Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israel: The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israel: The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military

Article excerpt

The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military, by Baruch Kimmerling. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and London, UK: University of California Press, 2001. x + 237 pages. Refs. to p. 236. Index to p. 268. $45.

Reviewed by Ian S. Lustick

Most readers of this journal are probably familiar with the fierce debate in Israel regarding the work of the "new historians." These historians are mostly Jewish Israelis or former Israelis. They have used access to Israeli archives to challenge myths about the country's birth and the dynamics of Israeli politics and foreign policy in the first decade or so of Israel's existence. Less well known, but equally exciting and comparably ferocious, is the debate among Israeli sociologists and political scientists. The "post-Zionist" perspective that many of the new generation of Israeli social scientists share with the "new historians" is that they reject traditional assumptions and categories used for the analysis of Israeli society. Instead they treat Israeli society as an arena of human interaction interesting in its own terms, rather than in relationship to the expectations, challenges, and disappointments associated with the Zionist narrative and with Zionist ideological commitments.

The author of this volume, Baruch Kimmerling, is among the most prolific and influential of these sociologists. His extraordinary output of books and articles is not as well known in the United States as it should be, but this volume should go far to solve that problem. Indeed, although the book contains new and integrative material, it is mainly woven together from six previously published articles or book chapters. But in this volume Kimmerling is able to develop his position in a systematic fashion. This allows the reader to understand how powerful are the forces that have transformed Israel from a mono-cultural project of a clearly defined strata united by coherent socialistZionist principles to a social space segmented into at least seven different subcultures. Kimmerling shows that these groups - Ashkenazic secular, ultra-orthdox, national religious, Arab, traditional Mizrahi, Russian-speaking immigrants, and Ethiopians - share almost no common conceptions about the nature or purpose of the state they all struggle to control.

Kimmerling's overall argument is that a culture and identity of "Israeliness" was produced in association with the State of Israel. This normative identity reflected the dispositions and interests of the secular, Ashkenazic-Jewish, and mildly socialist Zionist strata that largely produced the State. It was carried forward into the 1950s and early 1960s by the welfare-state created secular Ashkenazic middle class whose members benefited from administrative jobs in the welfare state, in the panoply of wholly or partially state-owned companies, and in parastatal institutions such as the Histadrut. Although Israeliness presented itself as open to attainment by all Israelis, its unchallengeable, hegemonic position in the political/cultural landscape allowed it to ignore its own parochiality. …

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