Book Reviews

in Israel Studies Review

Motti Inbari, Jewish Radical Ultra-Orthodoxy Confronts Modernity, Zionism and Women’s Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 279 pp.

In recent years, the field of Israel Studies has witnessed growing interest in Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) society. The various figures indicating current and future Haredi demographic growth potential within Israeli society point to one reason for this development. Other reasons include the continuing influence of the Haredi parties on the Israeli political system over several decades and the changes that are taking place among parts of the central stream of Haredi society, which is moving from a ‘scholar society’ model to integration into the Israeli job market. This shift has created no small amount of ideological agitation, revitalizing and granting broader mainstream popularity to a worldview that for many years had been associated with only the most radical ultra-Orthodox circles.

However, a large portion of the sociological research on Haredi society over the past decade has been devoted to questions of public policy, such as integrating Haredim into the workplace, or dialogue with a new, more ‘modern’ and more ‘open’ Haredi leadership. Less scholarly attention seems to have been paid to what Benjamin Brown recently referred to as “groups and ideas” in Haredi society. This concerns me, as a sociologist specializing in religious society in Israel, because in the past sociologists devoted a fair amount of investigation and analysis to the groups and ideas in Haredi society, while today these areas are of interest mainly to scholars of Jewish philosophy.

It is this vacuum that Motti Inbari’s book seeks to fill. It represents a return to one of the foundations of the sociological perspective on Haredi society: the question of ideology and the ideological core that adheres to it. Inbari chooses to address the topic through a focus on one of the prominent nuclei of Haredi ideology—the radical ultra-Orthodox groups. His perspective on these groups combines study of their ideological world-view with their political history. The result is a fascinating and sometimes audacious work.

Aside from the introduction and epilogue, which define the topic and locate the book in relation to earlier studies of ultra-Orthodoxy and literature on fundamentalism, Inbari’s work comprises two parts, together totaling seven chapters. The first five, comprising the first section of the book, present four prominent figures in the history of radical ultra-Orthodox circles: Jacob de Haan (statesman and martyr); Rabbi Amram Blau (radical protest campaigner); Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira, the Admor of the Munkacser Hasidim (Tzadak seeking the Messiah in the name of religious tradition and in confrontation with Zionism), and Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Admor of the Satmar Hasidim (formulator of the radical approach). The brief biography of each of these figures is accompanied by a review of the critical and hagiographic research literature relating to him and a summary of the essence of his ideological approach. Along the way, the book introduces other figures who were involved in consolidating the ideology of radical ultra-Orthodoxy, such as Rabbi Yosef Sonnenfeld, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, and Rabbi Yeshayah Asher Zelig Margaliot.

The second half of the book consists of the final two chapters. Here the author elaborates on the central ideological principles defining radical ultra-Orthodox circles. One of the important and enlightening analytical tools that Inbari uses in these chapters is comparison of the various approaches propounded by each of the figures he presents, as well as comparison between two historical phenomena pertaining to the history of radicalism in Judaism: on one hand, the zealots of the Second Temple period, on the eve of the revolt against Rome; on the other hand, radical Jewish groups in our times, including the Religious Zionist settlement movement and radical ultra-Orthodox circles.

Inbari’s book is not the first to deal with radical ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and it will not be the last. However, his work makes two contributions of great value for an understanding of this phenomenon in our times. The first is the integrative and clear picture that it offers of the radical ultra-Orthodox ideology and its social manifestations. It sets forth the (modern) political dimension accompanying the radical religious ideology; the messianic charge that energizes and sustains it; the demonic language used by the leaders of these radical groups to distinguish the ‘children of light’ (themselves) from the ‘children of darkness’ (their enemies); the intercontinental connection between radical groups; the ambivalent position that sometimes reveals itself in the face of different dilemmas; and—most of all—the persistence and religious determination of these small groups, which resist powerful historical forces by creating an assertive counterculture.

The book also teaches us that ‘Jewish radicalism’ is not a modern phenomenon. Both its ideological elements and its ethos are embodied in Jewish political culture and, in the context of the struggle for Jewish sovereignty, surge forth in a desire to mold that sovereignty in accordance with the radical vision. Another insight that the reader gains, although it is not addressed explicitly, concerns the changes that have occurred within secular Israeli society. This is especially conspicuous in view of the campaigns led by Amram Blau during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Battles over the character of Shabbat in Israel are nothing new. They have accompanied Israeli society since its inception. But the reader is led to appreciate the sizable shift of secular society in its struggle over the character of Shabbat, from a focus on recreation to a focus on consumption, from struggles to remove the residue of tradition from recreational culture (e.g., by opening mixed swimming pools for women and men, including on Shabbat) to struggles over the preservation and fortification of a free and capitalist consumer culture in our own times.

This is an important introductory work that serves to revive the sociological interest in Haredi society both in Israel and abroad. It joins Motti Inbari’s other important studies, devoted to Rabbi Uzi Meshulam and his followers, the Temple Mount groups, and ultra-Orthodox radicals. Collectively, these works show Inbari to be an important scholar of the radical fringes of religious Jewish society and the ideologies supporting them.

Nissim Leon

Bar-Ilan University

Yossi Katz, The Tombstone in Israel’s Military Cemetery since 1948: Israel’s Transition from Collectivism to Individualism (Berlin: De Gruyter; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2014), 437 pp.

During the recent centennial commemorations of the Great War (1914–1918), much of the public was exposed for the first time to film footage and stills of the war’s events and aftermaths. Among the most touching and evocative images most frequently shown were what appeared to be rows of never-ending crosses or tombstones, which were actually the military cemeteries in which soldiers were buried. Under the rolling hills of grave markers, bodies of tens of thousands of British, French, Belgian, German, and other soldiers lay in their eternal rest, marked by identical monuments noting their name, particulars, and often religious affiliation.

Looking at the sheer numbers of graves and the endless rows of standard and modest grave markers, one could feel the enormity of the war’s tragedy for hundreds of thousands of families as individuals. Yet at the same time, the uniform military grave marker turned each of these soldiers into part of something much larger—the national cause for which they sacrificed their lives. Rich or poor, young or old, foot soldier or commissioned officer, they all were equalized in death.

The institution of a standardized military monument, which began toward the end of the nineteenth century, was meant to perform several tasks at once, which have sometimes been summarized as the ‘three Rs of commemoration’—recall, remind, and respect. While the initial reasons behind such stone monuments were often economic—the original wooden markers were not sustainable in the long run—the standardized military gravestone fulfilled several purposes. Not only did the standardization of size, form, and inscription create a uniform look for monuments that the authorities hoped would last for generations, they also broke down barriers of class and income, thus making death the ‘great equalizer’ in more ways than one.

The ‘three Rs’ came into play not only in the case of monumental form, but also in their content or, rather, their location and inscription. As for the first ‘R’—recall—in this case recalling the battles in which the soldiers were killed, different countries used different methods in order to mentally ‘locate’ the dead soldiers on that country’s military canvas of war. British soldiers, for example, were buried by tradition in the general location where they lost their lives, making the loci of British military cemeteries a testimony to the geographical spread of war. In other countries, military gravestones were either grouped in areas of specific wars or, as in Israel, the inscriptions mention the war or even the battle in which the soldiers lost their lives.

The second ‘R’—remind—was expressed through the wording on the tombstones. The idea was to give onlookers and visitors information that would remind them about the fallen soldier. In some countries it gave just minimal facts, such as name, rank, and dates of birth and death. In other countries, such as Israel, it also listed place of birth, cause of death, and even information about the war and sometimes the battle in which the particular soldier was killed.

The third ‘R’—respect—was more of an amorphous concept arising from both the location and the form of tombstone and its upkeep. The intention was to grant continuous last respects to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their countries by providing an honorable visual field of similar tombstones, neatly kept by the authorities. Was this respect, however, felt by the onlookers and, most importantly, by the families of the fallen soldiers?

Did the never-ending rows of similar grave markers fulfill the purpose of comforting the soldiers’ families by providing an official expression of the country’s respect for those who sacrificed their lives for its existence? This is one of the questions that Yossi Katz deals with in his excellent in-depth study of the history and ongoing development of the Israeli military tombstone from the establishment of the country in 1948 up to the present.

Katz’s book is a welcome addition to existing studies on commemoration in Israel, and particularly military commemoration during the state’s 70 years of existence. Its Hebrew version was originally published in 2007 under the poetic name Heart and Stone, taken from a line of iconic Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer’s internationally renowned song, “Jerusalem of Gold,” and the English version contains a preface written by the author specifically for this edition.

The book is composed of 11 chapters and a postscript, each dealing with a facet of the development of the Israeli military tombstone: institutional frameworks, spatial frameworks, the expansion of the military cemetery to include other security forces, the tombstone’s form, inscriptions, and issues of uniformity—all receive in-depth discussion in separate chapters. Katz explains the considerations for the form and contents of the Israeli military tombstone, the discussions over who is permitted to be buried in military cemeteries, and the process of formulating the uniform text. Two of the major questions that arose were how to note the categories of fatality and whether to note the military profession and circumstances of death, which originally were not permitted to appear on the tombstone. What does one do with suicides of military personnel? How should their deaths be noted? Should there be a different text for those who died in battle, in accidents, and of illness during military service? Ultimately, it was decided after much deliberation to have several categories—’fallen in battle’, ‘fell in the line of duty’, ‘fell during service’, and ‘passed away during service’—rendering the original categories of ‘fell during service in the military’ and ‘passed away during service in the military’ more ambiguous, so as to include doubtful suicides in the first group and definite suicides and illness in the second.

Chapter 7, titled “Uniformity Is Tested by an Era of Polarization,” deals with the massive changes in military tombstones during the 1980s and 1990s, when parents of fallen soldiers insisted on various changes and innovations. Among them were listing the biological father in cases where there was also an adopted father, political disputes expressed through the tombstone, and a demand to add the secular date of death, not just the Hebrew one.

This began a period of revolution in which attempts to include a more personal inscription—adding, for example, the names of siblings—went to court, were initially rejected, and were in many cases ultimately added through additional markers put at the foot of the grave or elsewhere (the Israeli military tombstone being a headstone). Chapters 8 to 10 describe and analyze different stages of this revolution, and chapter 11, titled “Everyone Does as He Sees Fit,” focuses on the continuing phenomenon of embellishments, which impair the uniformity of the military tombstone and allow families individual expression. Katz shows how the privatization of Israeli society was indeed expressed, not only toward the living, but also toward the dead.

In his touching and succinct postscript, titled “An Unfinished Story,” Katz recaps the history and development of the military tombstone to understand how it serves as a dynamic cultural product in the landscape of the State of Israel. The changes in the military tombstone from the 1950s prototype to what exists today show significant differences in text, type, variety, and height of vegetation on the grave, as well as the various articles that have been placed on them and in their vicinity.

The changes over time in rules and norms linked to the military tombstone were not only the result of deliberations by the decision-makers and those who influenced them, but also the result of families taking the initiative and, in a sense, forcing the hands of these decision-makers, as they did at several junctures in the Israeli political and social world. Uniformity was the framework shaping the military tombstone, but, as Katz explains, the events that the country experienced, including controversial wars and not only those of national consensus, shaped the cultural and political dynamic and thus the content of life—and also of death and commemoration.

Judy Baumel-Schwartz

Bar-Ilan University

Asa Maron and Michael Shalev, eds., Neoliberalism as a State Project: Changing the Political Economy of Israel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 256 pp.

When one considers the amount of attention that neo-liberalism receives in academia, in political discourse, and in public engagement in general, it is easy to forget that it only burst into public consciousness just over a decade ago, with David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005). And yet a more serious engagement with the literature reveals the extent to which the analysis is raw, the indeterminate use of the concept, and the ease with which it is applied to matters as divergent as health, education, climate change, and food consumption. To an extent, it is more often than not used as a shorthand for the ills of capitalist culture and economy. Individualism, managerialism, privatization and outsourcing, flexibility of labor relations, defunding and deregulation—are all subsumed under the broad heading of neo-liberalism, notably by critics, not by advocates of the current capitalist status quo.

The time has come, therefore, for more sober, conceptual, and nuanced approaches to the notion and the policies with which it is rightfully aligned, their preconditions and their effects. This book is an extremely welcome contribution in this direction. Taking the case of Israel—an exceptional case study, for reasons outlined in this review—contributors to this collection offer a concrete argument that pertains to the role of the state in promoting and consolidating neo-liberalism. A wide range of case studies support the argument that state agencies—of which the Ministry of Finance (MoF) and the Bank of Israel (BoI) stand out—promoted neo-liberalism as a means to an end, that is, to reframe the rules of the game, to increase the state agencies’ autonomy and authority, and to weaken other players, such as big business (as Daniel Maman highlights) and big labor (as shown by Lev Grinberg). As its title indicates, the book makes the case that neo-liberalism is a state project. Indeed, it is quite a remarkable achievement on the part of its editors, Asa Maron and Michael Shalev, to reach such a degree of coherence across different authors, disciplines, and sectors of focus. Their insightful introduction and conclusion not only bring together these insights, but also offer independently perceptive contributions.

Throughout the book, the chapters challenge three common mischaracterizations of the development of neo-liberalism: (1) the explanation that it was driven by domestic capitalists; (2) the notion that it was forced on the state by institutions in the global economy; and (3) the concept that state elites underwent an ideational conversion. Of the three, it is the third that undoubtedly receives the greatest attention in the book’s nine chapters (excluding the introduction and conclusion). Thus, Daniel Maman and Zeev Rosenhek focus on the rise of the MoF and the BoI and their efforts to weaken other actors, while simultaneously developing other state agencies—such as the Antitrust Authority, the Banking Supervision Division at the BoI, and the Capital Markets, Insurance, and Savings Division at the MoF—to strengthen the state and institutionalize the relevant agencies’ power and autonomy.

Ronen Mandelkern shows that economics in Israel was ‘born liberal’ and thus that neo-liberal ideology was unsuccessfully advanced by economists long before neo-liberal institutional reform was put in place. Sharon Asiskovitch delineates the power, and limits of power, of bureaucrats and politicians, and their different alignments vis-à-vis the BoI and MoF, with regard to two central reforms, in child benefits and in health care. Michal Tabibian-Mizrahi and Michael Shalev offer, perhaps, a mirror image of this portrayal, contending that neo-liberal practices in Israeli state hospitals preceded ideology. When the MoF sought to implement neo-liberal practices, it therefore found a ready-made institutional structure that was easily harnessed. Michal Koreh and Shalev, for their part, reveal how neoliberal norms of fiscal probity were flouted in social insurance reform and were subsumed to the MoF’s interest in regaining institutional control over the National Insurance Institute, thereby weakening a strong veto player. And, finally, Sara Helman and Asa Maron reveal a similar dynamic in a different context—that of welfare to work programs, where the relevant actor that the MoF sought to neutralize was the Employment Service. In all these examples, neo-liberal ideology—so prominent in explanations for the spread of policy and institutional reform—is shown to play, at most, a supportive and secondary role. Pragmatism bordering on cynicism dictated decision-making on more than one occasion.

Against the background of this clearly articulated argument, which is so centrally focused on neo-liberal ideology and policies, it is somewhat surprising that the book does not offer a working definition—although it presumes to suggest a definitive one—of the concept of neo-liberalism. The result is that the problem noted in the opening to this review plagues some sections of the book as well. In particular, I refer to the notorious conflation of liberalism with neo-liberalism. This conflation was more understandable prior to the publication of Wendy Brown’s (2015) important Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, in which she spends some time clarifying the difference between the liberal and neo-liberal approach to economy and society. She states, for example: “In place of the liberal promise to secure the politically autonomous and sovereign subject, the neoliberal subject is granted no guarantee of life … and is so tethered to economic ends as to be potentially sacrificible to them” (ibid.: 110–111; emphasis added). We find, then, that not only are the two—liberalism and neo-liberalism—not identical, but also that they can easily be in direct conflict.

Therefore, positing, as quite a few of the authors do, illiberal policies and institutions as addressed by neo-liberal (as opposed to liberal) reforms is sometimes confusing. Far more persuasive (and completely in sync with Brown’s approach) are the insights, for example, by Guy Mundlak and the editors respectively, that “the state did not withdraw, but actually reappeared through various, partially coordinated agents” (167) and that the “tension between liberalization and statism is not irreconcilable. On the contrary, in some respects the state has harnessed markets as an additional tool for facilitating smooth implementation of its distinctive projects” (185).

But this omission does not detract from the book’s main achievement. Indeed, a collection of essays that focus on one jurisdiction carries a double burden. The first obligation is to present a clear and coherent narrative across the range of chapters, and it should be clear by this point that the book shoulders this test with ease. A second, and perhaps more challenging, onus concerns the ability to justify the focus on the jurisdiction chosen, both as a unique case study and as one that offers insights that are relevant to other developed economies. Here, again, the book is successful. Israel is a fascinating case of a small economy that, within a couple of decades, reformed a political economy characterized as illiberal, corporatist, and, according to Mandelkern (77), even socialist, in order to align itself with neo-liberal policies and institutions. As such, it is a fascinating story. But this does not mean it is easily understood.

Here, the transparent nature of decision-making, the familiarity that characterizes small societies, and the Mediterranean (or Middle Eastern) ease of conversation facilitates the ability to trace the agenda advanced by senior officials in state agencies. At some points in the book, these traits may suggest that the analysis is so thorough that it cannot be applied, or even be relevant, to other political economies. The editors seem to be aware of this concern, and in a section titled “Beyond the Israeli Experience” within the conclusion, they offer some indication of similar trends and mechanisms in various countries, including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, and Hungary. Those looking for a more thorough comparative analysis may find that this effort is too little, too late. But, more charitably, it is always the case that going wide (with a comparative analysis) comes at the expense of going deep (with a thorough case study).

While this book brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines whose research focus differs significantly, it appears highly accessible to lawyers who are not political scientists and to economists who are not sociologists. And yet one’s expertise may naturally lead to a different focus. This review thus ends with an admitted bias—its author’s interest in employment relations and in the legal system and legal rhetoric.

An interesting choice is made by the editors to dedicate the third and final part of the book, titled “Neoliberalism and the Casualization of Employment,” to two chapters that deal with this topic. Indeed, the author of the final chapter, Mundlak, states explicitly that “neoliberalism is typically associated with the commoditization and flexibility of the labor market and a project of deregulation” (159), whereas Tabibian-Mizrahi and Shalev, in the other chapter, make the bold claim that “the [Israeli] state played a leading role as innovator in the introduction of labor market flexibility” (149).

Finally, a word on political rhetoric with reference to the ‘rule of law’. Throughout the book, a recurring theme—particularly detailed by Maman and Rosenhek and by Mandelkern—is the effort made by proponents of neo-liberalism to ‘depoliticize’ socio-economic decision-making. By seemingly removing the debate concerning the desirability of neo-liberalism from the political process, state agencies (particularly the MoF and the BoI) presented themselves as the ‘experts’ or the ‘adults’ in charge, particularly in times of crisis. So far, this is quite a familiar story for many who have followed it.

But perhaps less common is the recurring reference to the rule of law as a foundational mechanism for the depoliticization of the process. Neo-liberalism was proposed as the only sober and unbiased organizational structure that transcends parochialism and clientelism and would thus drive forward a modern economy. It is therefore ironic that neo-liberalism was, in fact, implemented on a grand scale by means of a mechanism that flouted the rule of law. Thus, the 1985 Emergency Economic Stabilization Plan bypassed parliamentary procedures and created the template for the main legislative vehicle for neo-liberalism—the annual Arrangements Law, or Reconciliation Law, which is attached to the budget and is not subject to serious (if any) parliamentary scrutiny. Moreover, as the book shows, neo-liberalism is continuously implemented on a smaller scale in concrete cases (e.g., welfare to work, precarious structures in public hospitals) through bypassing tender processes or public employment procedures and thus the rule of law. Unsurprisingly, the rule of law is itself employed in cynical fashion, yet another victim of the neo-liberal crusade.

Amir Paz-Fuchs

University of Sussex


  • BrownWendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution New York: Zone Books.

  • HarveyDavid. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Assaf Likhovski, Tax Law and Social Norms in Mandatory Palestine and Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 352 pp.

A significant cadre of tax scholars has pushed the history of taxation onto center stage in considering politics, citizenship, the welfare state, and, most generally, how citizens and states combine to act. Taxation, that most basic claim of the collective on all, emerges in these works as a primary incidence of sovereignty. Likhovski’s book is a rich and sophisticated contribution to this important body of new literature.

Likhovski details the development of taxation in Palestine/Israel, beginning with Ottoman taxation, running straight through the British Mandate, and concluding with the inception of Israeli statehood through the 1980s. While the organization is for the most part chronological, the story is actually told on multiple levels: on some levels development seems almost linear, while on others, almost circular.

Chapter 1 lays out two lines of prehistory. The geographically determined prehistory is Ottoman taxation in Palestine, which the British will inherit. Ottoman taxation is more like tribute than modern taxation and can be summed up in a phrase: discretionary communal compulsion by intermediaries. The Ottoman Empire creates general norms, but tax farmers have de facto discretion: most subjects do not know the exact rules, and they negotiate with the tax farmer. The Ottomans have no expectations regarding subjects’ identification with the regime. People have to pay the tax because the tax farmer says so, and in turn because they are subjects of the Sultan. If the taxpayers are to be believed, the tax farmers are rapacious and try to get every last available akçe out of them. And the tax farmers have a similar view of the village headmen: they lie about the crop, hide assets, and live outwardly like paupers to avoid the collection of taxes. This is the system that the British will inherit and try to modernize.

The second line of prehistory relates to Jewish communities in the Diaspora from the Middle Ages through early modernity. These communities tax, but they do so quite differently from the Ottomans. Since they have no state-backed institutional authority, everything is done by community pressure. People are taught that paying the community’s taxes is part of one’s identity, part of what it means to be a Jew, something that one is obliged to do out of a sense of belonging, even though it is clear that one could conceivably shirk one’s duty. But duty is internalized. The rhetoric is built on a sense of choice and voluntariness, but barely below the surface lies community pressure of all sorts, including threats of ostracism and punishment beyond this world.

When the British take over in Palestine (chap. 2), they attempt to modernize taxation, by which they mean making it more individualized, more direct (eliminating tax farming), and more formal (with less discretion for any intermediaries who remained, and the possibility of decisions being reviewed). They abolish the tithe, replace property taxes with new ones, and even refund some taxes when times are hard. But change generates resistance, and these efforts did not succeed overnight. In rural areas, taxing remained collective through the 1930s. When the British began considering the grand modernizing step of introducing income tax, they encountered a number of obstacles.

On the one hand, income tax assumes a population that routinely accounts for income, which was not the case for much of the population. In addition, experts from the Colonial Office had unadulterated Orientalist views of the population: Arabs were backward and dishonest, while Jews were conniving and resistant politically. In short, the kind of cooperation (both technical and in terms of willingness) that an income tax required would not be forthcoming—or so thought British experts until the late 1930s. But by then, conditions had changed: an income tax was successfully introduced in Egypt in 1938; the 1936–1939 Palestinian revolt and the eventual world war reduced existing tax revenues to a minimum; and Jewish support grew as a result of wartime solidarity with the British. The Jewish community already had a voluntary income tax in place, another factor in smoothing the introduction of the Mandate income tax, and Jewish professionals were arriving in droves from Europe, filling in the gap regarding technical capabilities for an income tax.

In the early 1930s, Jews had resisted the introduction of an income tax because they felt that it would be applied to urban dwellers, and thus the predominantly rural Arab population would escape paying. Palestinians had supported the tax, perhaps for the same reason. Once the Jews felt themselves to be on the same side as the British during World War II, their resistance to the income tax dissipated. British income tax still had much informality to it, especially in granting relief from it, although there was no official procedure for such relief. But the rising importance of lawyers and accountants brought with it additional pressure to formalize arrangements as much as possible, including the use of British precedents in the review of tax assessment decisions.

Meanwhile, during the 1940s, the Jews of Palestine were busy developing their own paradoxical voluntary-compulsory tax system (chap. 3). Community pressure would make a tax compulsory, even as a sense of belonging to the community would characterize the tax as voluntary—which in essence it was, because no institution could actually enforce it. But the means of coercion, in the sense of effective community pressure, did exist and were thoroughly exploited by the nascent state. Propaganda and education mixed promiscuously, targeting everyone from children to mothers to religious communities to individual taxpayers. The Jewish state-in-the-making was providing social services and generated a fair amount of willingness to pay by providing an array of taxing mechanisms, some geared toward specific projects and some for general expenses. The Palestinian population also engaged in fundraising, but it never really recovered from its internal splintering generated by the Arab revolt.

With the establishment of the state (chap. 4), the voluntary-compulsory taxes were abolished, but their overall ethos remained in place. Although the early state took over a system of income tax from the Mandate, it advanced an ethic of tax compliance that was a direct extension of the voluntary tax system that had applied to Jews. Ideological statism was supposed to produce ‘regimented voluntarism’ or ‘statist pioneering’, and the state was there to support it with propaganda, education, inspirational speeches, and even a scary/entertaining proto-apocalyptic film about the decay that would follow if people did not pay their taxes.

When new waves of Jewish immigration from Arab countries flowed in, Israeli tax officials spouted the same Orientalist rhetoric that the British had used before them, but this time they were intent on massive re-education. High tax rates were followed by internal rifts, with salaried workers complaining that the self-employed did not report actual income and thus were not paying their fair share. The tax burden was a hot political issue, but tax compliance was a national project. The leadership, at least, saw tax voluntarism as an issue for community pressure and education. Minor attempts at using the law (especially criminal law) were fairly quickly abandoned. Resistance was met with negotiation, and the underlying ethos was one of training for citizenship. In all of this, the state was trying to work directly on the individual, but not in an individualistic sense since the reason to pay taxes was communal. The obligation itself was part of a direct relationship between the state and the individual; indeed, it was the manifestation of being part of the community.

The final two chapters of the book detail the breakdown of the direct, soft appeal and the rise of a new type of intermediary: the tax professionals—lawyers, accountants, and economists. In part, this is a supply-side story, involving more accountants, more lawyers, and economists who were no longer working exclusively on development issues, but were now committed to general models. Each of these actors contributed to a vision of taxation that eroded the projected harmony between the state and the community. Each could now speak for an individual interested in free economic activity, desiring the limitation of state intrusion to a bare and predictable minimum. Accountants morphed from servants of the state to servants of their clients, lawyers from officers of the court to aggressive representatives of their clients’ interests, economists from particularist apologetic Zionists to universal scientists of market behavior. In essence, the state’s direct relationship with its taxed population broke down, while taking on a new go-between: the professional intermediaries who relied on taxation being law-like, formalized, and scientific. Taxation was adversarial again—not quite in the sense it had been under the Ottomans, where the relationship was hostile, but still adversarial. In the late 1970s and 1980s, developments were geared toward additional formalization and streamlining, crystallizing the new system as formal, mediated by experts, and calculable.

This is a fascinating history of how we arrived where we are (or at least where we were around 1995), and Likhovski is right to conclude that it tells us a great deal about three things: (1) the richness of the connection between citizenship and taxation; (2) the relative novelty of formal law agents (accountants and lawyers) in the taxation story; and (3) the importance of the background of social norms for understanding the development of law. This is actually a key point from a jurisprudential perspective. We are habituated to understanding social interaction as taking place in the shadow of the law, but Likhovski shows us that sometimes things work the other way around: law develops in the shadow of normative systems that communities generate without resort to law.

In the early parts of Likhovski’s story, the axis of tax conflict is clearly national: Palestinians and Jews want different styles of taxes because they see themselves differently placed in terms of where those taxes will fall. It is true that there is an overlap with the urban-rural divide, but the energy is clearly national. Later, there is a clear class divide: salaried workers think that the self-employed are not paying their share, and there is also talk that concentrated interests (whether corporate or because of links to politically connected groups) get special treatment. Perhaps today, the major political discussions about expanding the labor force are in fact a new way of talking about where the tax burden lies, and perhaps those discussions are just waiting to be turned into conflict over taxation policy.

Finally, and more speculative still, in 1963 Nicholas Kaldor published an article titled “Will Underdeveloped Countries Learn to Tax?” Its message is that strong states need to tax much more heavily than weak or failing states generally do (hinting that they have to double their taxation in terms of how much of GDP is collected). Just as important, Kaldor claims that only progressive tax systems can succeed in generating capital development. By Kaldor’s lights, Israel in the 1960s had already learned to tax, and it had succeeded in generating enough infrastructure—social, cultural, and economic—to become a developed country. But perhaps for the last 10 or 15 years, Israel has been on the opposite track: lowering tax intake (which is significantly below the OECD average) and making it less progressive (relying more on value added and payroll taxes than most OECD countries today, and much more than in the 1970s). Israel is not alone in this movement. Perhaps, in fact, developed countries are taking the taxation road to underdevelopment. And if that is the case, we might wonder about its impact on the categories of citizenship and community that Likhovski develops in this history.

Roy Kreitner

Tel Aviv University

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  • BrownWendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution New York: Zone Books.

  • HarveyDavid. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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