Post-colonial models of Zionism and Israel are as unlikely as mainstream Zionist models to identify this point about contemporary Israel. Not a foreign entity or implant, Israel is by now part and parcel of the Middle East. That’s the argument made by Assaf David in this piece that appeared in translation at +972. You can read it here. Academics participate in the false notion that Israel is somehow different and set apart from the larger region. Israel is in more ways than not, particularly in relation to religion and social identity, including super- and sub-identities, a Middle Eastern country. Here’s my takeaway from the article:
“Let us start at the beginning: the claim that Israel is a foreign entity in the Middle East fails the test of reality. Israel, in fact, is closely tied — for better or worse — to the region in which it exists, much more so than to the liberal-democratic West, and much more so than some Jews or Arabs are willing to admit. Israel and its neighbors are new nation-states, products of the withdrawal of colonial powers from the region in the middle of the last century. All countries of the Middle East face processes that are characteristic of post-colonial states, the foremost being the threat toward their national identity from super-identities (such as religion and pan-nationalism) or sub-identities (community, origin, or ethnicity), and the prioritization of military-security considerations over civilian ones in decision-making.Second, Israel is a state in which a certain nationality and religion control the government and the resources, similar to other countries in the region (with the exception of Lebanon). Third, in all countries of the region, including Israel, religion and the state compete for primacy as well as for shaping the public sphere. Fourth, with its many communities, Israeli society is a collectivist society, resembling the surrounding societies more than it resembles those of the liberal-democratic West. And finally, the Mizrahi background, with its many aspects, is a central component in the Israeli identity, including Israeli Jewish identity.
I could go on and on, but I think that the principle is clear. Israel, as a state, community, and population, fits well into the Arab Middle Eastern world. How prominent is this fact among the Israeli purveyors of knowledge and discourse regarding the Middle East? Not so much. They find it convenient to think of Israel as a Western, liberal state, different from the regional landscape. But this is only partially true and only in certain aspects. If we take into account long-term trends, Israel is — in significant aspects — a proud Middle Eastern state.”
Uri Avnery, [www.lrb.co.uk] would differ. David sees the Oriental strand of Israeli society as dominant (which fits his thesis that Israel is middle-eastern. Avenry sees the Orientals competing with the Ashkenazim, as if the question whether Israel is a European social democratic polity or a Middle-eastern one is yet to be decided. He sees “An Impending Civil War” between these factions.
“. . . the rift [is] between Ashkenazim (‘European’) and Mizrahim (‘Oriental’ or ‘Arab’) Jews. The Sephardic (‘Spanish’) community is seen as part of the Orientals. The overwhelming majority of the Orientals are rightist, nationalist and at least mildly religious, while the majority of the Ashkenazim are leftist, more peace-oriented and secular. Since the Ashkenazim also tend to be socially and economically better off than the Orientals, the rift is profound.
The right, which has been in power (with brief interruptions) since 1977, is still behaving like an oppressed minority, blaming the ‘old elites’ for all their ills. This is not entirely ridiculous because the ‘old elites’ still dominate the economy, the media, the courts and the arts.”
So is Israel one polity or society or two?
Torah and Tech in Israel
Can you learn to code if you’ve spent your life studying religious texts? Can you be part of the fast-paced, secular world of technology and startups if you’re from a conservative religious community? Israel has been called the “Startup Nation”, with a flourishing technology sector playing a big role in the country’s economy. But one group who haven’t traditionally been involved are ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as Haredim. They often live apart from mainstream Israeli society and adhere to strict religious laws covering everything from diet to dress and technology. Many men don’t work or serve in the army, spending their lives studying the Torah, subsidised by the government. It’s a way of life that leaves many Haredim in poverty, and other Israelis resenting picking up the tab. But in recent years, the ultra-orthodox have been increasingly joining the high-tech world, working in big international tech companies and founding their own startups. David Baker travels to Israel to meet the new breed of high tech Haredim, and find out how they reconcile taking part in the “Startup Nation” with traditional Torah life.