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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: May 2010

1 - Israeli Society: Diversity, Tensions, and Governance


In their seminal book published in 1989, Trouble in Utopia, Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, two of Israel's leading scholars, described Israel as an “overburdened polity.” According to them social conflicts and the frustrations of marginal groups have increased to a point where Israeli democracy is in critical danger of “ungovernability,” making it difficult for the system to mobilize material resources and collective normative commitments. While scholars of the Israeli state and society dispute the reasons for societal breakup, as well as its consequences and remedies, there is an overall consensus that relations between national, ethnic, religious, ideological, and cultural groups have become overtly politicized. Israeli society since 1980 has come to accept not only its plurality but also the fact that the existing formal and informal institutions can no longer contain the tensions between groups, but has yet to find agreement on new institutions. The different perceptions of common good and demands for equality and for recognition burden state and society with significant challenges. The contemporary study of Israel, therefore, must first and foremost account for the significant societal changes and their implications for politics and governance.

Israeli society is divided across national, religious, ideological, and ethnic lines; these divisions display not only internal dynamism but also a dynamic relation between them as they constantly affect each other. As a national movement, Zionism has sought to unite all Jews under the umbrella of nation- and state-building projects.

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Further Reading
Bar-On, Mordechai 1996. In Pursuit of Peace. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace
Ben-Porat, Guy 2006. Global Liberalism, Local Populism: Peace and Conflict in Israel/ Palestine and Northern Ireland. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press
Berkovitch, Nitza 1997. “Motherhood as a national mission: the construction of womanhood in the legal discourse in Israel,” Woman's Studies International Forum 20, pp. 605–19
Cohen, Asher, and Susser, Bernard 2000. Israel and the Politics of Jewish Identity: the Secular–Religious Impasse. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press
Cohen, Yinon, and Haberfeld, Yitchak 1998. “Second-generation Jewish immigrants in Israel: have the earning gaps in schooling and earnings declined?Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, 3, pp. 507–28
Dan, Horowitz and Moshe, Lissak 1989. Trouble in Utopia: the Overburdened Polity of Israel.Albany: State University of New York Press
Kimmerling, B., and Joel Migdal, 1993. Palestinians: the Making of a People. New York: The Free Press
Liebman, Charles, and Don-Yehia, Eliezer 1984. Religion and Politics in Israel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Rouhana, Nadim 1998. “Israel and its Arab citizens: predicaments in the relationship between ethnic states and ethnonational minorities,” Third World Quarterly 19, 2, pp. 277–96
Shafir, Gershon, and Peled, Yoav (eds.) 2000. The New Israel: Peacemaking and Liberalization. New York: Westview Press
Shafir, Gershon, and Peled, Yoav 2002. Being Israeli. New York: Cambridge University Press
Smooha, Sami 1992. Arabs and Jews in Israel, vol. II. Boulder and London: Westview Press