Being Israeli, the Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, by Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled

By Ben-Eliezer, Uri | Shofar, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Being Israeli, the Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, by Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled


Ben-Eliezer, Uri, Shofar


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 397 pp. $65.00.

Two of the best political-sociologists writing on Israel have joined together (not for the first time) to offer a comprehensive analysis of Israeli society along its twisted history, and to point to the relevance of such analysis to the understanding of current Israel. For the most part, the authors fulfill the ambitious promise built in a project of such a magnitude. Even readers who would disagree with their assumptions, argumentations, and empirical analysis, would not deny the importance of this book to the study of Israeli society and politics.

The key question that the book presents is grounded on an institutional framework of analysis: how within the evolving society a compromise was made between the universalizing requirements of democratic institutions and the exclusionary, ethnonationalist colonial drive. Moreover, how such institutional contradictions have led, later on, to both a peace process with the Palestinians and to an unbending dispute among Israelis on its meaning and consequences.

In order to answer these questions the authors have built a theoretical scheme around the concept of citizenship. Interestingly, they adopt neither a formal or legal definition of the concept, nor a political narrowed one, but a sociological definition, namely one that defines citizenship as a "discourse" on claims for rights, duties, and privileges in all aspects of life. Philosophically and empirically, these claims can be divided, according to Shafir and Peled, into three main categories, all of which existed in different degrees and variants in Israel's past and present: the liberal discourse of citizenship, the republican, and the ethno-national one. Couched within the spirit of the Lockean tradition, the liberal discourse on citizenship emphasizes civil liberties and private property; the republican discourse, following Montesqieu and Rousseau, posits the "common will" and the community of consent at its center; whereas the ethno-national stresses the importance of membership in a community of descent. These three different claims were concentrated around what Stephen Krasner, John Meyer, and Yasemin Soysal have called the "incorporation regime," meaning the institutionalized modes whereby various social groups are incorporated through the differential allocation of rights and privileges.

For years, Shafir and Peled claim, the republican discourse of citizenship was the predominant one in the Yishuv (pre-state Israel) period and the first years of the new state. The Founding Fathers of Israel hoped to accomplish a colonial plan through the creation of a common moral purpose for all the newcomers. Groups and organizations were judged according to one criterion only: their contribution to the demands of the "collective." With the creation of the state, the republican definition of reality was even extended to include the new immigrants, most of them Mizrahim (immigrants from Middle East and North-African countries), driving them to accept state imperatives and dictates (Etatism in French or Mamlachtiyut in Hebrew). Evidently, not all Israelis could equally contribute to the common national purposes, the result of which was a hierarchical stratification system, with the Ashkenazi males at its head.

With the 1967 Six Day war and the occupation of new territories, the frontier was reopened and the colonial drive emerged again, this time by new groups, mainly the religious settlers of Gush Emunim (Bloc of Faith). During these years a crisis of legitimacy had already started, as the regime had to face both the difficulties posed by the control of non-citizen Palestinians living in the territories under military occupation, and by the new settlers ever growing intransigence against political compromises and moderation. With the decline of the republican mode of incorporation, the two organizing principles that had been appeased under the long years of hegemonic republicanism broke into a blatant and uncompromising conflict: the liberal aspirations, headed by the new entrepreneurs sitting at the steering wheel of the economy, on the one hand, and the right wing religious settlers with their ethno-national creed, on the other. …

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