Interview with Amit Sheniak



Q: In a few words, please tell us a bit about yourself

A: I was born in Mexico and raised in Jerusalem and NYC. After lengthy military service in the IDF, I gained my BA and MA degrees in IR, Political Science and Education from HUJI, while working as a teaching and research assistant at the University and also working in various NGOs as an educator, lecture, and academic manager. Following my studies, I developed a decade-long career as a strategic analyst and policy planner in the Knesset and the Ministry of Defense/IDF, specializing in foreign-security relations with a focus on emerging technology and the legal framework for military operations. While working, I also completed my PhD studies (HUJI, 2015). My PhD dissertation was entitled “Cyberspace as a ‘Border Zone’ – Establishing Sovereignty and Coercion in Cyberspace in Israel, United States and China.” My post-doctoral studies at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (2016-2017) led to my current post-doc appointments at HUJI.


Q: What brought you into the academic world and what is the core of your research?

A: My research investigates the social and political context of state-sponsored innovation technologies policies as part of the national stance (“Soft Power.”) Specifically, I focus on cybersecurity conflicts, cybersecurity policy, doctrine and expertise formation and their effect on international order, state sovereignty and legitimacy in Israel, USA and China using neo-institutional methodologies, and more recently discourse analysis. Last year I was the co-organizer (together with Israel’s National Cyber Directorate) of the US-IS policy workshop on Cyber Active Defense (April. 2017). I am currently engaged in several projects, such as a study of the change in cybersecurity legitimation; study of cyber-conflicts in the Middle-East (under the auspices of the Davis Institute, together with Dr. Daniel Sobelman); a comparative study of cybersecurity innovation ecosystems (together with Dr. Lars Froelund from MIT Sloan Innovation Initiative), and more…


Q: Why did you choose this specific subject? Did your professional or personal background lead you in this direction? Did you ask yourself those questions in your previous positions?

A: Since my early academic studies, I have been interested in the effect of the internet and IT on international relations as a phenomenon that challenges states sovereignty. As a professional who was exposed to decision-making processes in Israel and US, I decided to focus on cybersecurity national policy and institutional change in those countries as my main test cases. Furthermore, my professional experience had emphasized the importance of Cyber research under International security studies and its implications importance for security professional.


Q: Do you believe reckon that the “Cyber Era” makes your research topics more complex by comparison to other periods in recent history? If so, why?

A: In my opinion, cyber researchers often wrongly define the “Cyber Era” as a period that began in the mid-1990s, or even just a decade ago. By doing so, they missing some of the most important decisions about ICT that were made in the 1970s and the 1980s. These decisions defined and standardized the structure and limitations of the net and the international political order that is embedded in it. The importance of the research today is not in its focus, but in its importance to human well-being and public good, due to the rising dependency of society on computer-mediated interactions for various daily purposes constituting the basic fabric of social and political trust.


Q: Having explained the problem, what is your solution? What is the right model? Is it applicable?)

A: There is no single solution to the challenges posed by cyber-threat or cybersecurity policy. Computer-mediated interaction is embedded in our daily life, and the challenges it imposes are very complex and evolve at a fast pace that does not necessarily match the limited research and policy resources. Therefore, the key to address it is to embrace its complexity, employing inter-disciplinary approach in both research and policy. Moreover, the innovative nature of IT and cyber technology should not be viewed solely as a challenge – it also offers significant policy opportunities in such fields as technologically embedded policy and cross-sector cooperation between the private and the public realms.


Q: What is the next phase in your professional/personal life?

​​​​​​​A: Following the Kennedy School of Government model, my general aim is to continue a career path that combines academic research and teaching, while continuing to be involved in security and technology policy formation. Specifically, I am working this year to publish my work in the right academic platforms and to forge future cyber-research cooperation.


Q: What is your message for the public?

​​​​​​​A: I would like to quote Thomas Kuhn’s inspiring statement: “The scientific enterprise as a whole does from time to time prove useful, open up new territory, display order, and test long-accepted belief” (Thomas Samuel Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, 2008: 38).