A researcher and gentleman: Adieu to Professor Gideon Doron

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The political science researcher Professor Gideon Doron, resident of Herzliya, passed away last week after a lengthy battle with cancer. His colleagues and students bid farewell to a man who fought for change in Israel’s methods of government, aiming to assert greater political stability. He was able to see that which others could not.

Up until his last days, Professor Gideon Doron never stopped thinking about research in the field of political science. In his last few weeks, he managed the Israel Political Science Association’s conference and continued lecturing to students. Early last week, cancer overcame Gideon, a productive and innovative researcher, admired and popular lecturer in Tel Aviv University, and chairman of the Israel Political Science Association.

At the age of 66 Doron passed away, leaving behind his wife, five children, and hundreds of researchers and lecturers who absorbed his love of his field. “Gideon epitomized that rare mix of a good person and a smart person,” said Professor Arieh Naor, head of the Department of Politics and Communications at Hadassah College, and vice-chairman of the Political Science Association.

“Usually people in academia are known for their egos, but that trait was not prevalent in Gideon whose preference was assisting and promoting others. Friends were of utmost importance to him, as were his colleagues and students.”

“His ability to see things that no one else could was phenomenal,” adds his former student Dr. Henny Zavida, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yezreel Valley College. “We could be sittin in a room full of people, all of us seeing the same thing and thinking along the same lines, and then Gideon would open his mouth to speak, and everyone would realize that they’d completely missed what should have been clear.”

Admired by politicians

Professor Doron was one of the most colorful and multidimensional researchers in Israeli academia. He completed his doctoral studies under William Riker, innovator of the Theory of Political Coalitions which applied game theory in political research.

Riker’s influence was evident in Doron’s research, additionally influencing his analyses of media’s modes of functioning. Doron published 20 books in Hebrew and English and dozens of articles on economic and political strategy, election methods, public policy and administration, media and political manipulation, and game theory.

Doron served as chairman of Israel’s Channel Two Television and Radio Authority, and as political strategist for Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s. One of his notable contributions to Israeli society was the development of the National Resilience Index. “Gideon was a multidiciplinarian at heart,” says his former student, Dr. Assaf Midani, lecturer in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at Tel Aviv-Yaffo College.

Understanding political statistics, sociology and economics

His understanding of political statistics, sociology and economics made him extremely popular with politicians. When a politician sought a consultation from which immediate insights could be drawn, Gideon was on hand. He rendered reality into phrasing that a politician, especially Israeli politicians, could take and translate into decisions.”

One of the areas promoted by Doron was the need for change to methods of governance in Israel. In an interview he gave last year to the “Zman Sharon” outlet prior to publishing his book, “Regional Elections in Israel,” he warned that Israel’s political structure was insufficiently stable and therefore detrimentally affects the Knesset’s ability to govern.

“The Knesset election method is not effective,” he said in an interview. “Statistically, we see that the government changes on average every 18 months, and CEOs every 20 months. It’s impossible to conduct long term planning that way. Every new minister wants to apply his own policies. This is evident in all government offices. What we want is a stable system that will function for at least four years.”

A change in method, he claimed, can only occur if the voting system is altered to regional election. Seeking to convey his message, Doron did not stop at writing well thought out academic articles but tried to get the concept across to the public at large. He vied for a place in the Knesset under a party he established and named “The Israelis.”

His party sought to bring the urgency of reforms to the electoral method and structure in Israel into the public arena, but only managed to garner 865 votes. “Do you think what I wanted was a place in the Knesset?” he said in an interview. “What I wanted was to convey the message that change to electoral methods is vital.”

“Gideon felt that the American style of governance was of value,” said Professor Naor, “but it is complex, since it requires a constitution and a system of brakes and balances.”

Did he believe that his vision would eventuate?

“This is where his sense of reality comes into play, compared to theoretical analysis. For something like that to happen, the state needs to be in a situation of severe crisis, otherwise politicians won’t want to take such decisions: why would they want to change the method? Only in extreme crisis, like France under de Gaulle who came into power and changed the method, is it possible. Gideon understood that it was far better not to get to that kind of situation.”

“In our discussions, Gideon said that we have a truly extraordinary country,” Dr. Zavida adds. “We have tremendous abilities, and our problem is that we don’t allow the good things to happen.”

A spiritual father

Aside from his theoretical research and studies, Doron taught generations of students and researchers who reached senior positions in Israeli academia. “Gideon educated dozens of Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral students, many of whom became Professors,” says Nissim Orkabi, CEO of the Israel Political Science Association and one of Doron’s students. “I was extremely lucky to have him as my supervisor. Getting accepted by him wasn’t easy because he was in high demand.”

“My acquaintance with Gideon began as a BA student in 1989,” said Zavida. “I took one of Gideon’s courses and he simply filled the room with his presence. He started to lecture, and we were all gape-mouthed. He spoke directly to us, not down to us. Another student and I went up to him after class, and he invited us to join him for coffee. I asked, ‘What can I do in order to work with you?’ and he said, ‘Stay here, hang around,’ and since then, I hung around Gideon.”

“What I particularly remember is that Gideon was a professional, creative, original figure, on one hand, and a spiritual father, on the other,” said Dr. Midani. “He was our academic ‘father’ but chiefly, a friend who related to students as people who should integrate into academia.”

This year, Doron was awarded a Life Achievement Award by the Israel Political Science Association. “His words of thanks in that conference were his Will: ‘hearten each other.’ That’s what characterized him more than all else,” said Professor Naor.

Doron’s speech on that occasion remains etched in Midani’s mind. “He spoke about legacy. We expected he’d talk about professional legacy, changes to methods of governance, advancing stability. Instead, he spoke of our unity as researchers, of mutual encouragement and acknowledgment. That really charmed me. Here was the kernel of this intellectual’s nature: mutuality.”

Over the past few years Doron coped with colorectal cancer. Despite the harsh treatments he endured, he never raised his hands in defeat. “He fought for as long as he was able,” says Zavida. “He was an impressive man, and suddenly he was weakened. The illness was painful and disruptive, and despite that, he never stopping making plans, working incessantly. That was Doron: a man of action up to the last second.”