Paul Scham has been Executive Director of the Gildenhorn Institute since 2008. Originally an attorney, with a B.A. from Columbia and a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley (Boalt Hall), he quickly tired of practicing law and has worked on issues relating to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for more than twenty years at NGO’s, in think tanks, and at universities.
In the early 1990’s he worked in Washington with American and Israeli NGO’s to encourage Israeli-Palestinian contact and dialogue. From 1996-2002, he lived in Jerusalem and, as a Research Fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace of the Hebrew University, coordinated its significant program of Arab-Israeli joint research, academic cooperation, and civil society projects. He also spent considerable time in Jordan and closely observed the failure of Jordanian “normalization” with Israel. During his time in Israel, he participated in dozens of civil society workshops, dialogues and conferences. In 2000, in cooperation with the European Union, he published one of the first survey analyses of Israeli/Arab academic cooperation after reviewing 195 ongoing Arab-Israeli academic projects.
He returned to Washington in 2002 and was a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University and subsequently an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute, with which he is still affiliated. During the next few years, he wrote numerous commentaries and other articles on aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the peace process and frequently appeared on radio and television discussing the issue.
While in Israel, he began investigating the role of the very different historical narratives of Israelis and Palestinians on the continuation of their conflict. With an Israeli and a Palestinian colleague he organized a conference on this issue. This resulted in Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue, edited with Walid Salem, and Benjamin Pogrund, published in 2006. A second volume, examining some of the broad themes in the historical narratives of both sides, is entitled Shared Narratives, edited with Benjamin Pogrund and As’ad Ghanem, was published in 2 013.
Professor Scham has also studied and written on Hamas, and in 2009 the U.S. Institute of Peace published a Special Report he co-authored with Osama Abu-Irshaid, entitled “Hamas: Ideological Rigidity and Political Flexibility” and he has written many subsequent articles on the subject.
At the Gildenhorn Institute he has taught courses on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Federal Semester course on the making of American policy towards the conflict, and an Introduction to Modern Israel. Currently he teaches ISRL289i in the fall, entitled Fundamental Questions of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In the spring he teaches a seminar called Dividing Palestine? A Simulation of Jewish-Arab Negotiations, ISRL448L/HIST448V. Its highlight is a simulation of Arab-Jewish-British negotiations that took place in 1937, with each student playing the role of a major historical character, such as David Ben-Gurion or the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Students have reported that the simulation, combined with readings from contemporary sources, provides a unique understanding of both the period and of the Arab-Israel conflict in general.
He serves as Co- Editor of the Israel Studies Review.