Arye Oded, Africa and Israel: A Unique Case in Israeli Foreign Relations (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2018), 416 pp. Hardback, $74.95.
Arye Oded’s latest work on Israeli-African relations is also his most comprehensive. In what is essentially a verbatim translation—with slight modifications and updates—of his Hebrew book, Africa and Israel: A Unique Case of Radical Changes in Israel’s Foreign Relations (Oded 2011), he provides a detailed summary of official Israeli approaches and policies toward African countries from the late 1950s to the present. This volume constitutes an overview of an era through a decidedly Israeli prism. The author, a scholar and a diplomat who spent decades representing Israel in various African capitals while studying Africa’s history, focuses on Israeli interests on the continent. Drawing heavily on a rich variety of Israeli sources, he traces the vagaries of Israeli-African ties over time and highlights their manifestations in the political, economic, technical assistance, and security fields. This book provides a solid foundation for the next stage of scholarship on Israel and Africa, one that must come to terms with the Israeli-African relationship in all its complexities in an effort to understand this always intriguing, enormously timely, and constantly fluctuating connection.
Africa and Israel is structured chronologically around three major phases in Israel’s relations with independent states in the sub-Sahara. The first, dubbed “The Honeymoon Period,” commenced in the late 1950s and continued throughout the 1960s. During this period, Israel actively courted the leaders of the newly independent African states in hopes of gaining support in international forums and forging economic as well as strategic ties. Through a dense network of embassies, a multiplicity of technical assistance endeavors under the auspices of MASHAV (Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation), and the promotion of economic initiatives, Israel’s presence expanded rapidly throughout the continent. However, after the Six-Day War of 1967, as Oded explains, cracks began to emerge. By the close of 1973, almost all African states had severed diplomatic ties with Israel. A second period, somewhat curiously titled “The Disengagement,” ensued during which diplomatic and aid avenues floundered, both bilaterally and multilaterally. During the decade of the 1970s, Israel’s relations with white South Africa were upgraded in response to what was a major diplomatic debacle, while informal economic and military ties were cemented throughout the continent.
The third period, “The Return of Israel to Africa,” which commenced in the early 1980s and gathered momentum in the 1990s, extends up to the present day, covering a period of over 35 years. In fact, most researchers of the Israeli-African connection prefer to talk about three distinct phases: the 1980s, when the resumption of ties was painfully slow; the restoration of full relations following the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the signing of the Oslo Accords (a full table showing dates of restoration or establishment of ties would have been helpful), ironically accompanied mostly by Israeli indifference to African overtures; and the current, pro-active phase that commenced in 2013, when first Avigdor Liberman and then Benjamin Netanyahu began to evince a renewed political interest in the sub-Sahara.
Whatever the differences on periodization, this timeline follows distinctly Israeli criteria and concerns and inevitably frames the analysis. Each stage is analyzed primarily in terms of Israel’s international standing and the contours of the Arab-Israel conflict at the time, with African states depicted as particularly vulnerable to pressures from North Africa and the Middle East. This perspective leaves very little room for a critical analysis of Israeli policies in specific parts of the continent, especially southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of East Africa. It also tends to disregard the positions and interests of individual African states—or, for that matter, continental concerns—and minimizes their significance.
The picture that emerges from Oded’s work is one of Israeli success followed by externally engendered catastrophe, and then by slow yet steady reconstruction. But in truth, a full two-thirds of this book is devoted to the first two decades of Israeli-African links. The last section, which spans more than three and a half decades, reveals a great deal of systemic Israeli disinterest accompanied by meager diplomatic, economic, and trade relations (some documented in thumbnail country-by-country sketches). It is particularly skimpy in its coverage of security connections and the activities of Israeli entrepreneurs on the continent. The volume thus obscures certain links with key countries today, rendering the full range of contemporary Israeli-African interactions incomplete.
Africa and Israel nevertheless constitutes a turning point in the study of relations between Israel and African states—methodologically, conceptually, empirically, and analytically. It will remain, for many years, the best summary of the official Israeli narrative of Israel’s ties with the continent. Yet it also marks a critical watershed in the treatment of this relationship. First, while this volume highlights formal Israeli interactions with African states, it gives short shrift to a myriad of more sensitive and informal contacts that have grown in scope over time. Those searching for more information on security cooperation, arms sales, defense consultations, and training exercises will remain disappointed. Many of these connections receive only passing reference or are dismissed as (technically) beyond the realm of official Israeli control. The same holds true for details on economic activity, especially in sensitive areas such as mining and resource exploitation. Even the quest for a greater understanding of Israeli NGO work in African countries—a bourgeoning field indeed—will come up empty-handed. Any serious future study of Israeli-African relations will have to deal with these aspects, as well as with issues related to African asylum-seekers in Israel, academic and cultural exchanges, shifting attitudes toward Africa and Africans, and, of course, religious questions.
Second, at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, further analyses will necessarily have to adopt more critical approaches to Israeli policies and actions. The beginning of such work is already in the making, with several excellent studies revisiting the motives underlying Israel’s initial engagement in Africa (e.g., Yacobi 2015). Other scholars have chosen to review specific chapters in the Israeli-African link with a more nuanced eye (Lavey 2012). This trend promises to generate fuller explorations and interpretations of Israeli behavior vis-à-vis Africa in the years ahead.
Third, the emphasis on the Israeli perspective in most past work requires recalibration. To understand the evolving nature of the relationship, African viewpoints must be directly incorporated into research and, by extension, into practice. The first steps in such an endeavor are now being made (see Schler 2018). This is a healthy corrective to the bias that has clouded understanding and seriously undermined the premise of equality and reciprocity that underlies durable relations between states.
Finally, it is high time that Israelis internalize the fact that Africa is not a country: it is a continent that contains 54 socially, economically, politically, and culturally diverse states. Just as the time has passed for sweeping studies of Israeli relations with Europe or Asia, Oded’s broad overview serves as a timely reminder that further efforts to grapple with the many dimensions of the connection between Israel and the countries of the sub-Sahara must stem from a more intimate knowledge of the variety of states on the continent and the dynamics of links that this differentiation engenders.
Arye Oded deserves thanks for compiling the conventional wisdom on Israel and Africa in a single volume, thereby contributing (directly and indirectly) to the much-needed task of redefining the guidelines for a fuller comprehension of the many facets of this relationship and their implications for policy and practice.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
SchlerLynn. 2018. “Dilemmas of Postcolonial Diplomacy: Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, and the Middle East Crisis, 1964–73.” Journal of African History 59 (1): 97–119.
Alexandre Kedar, Ahmad Amara, and Oren Yiftachel, Emptied Lands: A Legal Geography of Bedouin Rights in the Negev (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), 424 pp. Hardback, $70.
The issue of Bedouin land in the Negev is perhaps the most intense and protracted problem that has bedeviled both the Bedouin and the State of Israel for many years. Although this matter negatively affects the entire Negev population, both Arabs and Jews, it mainly has immense and direct implications for Bedouin life.
While Israel continues to deny Bedouin land rights and to expropriate their land, the Bedouin continue to struggle and advocate their land rights on various levels, primarily legal and political. However, despite their many attempts, including lawsuits, petitions to the High Court of Justice, and appeals to the international community, the issue remains unresolved. It is particularly complicated since it includes many aspects from different disciplines: legal, geographic, political, and cultural. These elements stem from the history of the three states that have ruled the Negev for over the last 100 years: the Ottoman Empire, Britain, and most recently Israel. This book, based on research by three distinguished scholars from different disciplines, is a unique work that adds considerably to our understanding of this complex subject.
The starting point of the book is the assertion that the Bedouin are victims of a process of deprivation and land dispossession, evictions, and forced urbanization by legislative, administrative, and judicial means. It is important to note that the authors present the subject from the point of view of persons who themselves have been deeply involved in the Bedouin struggle for land rights.1 They took part in the legal proceedings of the al-Uqbi case in the district court of Be’ersheva and later its appeal to the High Court of Justice.
The state claims that Bedouin land expropriation is a purely legal activity that simply applies the Ottoman law accepted by the State of Israel through its adoption of the Mandatory law that existed prior to the establishment of the state in 1948, and that this Ottoman law considers the Bedouin as nomadic tribes who did not engage in agriculture and therefore had no land rights in the Negev. By contrast, the authors assert that, like many colonial powers, the State of Israel adopts the discourse of the terra nullius (empty land) doctrine in order to dispossess the indigenous Bedouin of their land, and that the ‘Dead Negev Doctrine’ (DND) is the institutional narrative and legal tool that has enabled the state to expropriate the Bedouin lands. The DND is thus the Israeli version of the Western doctrine of terra nullius, through which Western colonial powers dispossessed indigenous peoples of their lands in the ‘New World’.
Throughout the book’s nine chapters, Kedar, Amara, and Yiftachel provide a detailed analysis of the Bedouin land issue from legal, historical, and geographical perspectives. The introduction in part 1 presents an overview of the legal and geographic foundations of the Negev. Chapter 1 discusses the literature dealing with the dispossession of indigenous peoples and the authors’ interpretation of the DND as the local version of terra nullius. In part 2, the authors move on to a comprehensive critical legal history of land rights in Palestine/Israel to show how the State of Israel was able to create the DND and use it to eliminate all Bedouin land claims and to dispossess them of their land rights.
In the following three chapters, the book explains the legal status of the Bedouin during the late Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, and the present State of Israeli. In that context, in chapter 2, the authors contend that the Ottomans did not deprive Bedouin of their land rights and recognized their customary legal system. Then, in chapter 3, they describe the land regime during the British Mandate (1917–1948), focusing on the Negev. They assert that the British granted autonomy to Bedouin tribes to run their own affairs. We see the major legal changes that the British made, which became the basis for the Israeli DND. This chapter also shows that many Jews and Jewish organizations purchased land from the Bedouin of the Negev, transactions that the British authorities recognized. This proves that the British acknowledged Bedouin customary land rights and allowed purchasers to register land as Jewish.
In chapter 4, the authors transition to the State of Israel formulating the DND in order to dispossess the Bedouin of their land and present the major elements of the Bedouin land issue in Israel. In 1974, the Albek Committee defined Bedouin land as mawat (state) land, and later the Supreme Court adopted the Committee’s findings, which became the law for all Bedouin land disputes. The authors contend that the Committee and the Court manipulated the Ottoman and British land laws in order to classify Bedouin land as mawat.
In the book’s third part, which includes two chapters, the authors examine the legal geography of the Negev. Chapter 5 describes the historical geography of the Negev and Bedouin territory and settlement. Relying on numerous historical sources, this chapter challenges the Israeli narrative that portrays the Bedouin land in the Negev as uncultivated and unsettled desert used solely by nomads. It provides historical proof regarding the existence of Bedouin societies occupying and utilizing the land for centuries prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. The chapter shows organized local habitation and economic activities, which followed a well-developed customary land system. It also confirms that there existed widespread agriculture, parallel to traditional pastoralism.
In chapter 6, the book continues to challenge the state’s claims that the Bedouin were simply a nomadic society that never settled permanently and thus never acquired land rights. It proves that many Bedouin had been settled in their villages for a long time prior to the end of the Ottoman era and at the beginning of the British Mandate period.
In part 4, the book portrays Bedouin humiliation and suffering from international and comparative perspectives, showing that they clearly fit the accepted international definition of an indigenous community. Chapter 7 refutes the views of the Israeli state and of some Israeli scholars who have tried to prove that the Bedouin are not an indigenous people.
In chapter 8 the book examines international law pertaining to the rights of the Bedouin as indigenous peoples, comparing their situation to cases elsewhere in the world. Asserting that some components of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, have gained the status of international customary law, the authors contend that this places an obligation on the Israeli state to act to protect and recognize Bedouin rights in general, and especially their land rights under their customary law.
In the book’s last part on contested futures, chapter 9 analyzes the state’s policies and plans toward the Bedouin of the Negev. It shows how the state has continually been using the planning process as a weapon against the Bedouin to dispossess them of their land rights. The denial of state recognition of Bedouin villages, aggressive house demolition, and the deprivation of basic civil rights have all been persistent aspects of Bedouinl and dispossession.
This book is particularly valuable on a subject that is as complex as it is almost unresearched—namely, how the state formulates different elements that amalgamate politics with history and law in order to legitimize Bedouin land dispossession. Kedar, Amara, and Yiftachel—based on their rich collective experience and extensive involvement in property law, legal history, and the relevant geography and ethnic policies, along with their long-time involvement in the Bedouin land issue itself—are able to identify and explain in their historical and legal context the key elements of the state’s policy and the court decisions with regard to the Bedouin land issue.
This book fills an important lacuna in the literature regarding Bedouin land rights in the Negev. I am confident it will lead to further research in this field from a variety of perspectives.
California Western Law School
In a post on his Facebook page on 24 April 2018 about the book launch at Tel Aviv University, Alexandre Kedar stated that from the beginning the authors decided to play an active role in the issue of Bedouin land rights.
Michal Kravel-tovi, When the State Winks: The Performance of Conversionin Israel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 315 pp. Hardback, $61.97.
In her stimulating and engrossing book, Michal Kravel-Tovi deploys the classic anthropological concept of ‘winking’, that is, signaling to others a request to be complicit in a performance that, while not sincere or real, is ‘sincere’ or ‘real’ enough to be treated as if it is. The study is an ethnography of the encounter between two deeply conflicted types of actors: (1) agents of the State of Israel, torn between a desire to increase the proportion of citizens who can be counted as Jewish and a commitment to maintain the halakhically based integrity of a ‘united’ Jewish people; and (2) recruits for conversion to the status of countable Jews, torn between their desire to integrate more successfully into Israeli society and their resistance to following a strictly Orthodox lifestyle to which they must commit, despite their unwillingness to do so and the knowledge that they will not follow through on the commitment.
The state agents are mainly rabbis who serve as teachers and judges in the conversion administration process, along with mikveh (ritual bath) attendants and ‘host’ or sponsoring families (who themselves must be observant). Most of the candidates for conversion currently are female immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU), along with their significant others. Kravel-Tovi describes the overall process of lessons, interrogations, tests, and ritual performances that mark the stages of a successful conversion. She provides as well a concise account of the larger political struggles in Israel and Zionism regarding the ‘demographic problem’ (i.e., the fear that Arabs will become too large a proportion of the population to manage within the framework of a Jewish-Zionist political regime) and the moral panic associated with the realization that more than 300,000 immigrants from the FSU are not halakhically Jewish. She also highlights the passionate fights between Haredi and National Religious rabbis over whether to prioritize the ‘national’ imperatives to maximize the number of conversions performed or the religious obligation to reduce ‘contamination’ of the Jewish people with insincere or halakhically unqualified converts.
Kravel-Tovi is well aware, and makes her readers aware, of how threatening her research could be to the operators and defenders of the state conversion process. Under attack from politically and morally powerful ultra-Orthodox rabbis for turning a blind eye to the insincerity of their recruits/applicants, the author’s interlocutors on the state side had to be convinced that her work would not be used as evidence for these attacks. Denying that she would report the proceedings as fake and the conversions as phony, the argument she made to them—and the argument she offers her readers—is complex and subtle. It proved adequate to defend her research from interference, but is perhaps a bit too precious to be fully convincing to her readers.
The author does not claim that those subjected to this conversion process are sincere in the commitments required of them to become observant Jews. Nor does she contend that the rabbis and judges involved accept the truthfulness of candidates’ statements. Rather, she argues that the entire process must be understood in dramaturgical terms as an evolving performance, the success of which depends on the ability of state agents to teach candidates what scripts to use without acknowledging their purpose in doing so, and the ability of candidates to follow the scripts they are encouraged to perform without indicating that their solemn recitations and calculated self-presentations are performances. Thus, according to Kravel-Tovi, both the agents of the state and those who aspire to an official classification as Jewish find ways to rationalize their performances as, one might say, ‘truish’ or ‘sincereish’ enough. Since this is what humans regularly do to negotiate the complex demands of social life, it is inaccurate, or at least inadequate, to understand or dismiss conversion in Israel as a fraudulent exercise based on ulterior motives.
Yet, as Kravel-Tovi shows, the motives for almost all concerned are indeed ulterior. For the candidates she studies, the justification for compromising or stretching self-presentations well beyond private understandings of themselves is pure self-interest—the desire to marry, to pass more effectively in Israeli society, and to avoid the bureaucratic discomforts associated with the fact that on their identity cards the Jewish calendar date of their birth does not appear (indicating their ‘nationality’ as non-Arab/non-Jew). For state agents, the justification for certifying conversions based on false presentations of self and insincere promises is the national imperative to increase the number of ‘Jews’ in the country. These rabbis take comfort as well, Kravel-Tovi argues, from the common Halakhic practice of using extreme literalism to fulfill religious precepts whose substantive requirements are considered too onerous (e.g., pretending to transfer ownership of chametz to a non-Jew during Passover with a pro forma contract of sale).
Whether the fine line she seeks to draw between genuine performance and calculated misrepresentation is always visible, Kravel-Tovi is nevertheless to be congratulated for a political ethnography that achieves a satisfying balance among macro-contextual analysis, mobilization of social science, vivid and detailed vignettes of the objects of her study, and authorial self-reflection.
Ian S. Lustick
University of Pennsylvania
Maoz Rosenthal, Israel’s Governability Crisis: Quandaries, Unstructured Institutions, and Adaptation (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017), 162 pp.Hardback, $68.
The central question raised in this book is not only important but also intriguing. Given the general state of chaotic Israeli politics and governance (which is not very different from how things work in its society as well), how is it that Israel has succeeded so well economically and has not collapsed under the weight of political turmoil?
This has little to do with the existential issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (settlements, territories, etc.), and more to do with the general instability of Israel’s electoral and political system. Over the years there have been many changes to the electoral system, such as raising the vote threshold several times and changing to direct election of the prime minister (which was canceled a decade later). With regard to the political system, there have been 33 different government coalitions in the country’s first 67 years (until the present government entered office in 2015). As Israelis are wont to say, what a balagan (mess)!
And yet, things get done. Why and how? Rosenthal’s basic thesis is that “Israel’s governments have chosen a variety of mechanisms that allow them to ‘muddle through’ … and provide ‘satisfycing’ [sic] policy outputs” (xiii). He does quite a good job of detailing just how that is carried out in practice within three main political spheres of influence: the government (cabinet), Knesset committees, and the executive bureaucracy.
Although the book is relatively short (126 pages of text), it is very heavy on detail—precisely because there is no real systematic way for those involved to accomplish what they wish in any straightforward fashion. Israelis have a code word for how to get things done: combinah, which roughly translates as “a little bit of this, a little bit of that, some lick here and spit there.” To put it in the author’s more scholarly verbiage: “The general idea is to use any tool an agenda setter can change in order to make sure that those sitting at the table in any phase of the policy process would support the policy the setter desires. These moves are manifested by constantly changing the policy space by adding and removing policy players and temporarily redefining policy functions and jurisdictions to get the desired policy approved and implemented” (10). Confusing? That’s precisely the idea of such a strategy—to disable those who wish to undercut or prevent a policy from being passed and/or implemented by switching committees, or replacing recalcitrant committee members, or even dropping a governing coalition partner in favor of one more ‘amenable’ to the specific policy at hand, and so on.
Why would anyone choose such a convoluted strategy of shifting tactics? The answer, according to Rosenthal, is because reforming the system in any deep and significant fashion is simply too difficult, given all the entrenched interests in the government, the Knesset, and especially the executive bureaucracy, whose members have the distinct advantage of being intimately knowledgeable about the entire system because of their secure lifetime tenure.
It is all the more surprising, then, that despite his acute analysis, Rosenthal never mentions the one ‘revolutionary’ exception to this rule. The New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1985 enabled Israel to miraculously emerge strengthened from its greatest economic crisis—hyperinflation (a disastrous 400 percent annually) and the stock exchange collapse of the early 1980s. The NEP removed macro-economic policymaking from the politicians and transferred it to the ‘Young Turk’ technocrats in the Finance Ministry. The result? From 1985 until the present, Israel’s economy has gone from strength to strength (with only a burp or two along the way), basically because the Finance Ministry bureaucrats continue to control and decide major economic policy issues, especially the debt ceiling and deficit spending (compare that to the latest massive US tax cuts and trillion-dollar deficits that lie in store for the future). Indeed, after Prime Minister Rabin won the 1992 election campaign, promising to change Israel’s socio-economic priorities, he soon after exploded in anger in a Knesset speech, demanding to know how and why the ‘Fogel Boys’ (Fogel was the Finance Ministry’s director-general) were hindering him from carrying out his policy.
None of this is to say that Rosenthal’s analysis is wrong; indeed, in the main it is decidedly correct. However, it does suggest that Israel’s system is capable of major reform when faced with a real crisis. Thus, the phrase ‘governability crisis’ in the book’s title is misleading. It is not a crisis at all, not some cancer eating away at the body politic, but rather a chronic headache. No state could exist in dysfunctional ‘crisis’ for 70 years. Israel is merely not performing (governmentally) in optimal fashion.
There is one other lacuna in this book. ‘Governance’ is but one of two central axes in any democratic political system; the other axis is ‘representativeness’, that is, how well the system enables different sectors of society to find succor within the political realm. These two cardinal elements tend to function as a zero-sum game: the more parties there are in Parliament and the government (representativeness), the harder it is to govern (governance)—and vice versa. Four parties in the governing coalition is akin to a carriage being drawn by four horses moving in somewhat different directions. It is a wonder that they get anywhere at all.
Why is this important for a book on Israeli (mal)governance? Because Israel’s high level of representativeness provides an important clue as to why, despite the palpable problems of governance, the Israeli public continues to support the overall system. Few are happy with the political regime’s outcomes, but at least everyone feels that they have a voice within the parliamentary system.
Who is the audience for this book? Definitely not your average lay reader, sadly, nor even the educated reader conversant with Israeli politics. The language tends to professional jargon, several pages are taken up with advanced (and occasionally abstruse) statistical analysis, and in general the sentences tend toward complex density (albeit grammatically correct). On the other hand, Israel’s Governability Crisis is recommended for advanced political science and/or Israel Studies courses, not just for its close analysis of the Israeli political scene but also for its generalizability to other parliamentary regimes around the world. The author explicitly argues that Israel’s general approach to governance can serve as a foundation for analyzing other nations with similar systemic challenges, and I tend to agree with him. At the least, there is some small comfort in knowing that Israel is not alone in ‘muddling through’ a political miasma.
Brent E. Sasley and Harold M. Waller, Politics in Israel: Governing a Complex Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 368 pp. Paperback, $49.95.
Writing a textbook is a challenging task. First, it requires knowledge on a variety of topics. We cannot realistically expect that one or two people, or even more, would have the expertise to cover the broad spectrum of topics that are essential for a textbook. And in the case of Israeli politics in particular, it is very hard to draw a balanced picture of the Israeli polity and its development. This is because there are different approaches to Israeli politics that implicitly or even explicitly imply a specific ideological framing.
Having said that, this book has a clear and logical structure. It starts with a general chapter that spells out its main arguments and then supplies the historical background. This, appropriately, includes a brief review of Jewish history, Zionism, the Yishuv period, and state-building. Next, it looks at Israeli society, dedicating a chapter each to the two main social rifts: that between Jews and Arab Palestinians and that between secular and Orthodox Jews. The following parts deal with political institutions, dominant behavioral patterns, and policymaking.
The book ends with a discussion of changes in the Israeli polity and the challenge of being a Jewish and democratic state. The chronology of key events (9–10), the appendices that appear at the end of the book, and the glossary are also very helpful for the purpose of a beginner’s textbook. In sum, the book addresses almost all of the topics that need to be covered in a basic beginner’s course. However, what is missing—and is crucial to a basic textbook of this kind—is a discussion of gender politics in Israel. The issue is raised here and there, but it deserves at least a few pages of its own.
Certain other problems arise when one looks at the details. There are too many factual errors, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations. These do not represent any specific bias; instead, they indicate a problem that might have been avoided had the manuscript or its specialized parts been carefully read by several experts before publication.
As examples of factual errors, it is not the case that “Yisrael Beitenu was established as a replacement for Yisrael B’aliyah in 1999” (134). The two parties actually competed against each other in the 1999 elections. And neither the National Religious Party nor its successor, the Jewish Home, had had their candidates selected by rabbis (145): that is true only for the ultra-Orthodox parties. Examples of inaccuracies include the claim that the Hardal (nationalist ultra-Orthodox) “are not yet organized politically” (77). In fact, they are organized within the Jewish Home alliance (formally on the basis of the Tkuma party). The claim that there were “almost” no ethnic parties in the Yishuv (144) is also inaccurate; such parties were represented in the elected assembly of the Yishuv.
An example of misrepresentation is the claim that “a proportional representation system operates only in some [Western democracies]” (116). In fact, most Western democracies use proportional representation electoral systems. Or the statement that “left-wing parties in Israel are defined by their socialist character” (127). As the authors themselves clarify, left and right in Israel were defined this way only until 1967; since then, the main issues that define left and right are foreign affairs and security. The assertion that “at the outset the courts were mainly concerned with deciding conventional cases” (219) is similarly misleading. In fact, principles of freedom of the press, occupation, and movement were adopted and consolidated following court decisions at the outset of the state, yet only in 1992 were basic human rights added to Israeli law. And it may be correct to claim that “most of the population is not Orthodox” (222), but this does not encapsulate the main issue here, which concerns levels of religiosity rather than belonging (or not) to a specific Jewish stream. After all, most Jews in Israel do not view the Conservative or Reform options as viable for them, as the authors themselves clarify two paragraphs later.
The book does attempt to present a range of perspectives, and when it does not, it adopts a rather balanced mainstream approach. This, though, could be enhanced by fulfilling the pronouncement made in chapter 1: “In this book we take the position that Israel is certainly different from other countries—as each country is different from every other—but is not so unique as to preclude comparison with other countries, to draw on general theories and models to understand its politics, or to use it as a case study in general theory development” (4). Of the dozen figures that are presented, none compares Israel to other countries, and of the 25 tables, just three compare Israel to others. Such comparisons would be illuminating and could also alleviate the potential problem of bias to one side or the other by letting the reader make decisions on the basis of comparison.
Furthermore, it is a pity that the book does not utilize concepts and frameworks that are readily found in political science. These could include Lijphart’s consensus-majoritarian framework, which has been applied by many political scientists to explain and study the Israeli regime and polity; the term ‘dominant party system’, which captures well the dynamics of Israeli politics up to 1977; and an index for the relative level of proportionality of electoral systems, which would explain what proportionality is and how its level in Israel is relatively high.
In some chapters, the book emphasizes recent (i.e., over the last two decades) developments in Israeli politics. This is noteworthy because analysis on current developments is not always easily found. Yet the authors did not adequately utilize what we do have these days more than in the past—that is, a lot of data, comparative and otherwise, that are readily available online. Indeed, they sometimes seem to prefer anecdotes and speculations over solid data.
The solution to these faults is a second edition. First, the authors should utilize the knowledge of experts in the various sub-fields of Israeli politics in order to correct errors and rewrite some of the weaker sections. Second, the book should incorporate more of a comparative politics perspective, putting Israel into context. The authors could tap research from non-governmental organizations such as Freedom House and the World Values Survey project, among many other available resources. Third, even while striving to be up to date, an academic book should not focus too much on the present. It is only over time that we political scientists can produce a better analysis than those whose job it is to cover and explain everyday politics.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ran Abramitzky, The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 360 pages. Hardback, $29.95.
This book about the Israeli kibbutz has been written by a professor of economics who specializes in economic history and applied micro-economics. An Israeli American, he spent many years of his life in Israel and comes from a family whose members include some old-time kibbutzniks. Hence, he has inside knowledge of this form of life, the challenges it has confronted, and the transformations it has experienced. As a professional economist, Abramitzky is also able to look at kibbutz development from a scholarly angle and demonstrate the paradoxes that this form of social endeavor represents for economics. Thus, we have here an outstanding work about the socio-economic path of the kibbutz experiment, through its ups and downs, its periods of success and of anxiety—up to these very days. It is a thorough statement, well written and convincing.
The work starts with a discussion of the original idealistic motivation that animated the founders and the importance of the role played by ideology, which set egalitarian sharing as the primary value of the whole enterprise and disregarded a priori the cynical view of those economists who could not imagine that egalitarian sharing arrangements could last for long. The author himself shares the consensus reigning among his colleagues, although he is ready to accept that under the right circumstances it may be possible to create a viable egalitarian society. Abramitzky does endorse the view that equality worked in the kibbutzim for many decades and still does in a few dozen.
The author points out that income equality provided insurance to kibbutzniks in the early days when idealism, team spirit, and cultural values shared by the membership helped to sustain the kibbutz’s efforts to keep alive their model of community. However, government support was unquestionably instrumental in the kibbutzim’s struggle to retain their original aspirations. What was to be decisive for kibbutzim in this respect was the eventual turnover of generations and the decline in commitment to kibbutz values among the younger members. It is at this phase that maintaining egalitarian sharing became an increasingly difficult challenge.
More generally, the author shows, kibbutzim offered various exceptional environmental circumstances that were, in a number of ways, ideal for examining the potential trade-off between equality and incentives. Abramitzky emphasizes the fact that, for several decades, egalitarian sharing was appealing not only for ideological reasons but also for purely economic reasons. It provided members with a safety net that served as an insurance cover against the risks of life in periods when opportunities were not numerous in the country at large. Both kinds of reasons—ideological and instrumental—account, in his mind, for the endurance of egalitarian sharing among members, notwithstanding differences in talent and contribution.
However, Abramitzky also points out deficiencies in the workings of the kibbutz model from the viewpoint of economics. One of these problems is free riding. In the absence of differential remunerations, members could lack an incentive to work hard and might be willing to exert less of their capabilities. Free riding by the lazy or unfit means that he or she profits from the productivity of the other members. In this sense, the kibbutz is a good environment for incompetent individuals, while the talented might be tempted to leave, knowing that they could find alternative life pathways and get higher returns for their work. The latter point expresses the fact that kibbutzim are threatened by ‘brain drain’ vis-à-vis the outside world—an unavowed but real mechanism of adverse selection.
Another difficulty for kibbutzniks resides in the community’s weak perspectives on the future. As a rule, in the sort of direct democracy system illustrated by the kibbutz, here-and-now circumstances prevail, especially in matters of manpower and investments. There is a continuous misestimation of the importance of investment in human capital and of horizons of development beyond the current situation.
All of this being said, the kibbutz model worked quite satisfactorily until the unexpected shock of the mid-1980s financial crisis. This event, brought on by galloping inflation and then drastic counter-inflation measures, hit the country as a whole, but kibbutzim more than other organizations. Seven years earlier, in 1977, the rise to power of the right had taken away the protection kibbutzim had previously enjoyed under the rule of coalitions invariably led by iterations of the Labor Party. The crisis led to a thorough internal delegitimization of the kibbutz model, but above all, it resulted in a shift away from radical egalitarianism, that is, the original kibbutz credo. In many a kibbutz, the membership was literately decimated by the exit of many young people, and the standard of living declined drastically. As the most highly educated and those with the highest skills were leaving, many kibbutzim decided to shift away from egalitarian sharing and toward strengthening the economic incentives for talented individuals to remain. Only rich kibbutzim could retain egalitarian sharing without losing their most skilled members, thanks to high levels of redistribution.
The wave of structural reforms that followed the 1985 crisis in most kibbutzim is well documented. It included, among other changes, the privatization of homes, differential salaries, aggrandizement of the population by building new neighborhoods for residents or partial members, restructuring the work culture according to rules prevailing in the outside world, and freedom for members to look for employment outside the kibbutz.
Discussing these changes, the author tests specific economic hypotheses regarding the impacts of given variables and presents statistical analyses of the effects of different financial standings of various kibbutzim on trends like brain drain or moves such as shifting away from egalitarian sharing. In a similar manner, he looks at the possible effects of the size of the kibbutz, the age distribution of the population, ideological commitment, and other consequences of the abandonment of strict egalitarianism. He also evaluates the impact on kibbutz life of the move away from egalitarian sharing, especially in terms of attitudes toward education and its returns and the increasing costs of raising children in the kibbutz.
The book also sketches out some general comparisons with other community experiments elsewhere in the world, eventually offering several general statements about the lessons of the kibbutz endeavor and providing economic interpretations of the rise, survival, and decline of kibbutzim. It sustains the general assertion that income equality does not come for free. What is gained in the safety net is lost due to the lack of individual incentives, and if the role of incentives is increased, inequality follows. However, Abramitzky is also aware of the fact that even under the strictest egalitarian sharing, incentive problems are not as severe as would be suggested by a naive economic logic. In other words, even in the absence of monetary returns, kibbutzniks often worked long hours and acquired education and skills, while talented members who could earn more on the outside often stayed in their kibbutz, thus allowing them to thrive. Moreover, and of no less significance, even kibbutzim that moved away from equal sharing continue to provide a safety net to each member and maintain mutual assistance as an essential element of kibbutz life. Hence, says Abramitzky, the kibbutz does indeed teach lessons to organizations and societies that wish be more supportive and egalitarian.
This book is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the kibbutz phenomenon. It is written in a language that is accessible to the wider public and explains important central aspects of the evolution and transformation of kibbutzim. It would have been improved, however, were it less redundant regarding some elements central to the economics literature—free riding, adverse selection, and the like—and made more reference to factors that have marked the development of kibbutzim to a major extent. An example of this was the 2003 Ben-Rafael Public Committee for Kibbutz Classification, appointed by the government. It redefined what the notion of kibbutz had come to mean and forged the notions of the ‘renewed kibbutz’ (kibbutz mitkhadesh) and ‘collective kibbutz’ (kibbutz shitufi). This work to legitimize what the notion of kibbutz stands for, and what it does not, had an impact on the transformation of kibbutzim by tracing new lines of departure toward further evolution.
In any case, this work by Ran Abramitzky is an excellent book that illuminates what its title proclaims, that is, the ‘mystery of the kibbutz’.
Edna Lomsky-Feder and Orna Sasson-Levy, Women Soldiers and Citizenship in Israel: Gendered Encounters with the State (London: Routledge, 2018), 186 pp. Hardback, $98.
Since 1948, when the Israeli military—the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—was established, women have been conscripted into the IDF and have served in various positions within its ranks. However, two prominent Israeli sociologists, Edna Lomsky-Feder and Orna Sasson-Levy, argue in their most recent book that the inclusion of women in the Israeli military should be further explored through these women’s “gendered, embodied and emotional military experience” (3), shifting the focus to the ways in which women soldiers have been and remain “outsiders within” (9) the Israeli military. Additionally, the authors ask how these soldiers’ formative experiences in various positions within this gendered institution ultimately shape not only their perspectives regarding their role within the military but also their relationship with the Israeli state more generally.
In accordance with these goals, Lomsky-Feder and Sasson-Levy, who seek “to understand the meaning of the gendered encounter with the state as it is realized through military service” (25), provide evidence from 109 interviews that they conducted with Israeli women, aged 30–40, from diverse social backgrounds who served in various positions in the Israeli military between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. The authors quote extensively from these interviews, thus not only substantiating their arguments but also providing important micro-perspectives on these women’s experience of military service. The authors also add an important personal-reflexive dimension to their analysis by locating themselves within the discussion as Israeli scholars, ex-soldiers, and mothers of soldiers.
The book starts off with an attempt to situate the topic of women soldiers in the Israeli military in a broader context by surveying general theoretical works on women and military service in Western states. A major theoretical contribution that the authors offer to this expanding literature is their adoption of an intersectionality approach that views women soldiers as a heterogeneous group whose encounters with the state are shaped by their gender, class, ethnicity, and assigned roles within the military. This particular approach acknowledges the manifold experiences and understandings attributed to military service by women soldiers and also contributes to feminist debates on the nature and meanings of the military as a gendered state institution. Indeed, while most feminist scholarship adheres to a binary perspective of military service—stressing either the positive aspects of social mobility or the negative effects of the patriarchal and violent institution on women soldiers and the militarization of society—Lomsky-Feder and Sasson-Levy adopt a nuanced understanding of the military system’s “inequality regimes [that] both create varied opportunities and set obstacles for different intersectional groups of women, thereby generating diverse encounters with the state” (8).
Fittingly, the topics dealt with in the book’s empirical sections revolve around an intersectional analysis of women’s experiences in the military that had previously received little, if any, scholarly attention. Among the key concepts that the authors introduce in this part of the book are gendered multi-level contracts that differ for divergent intersectional groups, and how these affect the ways that women negotiate their place within the military and the state. A second contribution offered by the authors is their discussion of contrasting gendered experiences of women serving in a variety of positions within the military—secretaries, trainers, intelligence specialists, and junior officers, who, according to the book, amounted to 44 percent of the IDF’s junior officers in 2015 (46)—and their varying impacts on these individuals.
A third contribution is the discussion of the myriad ways of ‘dis/acknowledging’ violence in the military—both by and against its women soldiers. This discussion is developed in two thought-provoking chapters that deal with violence within the Israeli military—especially in the form of sexual harassment, which, the authors argue, is the norm in the IDF—and by the same military toward the Palestinians in the ‘territories’ as part of Israel’s lingering occupation. Indeed, as the authors compellingly argue, both types of violence are not only closely connected but also mutually reinforcing: “The military violence is intentionally directed at an external enemy, yet it unavoidably penetrates into the organization itself and is often directed toward the women soldiers (and men soldiers) themselves. The external violence and internal violence feed off each other and are always gendered” (87).
In the book’s concluding chapter, the authors attempt to situate the Israeli case in a broad perspective by drawing comparisons between Israel and other states where women also serve in the military, especially in the West. Although this part of the book is also insightful, the authors’ near-exclusive focus on Western cases as the basis for comparison with Israel is debatable. After all, in Western states all militaries are professional institutions that rely on volunteers and are not based on conscription as in the IDF (although, to be fair, these differences are noted and briefly discussed by the authors).
However, this criticism, which, parenthetically, applies to much of the literature on Israel, including works on its pattern of civil-military relations, should not detract from the significance of the book. Edna Lomsky-Feder and Orna Sasson-Levy have provided us with an original, intersectional feminist perspective on citizenship and soldierhood in Israel, which is a unique and underrepresented voice in the existing scholarship regarding military service in the IDF. As such, their book will no doubt inform scholars interested in Israel, but also others who engage in issues extending well beyond the Israeli case, especially concerning the intersection of gender, military service, and citizenship.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem