Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity

By P, Walter | Shofar, July 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity


P, Walter, Shofar


Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity

The essays in this volume take comparative approaches to the study of Israeli political, economic, and socio-cultural institutions. In this, it follows the book edited by Michael Barnett, Israel in Comparative Perspective: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996). Previous to these volumes, it was practically taken for granted that it was difficult to compare Israel with other nation-states because of its unique history and combination of factors. The Jewishness of the state, the alienation and isolation of Israel from its Arab neighbors, the fact that Israeli society was composed of immigrants who, however, saw themselves as returning natives, the combination of secularity and religiosity all were among the factors which many saw as making it impossible to compare Israel with other nations. The uniqueness of Israel could be seen as an extension of the view of Jews as the Chosen People, a point made by Ira Sharkansky in the concluding essay of the book. It could also be used by Arabs who saw Israel as an alien colony in their midst.

While Barnett's book and Ira Sharkansky's essay fight against claimants of uniqueness and make the case for comparison, the editors of this volume move on to questions of assessing how Israel is coping with recent transformations of Israeli and other societies in the era of globalization.

The authors of the different articles in this volume use a number of different strategies for their comparisons. Several compare Israel with other European and North American democracies. Two papers, those by Gad Barzilai and Menachem Hoffnung, deal at length with the powers of the Courts, particularly with regard to constitutional issues. Yael Yishai discusses the relevance of different models of interest politics to Israel, in relationship to other democracies. She finds that there has been a shift from corporatism, which marked the period when the Histadrut was extremely powerful and political parties were strong, to greater pluralism. While Israel has changed, the residues of the past still have a hold on Israeli society, she argues, and it is far from the pluralism of the United States. Gabriel Sheffer notes parallel trends in his discussion of the changing nature of political leadership. David Levi-Faur discusses how the long-term belligerent status of Israel influenced its public policy development and compares this to historic patterns in sixteenth-century Netherlands and Napoleonic France.

The comparison to the United States is paramount in the articles on social policy practices relating to race-ethnicity by Dvora Yanow and on the abortion debate by Noga Morag-Levine. In the case of the abortion debate, Morag-Levine shows how the debate to begin with was imported to Israel by American immigrants. Despite this, she demonstrates differences in the way in which anti-abortion groups in Israel, many of whom are Orthodox, strive to keep this controversy secular, unlike their American counterparts. Alan Dowty takes on the paradoxes of Israel as an "ethnic democracy," which to many is an oxymoron. He suggests Israel should not be compared to "majoritarian democracies" such as Great Britain or the United States, but to "consociational democracies" such as Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada. Dowty points out that Israel has aspects which mix features of both types of democracy.

Other comparisons are made in this volumes between Israel and countries in Africa and Asia. For instance, David Vogel suggests Israel's environmental policy is much more like that of newly industrialized countries such as South Korea and Taiwan than the lands of the European Union and the United States. …

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