Canadian Journal of Sociology Online November - December 2002

Gershon Shafir and Yoav Peled.
Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship.

Cambridge University Press, 2002, 397 pp.
$US $23.00 paper (0-521-79672-5), $US $65.00 cloth (0-521-79224-X)

Being Israeli has two broad aims. It aims to make a contribution to critical social science studies of the Israeli state and society by extending the functionalist, elitist and pluralist approaches that dominated interpretations in the last several decades. It does this by placing citizenship at the centre of its analysis and hence aims to make a contribution to citizenship studies as well. The authors argue that while Israel’s main political and moral dilemma has been conventionally understood as a choice between being a Jewish and a Western-style democracy, in fact, there have been three competing ‘citizenship discourses’ for about a century — republicanism, ethno-nationalism and liberalism — that don’t map onto the conventional dichotomy easily. Zionism developed an image of Israel as a colonial state integrating elements of the Labor Settlement Movement that nurtured a republican image of Israeli citizenship; ethno-nationalism has increasingly defined Israel as a Jewish state and liberalism has envisaged a democratic state enabling both Arab and Jewish citizens to live together with minimal state intervention. For Shafer and Peled the history of Israel can be seen through the pursuit of these conflictual objectives and their evolution in relation to one another. Drawing upon more recent contributions to citizenship studies such as Judith Shklar, Rogers Smith, Nancy Fraser, Yasemin Soysal and T.H. Marshall, and combining several elements from these studies, the authors develop a distinctive approach, which they call neo-institutionalist. Their sociological and political study of Israeli citizenship is presented in the context of institutions and institutional regimes, offering a perspective from which citizenship is not only understood as a bundle of formal rights but as an entire mode or regime of incorporation of individuals and groups into state and society. That way authors aim to challenge both state- and society-centred interpretations of Israeli citizenship and argue that a combination of these three discourses existed in all phases of the formation of the Israeli state since 1882 colonization and 1948 statehood.

The Zionist movement from the 1880s to the birth of the Israeli state in 1948 was a variation of the European colonial movement and emphasized a republican virtue committed to a common moral purpose. Its civic virtue combined qualities of a pioneer mentality along with collectivist tendencies that resulted in a secular nationalist identity, incorporating in its sphere not only Jews but also Arabs as well as other groups amongst its Jewish constituents. With the formation of the Israeli state and the onset of mass immigration of both Ashkenazi and Mizrachi Jews and the expulsion of the majority of Palestine’s Arab population, a new ethos, mamlachtiyut, was invoked to define Israel as a Jewish state. With this ethos Jewish immigrants became Israeli citizens upon arrival and received broader and more substantial rights than the Palestinian citizens of Israel. While the republican ethos continued to dominate, the Israeli state increasingly created gradations of citizenship and a difference between its higher and lesser citizens along ethnic lines. With the new colonial drive and conquests of the 1967 war and the bringing of the Palestinian Arab population of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem into Israeli military rule, an ethnic based Israeli citizenship gathered increasing strength. Massive Jewish colonization was undertaken in the new conquered areas and their Palestinian residents remained as non-citizens under Israeli rule. By the 1980s and 1990s, these trends accelerated and the definition of the Israeli state as a Jewish state gained increasing urgency with the intifadas and the arrival of new immigrant groups from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The republican image of citizenship fell into crisis and the polity was split into two conflicting views of Israeli citizenship: an ethno-national view that increasingly became attired in religious garb and a liberal one increasingly devoid of a common purpose for Israel. In other words, Israel has come to be dominated by a solidaristic ethno-national discourse on citizenship with its obsessive focus on the rights of Jews and an individualistic, market-oriented and contract-based liberal discourse on citizenship with no vision of social solidarity at all. While the former drew Israel increasingly into an confrontational and exceptionalist politics, the latter fuelled the former by withdrawing from social citizenship thereby leaving various marginalized groups vulnerable in its wake for that kind of ethno-nationalist agitation, which accounts for the current crisis in Israel.

While the broad contours of this account will be familiar to students of Israeli state formation, the way in which these matters are investigated by Shafir and Peled are innovative precisely because of their insistence on interpreting them from the perspective of citizenship. Throughout the book they provide valuable interpretations and information illustrating how each successive social change and the formation of different groups in Israel engendered the emergence of new citizenship discourses. All this may strike the reader as a rather determinate account but the authors also boldly outline a vision of Israeli citizenship that may well provide a pragmatic but strong alternative to the existing impasse in Israel.

Again, inspired by more recent debates in citizenship studies over group-differentiated rights, Shafir and Peled argue that within the tension between liberal and ethno-nationalist discourses there lies the promise of a democratic and multicultural incorporation regime. They argue that some Palestinians have become genuinely interested in articulating cultural and minority rights as counterpublics within the Israeli state and urge that Jewish intellectuals respond to such demands and enter into a dialogue. To begin such a dialogue, they suggest that Israel will have to acknowledge its moral responsibility for the condition of Palestinian refugees and allow the return of a number of them back to the occupied territories as well as offer compensation to all other refugees and their descendants. In other words, Shafir and Peled see (and envision) the possibility of a genuine dialogue on citizenship, on being Israeli amongst its Jewish, Arab and Palestinian publics.

While undoubtedly there will be many disagreements about specific suggestions and proposals that Shafir and Peled make in this book, the fact that they introduce new terms by which to rethink Israeli citizenship makes this book an essential reading for those who are concerned with the Israel-Palestine question as well those who are interested to see how thinking through citizenship may change inflections on seemingly intractable political problems.

Engin F. Isin
York University

Engin F. Isin is Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor in the Division of Social Science at York University and author of Being Political: Genealogies of Citizenship (University of Minnesota Press, 2002). He is also Managing Editor of Citizenship Studies.
December 2002
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