Israel-Wars, Internal Conflicts, and Political Order: A Jewish Democracy in the Middle East

By Woods, Patricia J. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Israel-Wars, Internal Conflicts, and Political Order: A Jewish Democracy in the Middle East


Woods, Patricia J., The Middle East Journal


Wars, Internal Conflicts, and Political Order: A Jewish Democracy in the Middle East, by Gad Barzilai. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. ix + 223 pages. Notes to p. 276. Bibl. to p. 289. Index to p. 301. $71.50 cloth; $23.95 paper.

Reviewed by Patricia J. Woods

In this fascinating book, compelling both on the theoretical and the substantive levels, Gad Barzilai analyzes the effects of Israel's protracted national security crisis on consensus and dissent in the Israeli political spectrum. He discusses conflicts beginning with the 1956 Suez crisis and concluding with the Palestinian Intifada (uprising) of 1987-93. He seeks to explain the deepening gap in Israeli society-a "society so disunited and polarized as to be in imminent danger of utter breakdown" (p. 19). He traces the development of extra-parliamentary groups established in response to war and military operations. From 1969 through 1993, the spectrum of groups gained increasing influence over state policy and at the same time became progressively more polarized. Barzilai analyzes extra-parliamentary responses to military conflicts in terms of the characteristics of the conflicts themselves; perceptions of personal security threat and/or fear responses; cultural values relating to the use of military force and the potential for political solutions; and political structures (parties and coalitions). He also adds an international dimension, arguing that the relationship between international factors and domestic politics has an important influence on the attitudes of social groups, political parties and the public at large toward any given military conflict. In his analysis, Barzilai counters two common notions: that war necessarily leads to consensus; and that consensus is something necessarily to be sought in a democratic society. Rather, he shows that war may lead to dissent. And he argues that consensus is not always constructive for democratic debate (p. 166).

In the case of Israel, Barzilai traces the social discourse through the 1956 Suez campaign, the 1967 War, the War of Attrition of 1969-70, the 1973 War, the 1982 War in Lebanon, the Gulf War (1990-91) and the Intifada. Political discourse in Israeli society throughout the 1956 and 1967 wars, according to Barzilai, existed only within the policy-making arena. Dissent existed, but debates occurred only at the level of private meetings within the government and between political parties. The opinions of the public at large had little influence on policy. In the 1956 Suez campaign, for instance, there was national consensus because of (1) state intervention in society; (2) Mapai's hegemony over society; and (3) public concern over personal and national security (p. 27). During the 1967 war, the media was very supportive of the war.

During the War of Attrition, however, what Barzilai calls extra-parliamentary debate began to develop. That is, social groups began to organize and actively seek to influence policy. Barzilai notes that the War of Attrition affected the Israeli sociopolitical world in three ways: It caused public "war fatigue"; a peace movement was launched raising concerns about the effects of war on democratic values; and peace was placed on the national agenda (p. 98). Barzilai traces dissent from the war to public attitudes influenced, in part, by international factors. These included the fact that some did not perceive the external military threat to be serious; civilians were not as concerned, as in previous wars, with facing personal danger; and some Israelis believed the government was not pursuing peace options (p. …

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