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The Rise of the Individual in 1950s Israel

A Challenge to Collectivism

Orit Rozin

Publication Year: 2011

A provocative history of Israeli society in the 1950s that demonstrates how a voluntarist collectivism gave way to an individualist ethos In this sharply argued volume, Orit Rozin reveals the flaws in the conventional account of Israeli society in the 1950s, which portrayed the Israeli public as committed to a collectivist ideology. In fact, major sectors of Israeli society espoused individualism and rejected the state-imposed collectivist ideology. Rozin draws on archival, legal, and media sources to analyze the attitudes of black-market profiteers, politicians and judges, middle-class homemakers, and immigrants living in transit camps and rural settlements. Part of a refreshing trend in recent Israeli historiography to study the voices, emotions, and ideas of ordinary people, Rozin’s book provides an important corrective to much extant scholarly literature on Israel’s early years.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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pp. c-ii

Series Page, Title Page, Copyright, Frontispiece

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book tells the story of the old-time Israelis in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At that time my parents lived in a wooden shack with an outhouse, in a neighborhood at the center of Tel Aviv that no longer exists, named “Nordiya.” Today, where that wooden shack once stood, the Dizengoff Center Mall is located. I would like to thank my mother Leah for sharing the stories of her austerity hardships with me....

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pp. xiii-xxii

In the autumn of 1950, a writer for Israel’s popular daily newspaper Ma’ariv vented the frustrations of Israel’s average, honest, conscientious, yet exasperated and angry citizens:

Ben-Gurion . . . has not even for a single day found it within him to put himself in the place of a simple Jew of Israel, a simple citizen who goes to his government . . . and goes through all the nerve-wracking, humiliating furies and agonies of hell that each of us has experienced. He has not spent a single day in...

Part I | At Home and On the Street

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1 Austerity

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pp. 3-38

In April 1949, when the young state of Israel was in the final stages of its War of Independence, its government imposed an austerity regime. The country’s exhausted, battered population, consisting both of those who had arrived in earlier years and the new immigrants who began pouring into the country after the end of British rule, wanted to recover from their wounds. Now they faced rationing and price controls on food and other commodities. Rationing...

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2 Austerity and the Rule of Law

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pp. 39-51

The rule of law does not just mean compliance with the law. It also connotes the desire to uphold, in both practice and theory, the fundamental values of an enlightened society: justice, individual rights, and democracy.1 The rule of law has two aspects—the formal and the substantive. The formal rule of law means that the law of the land prescribes binding prohibitions and sanctions.2 In this sense, the concept refers both to the legality of the regime and to the imposition...

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3 The Law Enforcement System

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pp. 52-62

The courts were not inclined to hand down the range of convictions and punishments that the government thought it needed to enforce rationing and price controls.1 Neither were the police and inspectors able to apprehend the major players in the black market, who were thus not brought to justice.2 The special tribunals that heard the cases of price gougers and speculators worked energetically and were enlarged from time to time in an effort to respond...

Part II | In the City Square

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4 Austerity Tested

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pp. 65-78

In mid-October 1950, a short time before local elections were scheduled, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion faced a crisis within the ruling coalition. It was not his first, but its timing, against the background of the old-timers’ loss of trust in his government and the impending elections, clearly made him uneasy.1 The crisis was prompted by the failure of rationing and price controls in the face of public opposition to the program, and by the deliberations of the task...

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5 The Municipal Election Results and Their Significance

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pp. 79-92

The municipal elections were held on November 14, 1950. Support for Mapai declined precipitously, compared to what it had been in the elections for the first Knesset. The General Zionists made large gains. Mapai’s slates of candidates received 27.3 percent of the votes; the General Zionists 24.5 percent. In comparison, Mapai had garnered 35.7 percent in the national elections of 1949, when only 5.2 percent of voters had supported the General...

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6 From Poll to Poll

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pp. 93-116

The results of the local elections demonstrated the public’s lack of confidence and were a central factor in the decision to call early elections to the Knesset, as both Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett acknowledged.1 The immediate cause of the government’s downfall was a dispute between Mapai and the United Religious Front over the education that immigrant children in the transit camps should receive.2 At the...

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7 The Outcome of the Elections to the Second Knesset

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pp. 117-136

Whatever fears its leaders might have had, and whatever the opposition’s hopes, Mapai won the election handily. It received 45 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, only one fewer than it had held before; nearly 37 percent of the 695,007 citizens who cast votes chose Ben-Gurion and his party.1 Another fourteen slates of candidates won seats, and three of these were Arab lists set up by Mapai and loyal to it. Together, those three won five seats, three more...

Part II | Somewhere in the Transit Camp

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8 Terms of Abhorrence

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pp. 139-161

The mutual repugnance or disgust that may arise when the members of two cultures encounter each other is apparently a very common phenomenon. Charles Darwin documented one example of such a response. Sitting with a naked aborigine in Tierra del Fuego at one point in his travels, he opened a can of meat. The native stretched out his hand, touched the meat, and recoiled. His revulsion was matched by Darwin’s sense of disgust at having this naked savage’s...

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9 Parents, Parenting, and Children

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pp. 162-179

For the press, mass immigration was a hot story. Reporters wrote frequently about immigration, the immigrants (both those on their way and those who had already arrived), and their customs. Of particular interest were the education, clothing, and nutrition of immigrant children.1 Journalists were also fascinated by the actions and behavior of immigrant women, and in particular how they performed as mothers. This interest crossed party and ethnic lines. The veteran...

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10 The Construction of a Collective

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pp. 180-190

Veteran Israelis told pollsters that they supported immigration, but in private conversations they worried about the quality of the newcomers. Some observers said that the old-timers’ attitude toward the immigrants was one of duty, not love.1 A doctor who worked for a time in a transit camp wrote to the prime minister when he completed his tour of duty: “I received the impression . . . that the transit camp’s children are treated with contempt. The attitude [is like...

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pp. 191-200

History, like the world we live in, is constructed from just a few foundation stones. It is composed of matter and spirit, of causes and coincidences. Finally, it is built of events and processes. History consists, of course, of great, decisive, and dramatic events—wars, elections, changes of government, and legislative acts. But historical study ought to address not just great, dramatic events that shape entire eras, but also the life experiences of people coping...


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pp. 201-232


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pp. 233-244


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pp. 245-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781611680829
E-ISBN-10: 1611680824
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584658924
Print-ISBN-10: 1584658924

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011