We have perhaps been remiss in not calling attention earlier to the appearance of a major new institution in the field of Israel Studies, located just a few miles from us in downtown Washington, DC. This is the Israel Institute, founded in 2012 and headed by Itamar Rabinovich, a former President of Tel Aviv University and, before that, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, who is currently a Distinguished Global Professor at New York University. Primarily funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Israel Institute “supports scholarship, research, and cultural exchanges to build a multi-faceted field of Israel Studies and expand opportunities to explore the diversity and complexity of contemporary Israel.”
In addition to providing graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, the Israel Institute also brings a number of Israel faculty members each year to teach at American universities, subsidizing the cost to the American institutions. We urge readers of ISR and their colleagues to check the Israel Institute’s website for grants, fellowships, and other programs in Israel, the US, and elsewhere.
The flowering of Israel Studies is reflected in the disparate collection of articles for this issue, with the common (although inadvertent) thread that all are related to Israel’s history. Discussing them chronologically, Amir Locker-Biletzki begins in the Yishuv period, examining the commemorations by Israeli Communists of those Palestinians (Jewish and Arab) who fought and died in the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. These commemorations continued to be an important feature of left-wing memory through much of the next half-century and came to embody a unique combination of Marxist ideology, Zionist practice, and Jewish traditions.
Moving forward to late 1948 and early 1949, we come to a study of Israel’s first election campaign for the post-independence Constituent Assembly, which soon became the Knesset. Meir Chazan examines the choices made by the country’s first leaders regarding how democratic elections were to be held in the immediate aftermath of the War of Independence and during the period of mass immigration.
Then we visit the 1950s, with Ofira Gruweis-Kovalsky’s article on Menachem Begin’s extensive trips abroad during Israel’s first decade. She concludes that they were part of a carefully designed strategy to build Diaspora support for his opposition Herut party at a time when its political opponents controlled much of the Israeli political discourse.
Moving into the realm of economic history in the 1960s, Ronen Mandelkern investigates the New Economic Policy of 1962, through which Israeli economists tried to introduce some market-based reforms into the then highly centralized Israeli economy. While some of their ideas were formally adopted, few were actually implemented, and real reform did not take place for another two decades.
Kilic Bugra Kanat examines the history of Turkish-Israeli relations from 1948 until the late 1980s and concludes, contrary to much other historiography, that there was no ‘special relationship’ between Turkey and Israel during that period, despite their continuing diplomatic ties. Rather, he contends that Turkey generally sought to keep Israel at a distance, and that the few thaws in the cold relationship disappeared quickly for various reasons he discusses. Thus, he implies that the recent hostility is more of a return to the status quo. Given the June 2016 rapprochement between the two countries (and the failed coup that occurred just before we go to press), we will have to wait to see how things develop. Perhaps more will be clear by the time this note is published.
Hagai Boas and Ayelet Baram-Tsabari also examine a lengthy period, extending from 1977 to 2013. Their article analyzes Galei Zahal, the military’s radio station, and its program The University on Air, which flourished during those years. They argue that the program was a true anomaly in an increasingly entertainment-based radio environment, and they discuss some of the reasons for its long life and eventual demise.
Finally, we have an article that is really more about the present but focuses on groups that expend immense energy in keeping past traditions alive. This is Menachem Keren-Kratz’s study of what he terms Israel’s ‘Extreme Orthodox society’. He defines this group as the 10,000 or more Israeli Jews who reject, as much as they can, any contact with mainstream Israeli society and consider the Haredi establishment, which takes part in the government and selective aspects of the society, as far too accommodating. Even here, however, among the Extreme Orthodox, processes of ‘Westernization’ and ‘Israelization’ are at work.
In addition, we present, as usual, a number of book reviews covering a variety of subjects, and we also break an ISR tradition in the process. To date, ISR has reviewed only books in English, but this time we include a book in Hebrew: Uri Ram’s study of Martin Buber’s impact on Israeli society, on which we are publishing two reviews that present different points of view, by Dan Avnon and Nitzan Lebovic respectively. While most of our reviews will continue to be of books published in English, we will choose the occasional Hebrew book that we believe will interest our readers.
Also included are reviews of Christopher Schilling’s Emotional State Theory, Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby’s Popular Protest in Palestine, and Erella Grassiani’s Soldiering under Occupation. Gad Barzilai discusses Assaf Meydani’s recent book, The Anatomy of Human Rights in Israel: Constitutional Rhetoric and State Practice, and for dessert we present a review of Yael Raviv’s Falafel Nation: Cuisine and the Making of National Identity in Israel.
We hope you enjoy our articles and reviews, and we look forward to receiving your comments. We also hope that you will welcome our new Associate Editor, Ned Lazarus, who has helped to edit this issue. He is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University this year and is also an Israel Institute Teaching Fellow.
Lastly, we note with sadness the passing of Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Laureate and member of our Editorial Board.