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Reviewed by:
  • Critical Issues in Israeli Society
  • Renée Marlin-Bennett
Critical Issues in Israeli Society, edited by Alan Dowty. Westport: Praeger, 2004. 261 pp. $79.95.

The politics and sociology of Israeli society cannot be understood without considering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but often that particular conflict [End Page 199] becomes the primary focus of analysis. Alan Dowty's edited volume, Critical Issues in Israeli Society, is a welcome addition to the literature because it goes beyond this limited view. There are, indeed, many other critical issues in Israeli society, and this book is a useful compendium of essays that address them. Overall, the book examines various points of confrontation within Israeli society. Though no single theoretical or methodological framework unites the volume, the individual chapters, sometimes in combination with each other, are quite valuable.

After an introduction by Dowty, the book is organized into "trends in the public sphere," "social cleavages," "social and economic trends," "security issues," and "Zionism and history." "Trends in the public sphere" includes discussions of the consequences of tweaking the institutions of governance for what is still an evolving democracy (Gideon Doron and Rebecca Kook), of the consequences of this tweaking on corruption (Menachem Hofnung), and of the limitations of and opportunities for policymaking by the High Court of Justice (Gad Barzilai). Each of these chapters asks an interesting question about the nature and evolution of governance and the challenges faced by the Israeli state as a result of its institutional structure.

The second section examines social cleavages, both inter- and intra-group. Asher Cohen discusses the way changes in the Orthodox camp have altered the relationship between the Orthodox parties vis-à-vis Labor and Likud. Zvi Gitelman examines the new wave of immigration from the Former Soviet Union. In both of these cases, Orthodox parties and waves of Soviet immigrants, intra-group as well as inter-group tensions introduce an important dynamic into the Israeli political mix. In contrast, although the Palestinian citizenry of Israel is a heterogenous community, the social conflicts between them and other groups are more pressing than intra-group tensions, as the chapter by Majid Al-Haj makes clear. The position of the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the "double periphery" places them at a severe political, social, and economic disadvantage since their interests are marginal to both Jewish Israel and the emerging Palestinian polity.

The third section, with chapters on social and economic gaps between groups in Israeli society (Ira Sharkansky) and on the effects of globalization (Yaron Ezrahi), takes a different tack. These somewhat contradictory chapters come to different conclusions about the extent of gaps between rich and poor relative to similar assessments of other developed countries, with Sharkansky taking an optimistic position:

Israel's level of income equality more or less reflects its level of economic development. To the extent that these measures of Israel's income equality depart from levels generally associated with its economic development, they show that [End Page 200] Israel is more egalitarian than a number of other countries at or above its level of wealth.

(p. 135)

Ezrahi, on the other hand, suggests an opposite trend: "Israel has moved, in recent years, to a place close to the top of the list of countries displaying the largest gaps between rich and poor" (p. 153).

The final two sections of the book, on security issues and Zionism and history, respectively, focus more directly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Dowty's contribution examines negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries and between Israel and the Palestinians. Asher Arian's chapter reports the results of public opinion surveys on the peace proccess. Derek Penslar's concluding chapter seeks to place the analysis of Israeli politics within its appropriate historical and cultural context by urging scholars to link Jewish Studies and Israel Studies.

Though I wish that short introductory essays preceded each of the sections to draw out the links among the chapters, the book is a valuable collection of work by established scholars in Israel Studies. The eclecticism of the chapters is both a positive and a negative. Chapters in a more coherent volume would have maintained a theme, a theoretical position, and a...


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