Ehud Harari (1935–2023) – Obituary

The College community is saddened to hear of the death of former Visiting Fellow and Senior Associate member, Professor Ehud Harari.

The tribute below was written by Rotem Kowner and Nissim Otmazgin from The Israeli Association of Japanese Studies:

On August 5, we lost a remarkable scholar, mentor, and friend. It is with deep sorrow and heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Ehud Harari, an esteemed Emeritus Professor of Asian Studies and Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a cherished member of this community. From 2015 to 2018, he served as the Honorary President of the Israel Association for Japanese Studies (IAJS).

Born in 1935 in Ramat Gan during the British Mandate of Palestine, Harari attended high school in Tel Aviv and served as an infantry soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. In 1958, he enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. As his undergraduate studies drew to a close, the Israeli Foreign Ministry extended a unique offer to Harari—an opportunity to study the Burmese language. At the time, the Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, saw great potential in forming a relationship between Israel and Burma and building a collaboration particularly focused on the field of agriculture. It was even referred to as “the Israeli-Burma love story.” However, UC Berkeley, where Harari planned to pursue his graduate studies, did not teach Burmese. Upon further investigation, Harari found out that Japanese was one of the most difficult languages to learn and Japanese society one of the hardest to comprehend. As an idealist who loved challenges, Harari decided that Japanese was the right option for him. Despite Japan being a “distant land beyond the mountains of darkness” at the time, he perceived it as a personal and national mission and he managed to convince the Foreign Ministry to comply. 

In 1960, Harari began his graduate studies in the Department of Political Science at Berkeley. His sempai at Berkeley was the late Ogata Sadako, who later became a professor of international politics at Sophia University and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During his master’s studies, he joined the United Nations Development Program as a specialist, representing the University of California. During his doctoral studies, Harari met three scholars who had a profound influence on him, academically and personally: his supervisor Robert Scalapino, Chalmers Johnson, and Ernst Haas. In 1965 he went to Japan with his wife Ruti to conduct field research at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Tokyo and three years later he submitted his doctoral thesis on “Labor Laws in Japan: Political and International Interaction.” 

After successfully completing his doctorate, Harari returned to Israel and initially accepted a lecturing position within the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University. In 1973, he set out on a year-long research journey to Japan, followed by a year of writing at UC Berkeley. Merely one year later, he became a faculty member at the Hebrew University, a role he would ardently uphold throughout his distinguished academic career. In the following decades, he spent time as a visiting professor and researcher at numerous academic institutions around the world, including NIAS in Wassenaar, St. Anthony’s College and the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies at Oxford University, University of British Columbia, the Wilson Center at Washington D.C., Leiden University, Tokyo University, and Meiji Gakuin University. 

His research combined the study of Japan and its culture with political science, international relations, public administration, business management, and political economy. He is considered the “founder” of these fields in Israel. His first book was on the development of labor relations in Japan. It was published by the University of California Press in 1973 and is still considered a groundbreaking work. It was recently republished in the UC Press’s “Revived Voices” series. His latest book, published in 2012 by the Open University of Israel, provided a comprehensive view of contemporary Japanese politics.

Ehud Harari firmly upheld the principle of melding a strong foundation in his academic discipline, political science, with an intimate and profound understanding of Japan and its rich culture. His mastery of the Japanese language was truly exceptional, and over the years, he fostered deep and enduring connections with Japanese politicians and bureaucrats. A daily ritual marked his mornings, during which he meticulously perused every page of the Japanese newspapers, mirroring the routine through which most individuals grasp their local news while enjoying their morning coffee. He served as a mentor to numerous students, in Israel and beyond, with some going on to assume academic positions in Japanese studies and political science, while others ventured into government service and the business community. Impressively, he remained in steadfast communication with many of them, even years after their graduation. 

During his distinguished career, Harari carried various positions in academia through which he promoted the study of Japan. Between 1985 and 1987, he served as the head of the Public Administration Program in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University, and from 1990 to 1992, he was the head of the Asian Studies Department, during which the number of students grew substantially. In later years, he was elected as the Honorary President of the Israel Association for Japanese Studies. Highly recognized internationally, he also served on the editorial board of several leading journals in the field of Japanese Studies, including Social Science Japan Journal and Japan Forum. Harari’s scholarly contributions and public engagements garnered profound respect, particularly within Japan. Key figures in the Japanese political world sought his advice. In 2002 he was awarded by the Emperor of Japan the “Order of the Rising Sun: Gold Rays with Rosette,” in recognition of his efforts in disseminating knowledge about Japan and fostering stronger bonds between Japan and Israel. Notably, in 2017 he was awarded a higher order, the “Order of the Rising Sun: Gold and Silver Star,” a rare honor indeed.

Ehud Harari is survived by his wife, Ruti Harari, and their three children: Irra, an educational psychologist, Omri, an entrepreneur and pioneer in the global electronic music sceneand Reut, a historian of modern Japan.

In this time of mourning, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones, and we extend our deepest condolences to all who had the privilege of knowing him. May they find solace in the profound impact Professor Ehud Harari made during his time with us, and may his legacy endure through generations to come.