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A View From Within: The voices of Netanyans on their Jewish State – Israel

Identification of Research Area

The proposed project will explore the views, perspectives and experiences of secular and religious Jews in Netanya. Since the creation of Israel as the “Jewish State” in 1948, there has been a significant amount of turmoil, both internal and external, that has affected the daily lives of its people. Aside from various conflicts and wars over the land, there have also been significant and dramatic shifts in the country’s ideology, which can be linked to the land disputes and the relationship with the opponents involved. The changes in ideology can be analysed with different contexts, such as political, cultural, and national identity. Much debate has been generated regarding these contexts from a broad, academic stance and even more has been written on the effects and plights of Israel’s minorities. However, there is a void in published writings when it comes to understanding the predominance of Israelis, the secular and religious Jews. While it is important to study minority groups to ensure their voices are heard in amongst the masses, it is also necessary to understand the majority’s viewpoint as it will, most likely, shape the future and this future, in turn, will impact on the whole society. Dershowitz (2006, p. 11) has proclaimed, “Israel is the Jewish state and the “Jew” among the states of the world”. With the ongoing tensions in the Middle East in conjunction with the acrimonious milieu of discourse in the Jewish world, this contemporary issue requires immediate attention. The first step in confronting this difficult situation should be to redress the balance of understanding so it includes arguments on both sides. This research will make the missing half available.

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Research Objectives

The main goal of the research is to explore Jewish Israelis’ perceptions of the past, present and future of Israel in light of changes in ideology. From being founded on Zionist ideals, to radical shits in the “Post-Zionist Decade” (Pappé, 2008) and the subsequent return to Zionism following the Second Intifada, it is believed these changes will have impacted on the everyday lives of the Jews. This is the basis of the main research question:
In what ways have these ideological changes affected Jewish Israelis?
In addition, to support the aim of contributing a valuable understanding of this missing perspective, it is beneficial to discover the ambitions, goals and hopes of these people. Therefore, the second research question is:
What do the Jews of Israel envision for their future and for Israel's future?
Finally, it is hoped that the research will help to dispel some of the common myths, stereotypes and misunderstandings regarding the Jews of Israel. Some might imagine that all Jews are religious, while others may assume they are a unified group whose views and beliefs are unanimous. Thus the research aims to prompt alternative conceptual paradigms in which to consider Jewish Israelis.

Review of Sources

Large amounts of literature have been written on Jews and on Israel. It covers issues from a personal account of travel in the 1930s to present day debates on the feasibility of democracy and nationalism. The wide range of the literature is mostly written in a very generalized manner.

The Past

History of Jews:

The history of the Jewish people has been fraught with conflicts, struggles and hardship. Despite numerous invasions, evacuations and spreading Jews throughout many other countries, Navon (2008, p. 65) argues the Jews were the only constant inhabitants of the land since the destruction of the second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE. In 1919, Prince Feisal (leader of the Arab delegation at Versailles) wrote the Zionist proposition submitted to the Peace Conference was “moderate and amenable …we extend the most cordial welcome to the Jews in their home” (Navon, 2008, p. 70).

In spite of this, Arabs have claimed the Jews who immigrated from 1882 onwards took over a “well-establish, populated and fertile country” (Navon, 2008, p. 67). It has been shown this claim is false through various accounts that describe the region as empty and the land barren and inhospitable (Navon, 2008; Bregman, 2003; Bloomfield, 1950).

Navon (2008) suggests the major troubles with Arabs began after 1921 when the British appointed Hadj Amin al-Husseini as the Mufti of Jerusalem. This had grave repercussions for the Jews as Al-Husseini made the rejection of Jewish self-determination into a religious mission and the murder of Jews a “legitimate and praiseworthy act” (Navon, 2008, p. 71; Blumberg, 1998). This led to the Hebron massacre of 1929 (Blumberg, 1998). The British also consented to demands to reduce the quota of Jewish immigration, which had damning consequences during the Holocaust (Navon, 2008; Blumberg, 1998).

After WWII, the UN proposed the Partition Act of 1947 to create an Arab Palestinian state but the Arabs rejected it and began war to exterminate the Jews. In 1949, the Arabs were defeated but this dispute arose again in 1967 and 1973.

Zionist Movement & the Founding of Israel:

According to Bregman (2003), modern Israel began in 1897 with the 1st World Zionist Congress. The 197 Jewish delegates created the “Basle Programme” and Theodore Herzl was the convenor of Basle congresses (Bregman, 2003). Herzl was a key figure in the Zionist Movement, which ultimately led to the founding of Israel. The aim of Zionism was to establish the state of Israel so Jews could be free people on their own land thus allowing their creative genius and their culture to flourish fully and to achieve recognition by the international community (Navon, 2008; Cohen, 1995).

Following Israel’s Independence in 1948, Zionism used myth in the nation-building process, which helped overcome two basic dilemmas for Western Jews (Cohen, 1995). First, it separated political liberation from religious salvation and in doing so appeased religious Jews who demanded the postponement of national liberation until the time of divine redemption. Secondly, it separated the ideology of Zionist immigration and settlement in the land of Israel from colonial settlement enterprises of Western nations. In building the nation, leaders emphasised gathering the exiled, building Zion as a model society, and creating a new “Jewish” type (Cohen, 1995; Wistrich & Ohana, 1995).

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Government – Democratic & Jewish:

Since its inception, debates have existed regarding the Israeli state being both Jewish and democratic. Those against a Jewish state, such as Hermann Cohen and Hans Kohn, claimed it could not be a ‘light among nations’ and wield power because it would bring corruption, destroy the Jews’ state of moral purity and prevent the Jews from achieving their destiny (Hazony, 2005; Navon, 2008). However, the opposing view argues a Jewish state is necessary because, when spread about as minorities, the Jewish people can never fully achieve political and social equality (Hazony, 2005). Further, as minorities, the Jews are subject to a dichotomy between being Jewish and trying to “fit in” to their host society enough to succeed (Hazony, 2005). Navon (2008) has reasoned Israel is Jewish and democratic by stressing there are Arabs who hold democratically elected seats in parliament and who sit in courts independent of the executive.

The “Post-Zionist Decade”:

Pappé (2008) referred to the 1990s as “The Post-Zionist Decade” as it was during these years that revisionism and post-Zionist thought was at its peak. The major shift away from Zionism took shape in many forms but stemmed from the academics that challenged the status quo. The quotes below indicate just how radical thought was in the years preceding and during this time.

“… establishment cultural figures are paving the way to the ruin of all Herzl and other
Zionists sought to achieve” (Hazony, 2005, p. xxvii)
“…nothing, it would seem, is sacred anymore” (Wistrich & Ohana, 1995, p. viii)

Post-Zionist Revisionism and the IDF

One of the most controversial areas changed by this shift was in the training manuals and general behaviour codes of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The new version, created by Asa Kasher, is void of any Jewish or Zionist content (Hazony, 2000). These changes also led to all military operations being reduced solely to the preservation of State, Citizens and Principles of Democracy. According to Hazony (2000), the initial purpose of the IDF was to serve and protect the Jewish people and Israel’s character as the Jewish people’s state. Hazony (2000) argues the new codes omit the Jewish people, land of Israel and Jewish national values and they contradict some of the most rudimentary Zionist principles, such as loyalty to Jewish refugees and “love of the land” (ahavat ha’aretz). In the past, operations have been carried out on behalf of Diasporaic Jews, but the new edition, by omitting so much, does not allow for this (Hazony, 2000). Kasher has defended his version by claiming it removes dilemmas so there is no “need to think of philosophize” (Kasher, quoted in Hazony, 2000).

Post-Zionist Revisionism and History

Historical revisionism began with the revisiting of the 1948 war. Before this, most historians avoided the period in an apparent attempt to maintain the status quo (Pappé, 2008; Wistrich & Ohana, 1995). By analysing the war from both sides, the resulting portrayal was very different to what existed in the educational system, culture and academia (Pappé, 2008). One key myth challenged was the belief that over half a million Palestinian Arabs voluntarily fled rather than being expelled by force (Wistrich & Ohana, 1995). Pappé (2008) claims that in addition to the influences of the changing ideology, revisionists used declassified information that became available from Israel, the USA and the UK.

Beyond the 1948 war, historians began “de-Zionizing” other periods. Sociologists confronted “the melting pot” issue of the 1950s and literary writers, such as Tom Segev, addressed the Holocaust (Pappé, 2008).

Post-Zionist Revisionism and Culture

Two factors that impacted on public debate and popular cultural trends were the 1983 Lebanon War and the Oslo ‘peace process’ of the 1990s (Pappé, 2008; Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). These two events emboldened a variety of writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists and journalists to devise a non-Zionist explanation of real life (Pappé, 2008). Cultural changes have also been attributed to the massive influx of Russian immigrants and an increasing population of third world workers who introduced new music, sports and culinary traditions (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). During this period, works appeared that strongly contradicted the self-image and collective memory of the Israeli public and, in criticizing the sacred truisms of Zionism, questioned its validity (Pappé, 2008).

Literature of this decade exhibits the change in attitudes of various cultural agencies. Poetry included radical ideas, the lyrics of musicians, such as Aviv Gefen, was highly critical of Israeli militarism and some Jewish Hebrew writers, for instance Shimon Balas and Sami Michael, composed counter narratives (Pappé, 2008). Yitzhak Laor’s The People, Food fit for a King was a direct attempt to create a ‘counter-narrative’ through names, language and the evolution of the plot and in it, Laor questions every basic truism in Israeli society (Pappé, 2008).

Radicalization in the film industry, which had a previous history of largely “phobic” cinematic engagements with Palestinian Arab culture, lead to feature films and documentaries that critically reassessed the founding myths of Zionism (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). Pappé asserts that Arabs had previously been depicted as “dirty, stupid, pathetic, evil, cruel and gave in to superior Israeli hero” (2008, p. 106). After the ideological changes, cinema began to portray the geographic marginality of Arab and Shepardic Jews with some films even placing them within the role of the hero (Pappé, 2008).

The media, in general, was less influenced by the shifting attitudes, which might be due to news being uniformly nationalist. Although the news does include some Palestinian views, it is presented with the discernible preference for the Jewish version (Pappé, 2008). Arabs are referred to as Beni Miutim (members of the minority groups) thus disregarding their national identity (Pappé, 2008). Through talk shows and supplements of some newspapers, the wider public became aware of the academic debates (Pappé, 2008) but overall, the media, subject to military censor, did not change as radically as other forms of popular culture of the era.

Post-Zionist Revisionism and Academia

Hazony has commented on these being “sweeping changes … effected by a handful of intellectuals” (2000, p. 52). Others perceive the academic challenge is not only to question established ‘truths’ but also to examine how these ‘truths’ have been constructed and portrayed (Pappé, 2008). The challenge, as previously mentioned, began with the rewriting of the 1948 war. Previous works had been exclusive to Zionist history at universities so the terminology was carefully constructed, the victory described as miraculous and due to David Ben-Gurion’s ingenuity along with the soldiers’ heroism (Pappé, 2008). New projects seriously reassessed the foundational myths of Zionism and state building that was long hegemonic in Israelis historiography and popular discourse (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). It was argued that Palestinians of 1948 had been effectively erased from academia and were depicted as terrorists or pawns of the all-Arab conspiracy to annihilate the Jewish state and Pappé (2008) claims this was done to uphold the Zionist narrative of miracle and heroism.

Following the 1st Intifada, revisionist literature increased leading to scholars in the US to critique Zionist history and ideology. Gradually, this expanded beyond questions of nationalist conflict and occupation to explore gender, citizenship and minoritorian struggles within Israel (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). The Oslo Accords of 1993 advanced the academic epistemic shift and revisionism increased in scope and acceptability. Under the Rabbi-Perez administration (1992- 1996), works of radical scholars were in newspapers and on state run television (REF). This further accelerated re-thinking of state-sponsored historical textbooks and curriculum. As a result, many important figures became the subject of this radical reassessment. Theodore Herzl, previously held in high esteem, was reduced to being considered a highly narcissistic, conflict-ridden, neurotic personality (Wistrich & Ohana, 1995). David Ben-Gurion had been regarded as ingenious and responsible for the victory in 1948 was accused of inactivity and indifference during the Holocaust and squandering opportunities to achieve peace with surrounding Arab states (Wistrich & Ohana, 1995).

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The Present

Following the 2nd Intifada of 2000, the ideology of the state, academics and society as a whole reverted, seemingly overnight, back to the Zionist principles that the Jewish state was founded upon (Pappé, 2008). Israel re-entered ‘conflict mode’ and society was rife with a fear that diminished previous rituals and sites of consumption (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). US styled shopping malls became the loci of middle class consumption and leisure and considered to be “safe havens from terror” (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). The popularity of “Arab” culture that existed in the 1990s was eclipsed by rising anti-Arab phobia and racism and by the “nostalgic return to canonical Zionist cultural practices” (Stein & Swedenburg, 2005, p. 13).

A new “discourse of unity” was established, which made it clear that “Post-Zionism” was no longer accepted (Pappé, 2008). Academics and societal “elites” who had been the forerunners of the Post-Zionist decade rapidly sought to assert their allegiance to Zionism (Pappé, 2008; Stein & Swedenburg, 2005). Pappé (2008) highlights several examples of this new tendency. First, a report by Interdisciplinary University of Harzeliya set a national agenda to transfer Palestinians from Israel if they double their share of the population (from 20% to 40%), (Pappé, 2008). Next, the Minister of Education demanded the removal of all textbooks that contained even the slightest influence of Post-Zionist scholarship (Pappé, 2008). Finally, leading members of the coalition in the Knesset called for the expulsion of Post-Zionist scholars from the universities (Pappé, 2008).

Conclusion

The literature discussed indicates the benefits of a multi-disciplinary approach. Whilst the dominating discipline of the project is anthropological, some aspects of the data will be best viewed from a historical or sociological perspective. The reviewed literature also touches on various “grand theories” but it is unclear at this stage exactly which theory will be the most suitable. Some arguments can lead to an indication of a Neo-Marxist approach where, if found in the data, over-arching Zionist and Post-Zionist ideologies could be considered hegemonic.

However, other arguments seem to lean towards a post-structuralist method, which, if revealed by data, would support a societal framework that explains these changes in ideologies and generates evidence to show how society benefited.

Methodology

It is necessary to formulate a research strategy in advance, however, it should not be overly rigid. A good design will allow for flexibility, both in the field and during analysis, to account for recent developments, and unanticipated observations (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). An amount of freedom can also allow the project to naturally develop complexity and sophistication (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).

Research Design

In order to obtain a holistic view with in-depth understanding, this research uses triangulation since no one method can comprehend all the subtle differences of individual’s experiences. Mixed methods should add accuracy and thickness to generate data full of a range of insights. There are two stages to the research plan.

Stage 1 – Interviews & Observations

A total of twelve (12) narrative, semi-structured interviews are proposed which will be recorded (wherever possible) along with written notes taken. These will be held with religious and secular Jews representing different economic and social statuses and thus will cover a cross-section of the population.

Interviews are the most beneficial method for this study for several reasons. They:

  • Allow respondents to express themselves without limitations and clarify situations where their views may differ (Denscombe, 2007; Gray, 2004).
  • Enable the researcher to clarify statements made by respondents to ensure the information gathered is accurate (Denscombe, 2007; Gray, 2004).
  • Face-to-face interaction allows for interpretation of non-verbal communication (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight, 2008; Denscombe, 2007).

In addition to interviews, opportunities for informal encounters and casual conversation will be sought out. These will provide additional data in more relaxed settings. Unfortunately, due to the nature of these encounters, recording will not be an option. Therefore, notes will need to be written post hoc which may result in less reliant or incomplete data.

Stage 2 - Surveys

The second stage will procure quantitative data through closed-question surveys containing questions about common issues, difficulties and solutions that arose in previous stages. One hundred paper surveys will be distributed, with a predicted return of 50%.

Sampling

Participants will be recruited using purposive sampling.

Surveys will be distributed to participants through snowballing.

Data Collection Procedures

Narrative interviews will be conducted in respondent’s home, office or within a public place convenient for the respondent. Prior to conducting the interview, respondents will be briefed about the research project, given assurances of confidentiality and anonymity, provided with an opportunity to ask any questions or air any concerns, then asked to sign an informed consent form. The right to withdraw from the project at any time will be emphasised.

Surveys will have a project brief and confidentiality statement included. The statement will make it clear that by answering the survey, the respondent is giving permission for the data to be used in the research project.

Data Analysis

Initially, interview data will be coded and compared then used to generate survey questions. This data will also be used at a later stage when reporting findings.

All surveys will be designed using a 5-point Likert scale and will be coded and analysed using SPSS.

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Time Frames

Stage 1 – Interviews and Observations

In total this stage has been assessed at requiring nine weeks. Data collection will occur during four weeks of fieldwork in Israel. Each interview will last between sixty and ninety minutes and observations will be made throughout.

Stage 2 – Surveys

Survey creation, distribution and collection have been considered to require a period of four weeks in total.

Anticipated Problems

If for any reason not all interviews can be conducted in the field, a back-up plan exists involving Internet interviews. While this method can have inherent problems regarding meanings of words and/or sentences, this can be reduced by using specific wording in the questions being asked and by clarifying each answer to ensure a full understanding.

Access

Access has been arranged through a contact in Netanya who will act as gatekeeper. As a resident of Netanya, fellow academic and long-term personal friend, this source is highly reliable. Prior to my arrival in Netanya, interviews will be pre-arranged and opportunities will be organized to meet and socialize with other Jewish residents. Accommodation arrangements will provide exposure to different environments and opportunities for varied, close-contact observations. A snowballing method will be utilized to access participants for Stage 2. In addition, during time in the field, organizations will be contacted to seek assistance in distributing and collecting surveys.

Ethics

All interviews, conversations and contact for the project will be conducted solely with individuals between the ages of 30 and 60 years old. This means a CRB check is not necessary. Investigating Jewish identity and nationalism raises ethical concerns, due to the sensitive nature surrounding such a personal issue. People tend to feel very strongly about their beliefs and customs. It is therefore vital to bear this in mind at all times; being sensitive and respectful to potential participants. This is essential in conducting the research, as some may take offence if questions are not worded in accordance to the participant’s religious and cultural views. In order to minimize potential offence, through wording during interviews and in questionnaires, the project’s two gatekeepers will vet all questions. Wheatley (cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 2005) warns that a researcher can never resolve all ethical dilemmas that arise.

In an effort to minimize ethical issues, the project will strictly adhere to ASA ethical guidelines.

Bibliography:

Blaxter, L., Hughes, C. and Tight, M. (2008) How To Research, 3rd ed., Berkshire: Open University Press.

Bloomfield, B. M. (1950) Israel Diary, New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Blumberg, A. (1998) The History of Israel, London: Greenwood Press.

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Wistrich, R. and Ohana, D. (eds.) (1995) The Shaping of Israeli Identity Myth, Memory and Trauma, London: Frank Cass.

This essay is an example of a student's work

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