1966, Prof. Shimon Shamir transferred from Hebrew University to be the first to serve in the capacity of director. Over his seven years of leadership, Shamir was instrumental in developing the framework for the Institute’s operations and activities. Working together with Shamir, the Department and the Institute absorbed two researchers from Oron’s original staff: Prof. Uriel Dann, the foremost scholar of the Hashemite Kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan; and Prof. Ariel Shmuelevitz, who advanced Ottoman and Turkish Studies in the Institute and the Department. The Institute became a center where newly awarded doctoral students, from both within Israel and the world, conducted their research on the region.
Contributions to the field of Middle Eastern Studies
One of the first publications of the Shiloah Institute at Tel Aviv University was an inherited project from the Shiloah Center. The principal project of the Shiloah Center and the main focus in its years of existence was the Middle East Record. This annual publication documented regional events with a focus on political affairs. In order to provide readers with objective research, only unclassified sources were consulted for it and exact citations were always included. Authors’ names were not attached to specific articles within the Middle East Record, nor were they allowed to take a stance on the events that they analyzed. These requirements contributed to the Middle East Record’s reputation as an invaluable resource for researchers around the world. It received only excellent reviews and ran for two years (1960-1) before being absorbed into the Shiloah Institute, where it continued to be published from 1967 through 1970.
However, as was the case in the Shiloah Center, the personnel and time resources required to produce the Middle East Record threatened to consume the Shiloah Institute entirely. Consequently, the Institute rebranded the Middle East Record by making it a more academic publication authored by researchers who focused upon regional political events. This new publication, the Middle East Contemporary Survey (MECS), saw 24 volumes go to print, with the final edition published in 2000.
Resources, Activities, and Publications
Over the decades, the Shiloah Institute, and its’ successor, the Moshe Dayan Center, have provided a welcoming environment for scholars to glean information from primary sources as well as to discuss and debate the findings of their work. This cooperative atmosphere continues to facilitate unique opportunities for the understanding of one of the world’s most dynamic regions. From the MDC’s on-site Arabic Press Archives and research library, to its regular meetings and forums, and its prolific online and print publications, the Moshe Dayan Center has carried on the legacy of its visionary founders.
One of the most valuable assets that the MDC inherited from the Shiloah Center and Institute, respectively, are the Arabic Press Archives. At the time, Prof. Aryeh Shmuelevitz oversaw the transfer of the materials from the Shiloah Center to the Institute. The collection of newspaper articles from the Arabic-speaking world, housed at the Moshe Dayan Center, is even today unparalleled by any other similar institution.