Spotlight on Keren Yarhi-Milo

Keren Yarhi-Milo ’03GS is the Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies and Director of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. 

Kathrin Havrilla-Sanchez
December 09, 2021

Born and raised in Holon, Israel, not far from Tel Aviv, Keren Yarhi-Milo ’03 first fell in love with New York City—and Columbia University—in the 9th grade.

“My mother and I came to New York and we visited Columbia’s campus,” remembers Yarhi-Milo. “I went to the university admissions office, knocked on the door, and told them I wanted to come and study here one day.”

They handed her a copy of the current course catalog, which she thumbed through frequently back at home in Israel, highlighting the classes she would take when she attended. Yarhi-Milo was always interested in political science, in part because of her upbringing during a time of upheaval, including the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

“Growing up, issues of security were all around us, whether it was terrorism or the peace process and hope for a ‘new’ Middle East,” Yarhi-Milo says. “I watched the news and read about international relations and diplomacy, including the diary of an Israeli ambassador in the United Nations and thought that’s maybe what I wanted to be one day.”

Yarhi-Milo was drafted into Israeli Intelligence because of her fluency in Arabic, working as an intelligence analyst. Having learned deeply about what happens behind the scenes of both counterterrorism and diplomacy, she counts this background as one of her best professional experiences to this day.

KEREN YARHI-MILO. Faculty Member Since: 2012. Education: PhD and MA, University of Pennsylvania BA, summa cum laude. Political Science, Columbia University School of General Studies. GS Mentor: Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor and Professor of International and Public Affairs. Fun Fact: Just two weeks after the birth of her first child, she received the call at home to interview for Princeton University.

Later, when attending law school at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in 2000, Yarhi-Milo had an opportunity to come to New York again for a short internship at the Mission of Israel to the United Nations—a dream come true. She told her professor the good news, saying she was just going to take one semester off and then she would be back to finish her degree—but he could see in her eyes that something had changed.

“He said to me, ‘No, you’re not going to come back, but that’s okay,’” she says. “He told me that I was going to discover a whole new world—and he was right!”

While working at her internship, Yarhi-Milo met her future husband, Ariel, who was the spokesperson for the Mission of Israel at the time, as well as a GS student.

“I was already infatuated with Columbia, but I had never heard of GS before,” says Yarhi-Milo. “After I applied, I got a call from then-Dean Peter Awn inviting me for an interview, and we completely hit it off.”

After a deep conversation with Dean Awn about religion and politics, Yarhi-Milo was accepted and began part time at GS. A class she took with Professor Robert Jervis cemented her desire to be a political scientist. Jervis, the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics in the Department of Political Science at Columbia, is now Yarhi Milo’s colleague. A first-generation college student, she remains grateful to her parents, who spent a big chunk of their savings on supporting her until she began to receive merit scholarships and was able to attend full time.

Yarhi-Milo received her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a pre- and postdoc from Harvard. Prior to coming back to Columbia as a professor, she spent a decade at Princeton, where she was a tenured associate professor of politics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.

Yarhi-Milo now serves as the director for Columbia’s Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, one of the nation’s foremost research centers on international relations. As part of her leadership, Yarhi-Milo seeks to help the Institute build a robust pipeline of diverse people, perspectives, and experiences in the field.

This article appears in the 2021 edition of The Owl, the alumni magazine of the Columbia University School of General Studies, with the title "Spotlight on Keren Yarhi-Milo ’03."