From the Patriarch to the Mossad: Learning About Israel on the Inside
What do a former prime minister, a Greek Holocaust survivor and a retired spy chief have in common? Besides living in Israel, they have all been interviewed by one passionate TAU International student from Greece, Athanasios Katsikidis.
Katsikidis has been interested in history, national security, and crisis management since high school. Upon completing an undergraduate degree in social and political science in his native Greece, he looked around for the best graduate program to continue developing his interests.
“Tel Aviv University has the best practical security program. It is also based in Tel Aviv, which is a technological hub, developing some of the latest solutions for the security field. Combined, these two factors give TAU’s Security and Diplomacy Program a clear competitive edge,” he said.
Although Katsikidis had never been to Israel, he applied to TAU’s International MA in Security and Diplomacy without hesitation. “I was always curious about Israel, a country that combines cultures and traditions, a place where human historic and religious roots are inter-connected. However, I also had stereotypes about it, seeing Israel as a potentially hostile and violent place,” he confessed.
Katsikidis visiting Wadi Rum in Jordan
Upon being accepted, Katsikidis received a scholarship from TAU International, which reduced his financial burden and allowed him to concentrate on his studies. “I was able to repay my student debts and feel more relaxed about supporting myself,” he said.
Thanks to support from the scholarship, Katsikidis was also able to further pursue his passion for writing about politics and intelligence. “I am very interested in meeting key political and historical figures and interviewing them. This is a passion that started back in Greece and continued here in Israel,” he explained. Alongside his studies, Katsikidis is producing the interviews and writing opinion pieces for Greece’s oldest newspaper, Estia, and the English edition of Kathimerini, which is published with the international edition of The New York Times.
Katsikidis has conducted a dozen interviews and organized meetings with leading Israeli politicians, security experts, and various other “movers and shakers.” Among them are Defense Minister and TAU alumnus Benny Gantz, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, two former Mossad directors, one former Prime Minister and other well-known figures.
"Scholarships are therefore very important – they allow students to develop their passions and talents, realize their potential, and achieve their dreams,“ Katsikidis reflected.
The meetings and conversations, along with his studies and trips around the country, provided Katsikidis with an inside look into Israeli society and helped break the misconceptions he once had. “It’s good for Israel that it is such an open place, where even high-ranking officials will agree to meet and speak with you. It helps the more conservative among us to understand it better,” he said.
Katsikidis with Greek Patriarch Theophilos III
“My family and friends were afraid of rocket attacks and the violence. It’s always about the headlines. You internalize the bad news first. But I discovered Israel to be very different—it’s very friendly and family-oriented and shares many cultural values with Greece and its society. Even the spies are friendly here,” Katsikidis reflected, with a smile. “I will definitely be back.”
-By Sveta Raskin