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Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity.

Israel: The Dynamics of Change and Continuity, edited by David Levi-Faur, Gabriel Sheffer, and David Vogel. London: Frank Cass, 1999. 304 pp. $24.50.

The essays in this volume take comparative approaches to the study of Israeli political, economic, and socio-cultural institutions. In this, it follows the book edited by Michael Barnett, Israel in Comparative Perspective: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996). Previous to these volumes, it was practically taken for granted that it was difficult to compare Israel with other nation-states because of its unique history and combination of factors. The Jewishness of the state, the alienation and isolation of Israel from its Arab neighbors, the fact that Israeli society was composed of immigrants who, however, saw themselves as returning natives, the combination of secularity and religiosity all were among the factors which many saw as making it impossible to compare Israel with other nations. The uniqueness of Israel could be seen as an extension of the view of Jews as the Chosen People, a point made by Ira Sharkansky in the concluding essay of the book. It could also be used by Arabs who saw Israel as an alien colony in their midst.

While Barnett's book and Ira Sharkansky's essay fight against claimants of uniqueness and make the case for comparison, the editors of this volume move on to questions of assessing how Israel is coping with recent transformations of Israeli and other societies in the era of globalization.

The authors of the different articles in this volume use a number of different strategies for their comparisons. Several compare Israel with other European and North American democracies. Two papers, those by Gad Barzilai and Menachem Hoffnung, deal at length with the powers of the Courts, particularly with regard to constitutional issues. Yael Yishai discusses the relevance of different models of interest politics to Israel, in relationship to other democracies. She finds that there has been a shift from corporatism, which marked the period when the Histadrut was extremely powerful and political parties were strong, to greater pluralism. While Israel has changed, the residues of the past still have a hold on Israeli society, she argues, and it is far from the pluralism of the United States. Gabriel Sheffer notes parallel trends in his discussion of the changing nature of political leadership. David Levi-Faur discusses how the long-term belligerent status of Israel influenced its public policy development an d compares this to historic patterns in sixteenth-century Netherlands and Napoleonic France.

The comparison to the United States is paramount in the articles on social policy practices relating to race-ethnicity by Dvora Yanow and on the abortion debate by Noga Morag-Levine. In the case of the abortion debate, Morag-Levine shows how the debate to begin with was imported to Israel by American immigrants. Despite this, she demonstrates differences in the way in which anti-abortion groups in Israel, many of whom are Orthodox, strive to keep this controversy secular, unlike their American counterparts. Alan Dowty takes on the paradoxes of Israel as an "ethnic democracy," which to many is an oxymoron. He suggests Israel should not be compared to "majoritarian democracies" such as Great Britain or the United States, but to "consociational democracies" such as Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada. Dowty points out that Israel has aspects which mix features of both types of democracy.

Other comparisons are made in this volumes between Israel and countries in Africa and Asia. For instance, David Vogel suggests Israel's environmental policy is much more like that of newly industrialized countries such as South Korea and Taiwan than the lands of the European Union and the United States. In addition, the structure of business groups in Israel resembles those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan in many respects, according to Daniel Maman. This finding is far from obvious. Gershon Shafir tracks parallels between Israel and South Africa in terms of how local business withdrew support from confrontation and gave support to a peace process. Mark Tessler and his associates use extensive public opinion data from Arab lands and Israel to test the hypothesis that women tend to be opponents of militarism and support pacifism much more than men do (the "gender and pacifism hypothesis"). The results of such a linkage are negative.

Roger Friedland and Richard Hecht's comparison of Hindu religious nationalism with regard to the Babri Mosque in Ayodha and Israeli religious nationalism stance regarding the Temple Mount! Haram es-Sharif is insightful and frightening. The Babri Mosque, built in the sixteenth century, was reputedly on the site of a holy place sacred to the Hindu hero/god Rama. The mosque was destroyed by Hindu nationalists in 1992, and this act led to weeks of inter-communal violence. The equivalent to this would be if some schemes to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock had succeeded.

Sharkansky's title for his essay is somewhat misleading. It is "The Promised Land of the Chosen People Is Not All That Distinctive--The Value of Comparison." His emphasis is really on the people and State of Israel, not the land per se. He stresses three quite different aspects of Israeli society: the role of religion in society, income inequality, and the rate of traffic accidents. He shows that Israeli is not unique in any of these aspects, even when compared to the United States.

Like many collections of papers, this one hangs together on a number of slender strands. Most of the essays relate to politics and government and most, but not all, of the authors are political scientists. Those who are not come from social scientific disciplines. As noted above, the directions of comparison are quite different, but they deal with several facets of Israeli society and culture. Israeli elites often emphasize their "Westem" democratic tradition and see themselves as part of Europe and North America. Israelis, however, in the Middle East, and several of its institutions, especially those involving religion, as well as its physical ecology are rooted in the area. Its accommodation to globalization also resembles those of other societies which have made the transition from "developing" to "developed" nation recently, such as those in East and Southeast Asia. The strategies of the comparison reflect these aspects. In addition, as Nora Morag-Levine points out, Israel has imported and then reinterpre ted cultural elements from many different parts of the world. Her comparison shows that many changes are due to diffusion, not independent development. While these essays are not written in a post-modernist style for the most part, they raise the same questions about the viability of the nation-state project.

In sum, this book is a good collection for specialists, but one which those who are well-informed about Israeli affairs or comparative government can profit from. It is a good book for graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and well-read lay people.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Zenner, Walter P.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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