Ideology, Party Change, and Electoral Campaigns in Israel, 1965-2001, by Jonathan Mendilow. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003. ix + 249 pages. Tables. Notes to p. 282. Bibl. to p. 291. Index to p. 300. $81.50 cloth; $27.95 paper.
Jonathan Mendilow's book is an extremely well written and timely attempt to describe the development of one of the more intricate political systems of any stable democracy. Not only is his eloquence engaging in chapter after chapter, it has been quite some time since a book has addressed the Israeli political system in such a comprehensive, yet in-depth, manner.
Mendilow has set himself quite a high goal, which in the first chapter is presented on two levels. First, he delineates the development of the Israeli party system according to four variants, and does so quite convincingly. Second, also in the first chapter, he places the Israeli case within a comparative theoretical construct that is of relevance to party systems scholars elsewhere. If the first chapter were an indication of what will follow, this book would be a must for all those interested in both Israeli politics and the study of parties and elections. However, after setting such a lofty goal, and masterfully presenting its comparative infrastructure, the book somewhat misses its target.
The drawbacks of the book become apparent as the chapters unfold. Mendilow is at his best when he assesses electoral campaigns, a task that he has done brilliantly in previous shorter contributions. However, a book aimed at presenting a systematic argument cannot be based only on the content analysis of electoral campaigns, opinion polls, and interesting anecdotes. How can a book on elections not have even one table that presents the election results? Furthermore, the result of focusing excessively on campaign content results in Mendilow portraying, implausibly, a party switching from catch all to ideology in the span of just two elections. It also causes Mendilow to miss major ideological shifts over time, such as that of the Labor party on the issue of the territories.
Mendilow's methodological weakness is a level of analysis problem. As a result of focusing on the two main parties in Israel, he misses the rest of the party system, which at times presented developments that ran contrary to those in the two main parties. For example, in chapter four he describes the two main parties converging on the center (the 1981 and 1984 elections), yet only in the last page does he address the overall centrifugal trends in the party system. …