Were Israel Studies Review a monthly, or even a quarterly, journal, we would have commented at some length on—and perhaps even dedicated a forum discussion to—the important proposed ‘ethics code’ for Israeli institutions of higher education that was prepared by Professor Asa Kasher at the request of the Ministry of Education and made public in June of this year. However, since we come out only every six months (a schedule that is going to change), we know that the situation will be different by the time you read this. Nevertheless, we cannot completely ignore this unprecedented phenomenon.
The fact that Minister of Education Naftali Bennett dictated such a code is just one more illustration of the anti-liberal tendency of the current government. It is clearly recognizable as yet another attempt to weaken Israel’s academic community, in keeping with this government’s (and its predecessors’) long-term effort to ‘change the elites’ in the country. It is no wonder, therefore, that the Israeli academic community was virtually unanimous in its opposition to the initiative. It was denounced by academic institutions, professional associations of scholars, and the Committee of University Heads (VERA) and in a petition signed by hundreds of university lecturers, among others, who vowed to ignore it. It is encouraging that Kasher, who seems to have changed his position after the outcry, told the Council for Higher Education (VATAT) in mid-July that he now believes each institution should individually formulate its own code.
Given that Israeli society is deeply divided on the issue of the Occupied Territories and other existential subjects related to the country’s future, our view is that the government should make every effort to encourage free debate, wide-ranging discourse, and an open flow of ideas on all topics. Institutions of higher education should be at the forefront of that effort. At the same time, we agree that professors should refrain from preaching their own partisan beliefs and—it should go without saying—should encourage the free and unhindered expression of other views in the classroom, subject to general rules of appropriate expression. But there is no way to ‘police’ this ideal without potentially or actually infringing on both general freedom of speech and academic freedom, both of which must continue to be liberally interpreted.
Speaking of which, we believe that we have liberally interpreted our own mandate to present you with a wide variety of articles in the current issue. (We note that our previous issue, devoted to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, unfortunately has proved both prescient and timely.) We begin this issue with a scholarly analysis of the popular Israeli television series Fauda (Chaos in Arabic) by Nurith Gertz and Raz Yosef. The series examines, often painfully, the individual and collective traumas of the usually clandestine struggle between the Shabak and violent Palestinian groups. We then move on to a very different topic, but one that is likewise controversial and painful. Motti Inbari’s article analyzes the ideology behind the late Uzi Meshulam’s highly publicized movement in the 1990s to investigate the disappearance of hundreds of Yemenite Jewish children in Israel in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an issue that is still causing anger and heartache.
Another perennially controversial issue is the security barrier/wall/ fence on—and at many points over—the Green Line that marks the border between ‘Israel proper’ and the West Bank. However, Udi Sommer’s analysis does not examine the issue of the barrier itself; rather, he considers it a case study of the interactions between international and domestic courts and their rulings. This is followed by another complex subject in an article by Hagar Lahav. Its title, “Jewish Secular-Believer Women in Israel,” is not the oxymoron it may appear to be at first sight.
Another recurrently controversial issue is explored in an article by Anat Feldman on the Shas’s educational network and how decisions regarding its funding are actually made (you will probably not be surprised to learn that politics plays a central role). In the next article, Rima Shikhmanter examines the portrayal of two important aspects of Yishuv history in children’s literature through the books of Devorah Omer: the NILI espionage group during World War I and the story of Itamar Ben-Avi, the first native speaker of modern Hebrew. Shikhmanter weaves together politics and differing historical narratives to show how Omer’s books helped produce a more generally accepted narrative. In the concluding article, we learn from Osnat Roth-Cohen and Yehiel Limor the considerable impact of the Fifth (German) Aliyah on the development of the advertising industry in the Yishuv, and later in Israel, and how these yekke admen helped to transform the dominant socialist/pioneer ethos into the more hedonistic, individualist, and consumerist Israel of today.
In the next section we present Menachem Klein’s “The Twenty-First-Century New Critical Historians,” a review of the literature of a new historical school in Israeli academia. These historians differ in emphasis and methodology from their predecessors and teachers, the better-known ‘new’ historians of the 1980s and 1990s. They focus on ‘Arab Jews’ in Palestine during the Ottoman and Mandate periods and emphasize the close and cordial relations they enjoyed with their Muslim and Christian neighbors. We include a second review essay in which Arie Dubnov discusses Colin Shindler’s recent book, The Hebrew Republic.
We also offer our usual wide selection of book reviews on topics ranging from early feminism in the Yishuv to the ‘Mizrahi Revolt’, radical ultra-Orthodoxy facing modernity, the Six-Day War, ‘the rule of law’ versus ‘states of emergency’, and the recent biography of Yitzhak Rabin by Itamar Rabinovich, among others.
We hope you enjoy our offerings. And, as noted above, our publication schedule is going to change. Starting in 2018, Israel Studies Review will be published three times a year.