The History and development of Israeli society

Israeli Jewish girl and Palestinian Arab woman at the Tel-Aviv beach, August 2012.
Israeli Jewish girl and Palestinian Arab woman at the Tel-Aviv beach, August 2012. [Source: Reuters]

Despite the fact that the Zionist enterprise and its offspring, the State of Israel, have existed for only slightly more than a century, the long history of the Jewish people, the wide dispersion of its members, and the tensions and relations with other inhabitants of the region, have generated a society multifaceted and complex far beyond its short lifespan. In this course, we will chart and analyse the history and development of Israeli society, from its beginnings in the Zionist idea and the culture that existed in Ottoman Palestine during the late Nineteenth Century to the present day. Approaching the subject of Israeli society through the lens of history allows us to observe broad trends and to track changes, not only in its composition, but in its culture, maturity, and impact, as well as to make forecasts about the decades to come. Furthermore, by telling the history of Israel through its variegated, vibrant, and varying society and by studying the topic through a perspective different from most politics-centred approaches, we will obtain a better appreciation of how and why the country, its history, and its people have evolved as they did. Specific groups that we will study include early Zionist pioneers during Ottoman and British rule, Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants, Palestinian-Israelis, non-Jewish communities in Israel (Druze, Bedouin, Bahāʾīs, and Circassians), recent Russian and Ethiopian immigrants, and foreign labourers and migrants. We will also examine thematic topics, such as religion and state, gender and sexuality, and contemporary popular culture.

Course expectation and student evaluation

This course represents a combination of a lecture and seminar approaches and individual participation in class dialogues is critical. Most classes include a discussion period for conversation about required reading. Each student will have the opportunity to present a brief review of a text, after which he/she will lead a discussion. At the end of this course, it is hoped that students will have not only a better understanding of Israeli society, but have developed better research skills, practiced critical thinking and reading, and gained experience collecting and presenting information clearly.

Course grades will be assigned on the basis of several elements:

  1. in-class quizzes (15% total)—a map quiz and five 5-minute quizzes (lowest grade dropped) on critical terms (e.g., ʿaliyyah, Mizraḥim, religious Zionism);
  2. pop reading quizzes (10%)—short, random multiple-choice quizzes on major themes of assigned readings;
  3. mid-term paper (20%)—take-home essay on an assigned topic, using only the class readings as sources (5 pages);
  4. final research paper (30%)—each student will write a research paper (about 15 pages) on a topic of their choice relating to the course and making use of literature (at least 6 sources) not assigned as part of the class reading;
  5. class participation (25%)—contribution to in-class and online discussions and attendance, critical to a successful experience (students with over three absences lose their entire participation grade; each additional two absences result in a letter-grade penalty off of the overall course grade), including also a discussion article presentation, where each student presents at least one required reading, emphasising its core argument and leading a class discussion about it.
This division of factors aims to give all students a fair chance at a good grade by avoiding too much emphasis on one examination method. Nevertheless, since a large share of the grade (25%) derives from participation and the discussion presentation, this means that you must attend and participate in class to get a good grade. The key to good participation is reading the assigned texts, so come prepared!

Each student has the opportunity to submit up to two extra credit response papers to contemporary news articles on Israeli society. In order to receive credit, you must read and submit an article from a newspaper (not a web log!), along with your thoughts on the article (one page). Other extra credit opportunities will be announced periodically throughout the semester; students will be allowed a maximum of five total extra credit opportunities during the term. You are also strongly encouraged to follow Middle East news during (and after!) the semester. Some mainstream newspaper sources:

Required texts

Shapira, Anita. Israel: A History. The Schusterman series in Israel studies. Transl. from Hebrew by Anthony Berris. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2012.

Rubin, Barry. Israel: An Introduction. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Dowty, Alan. The Jewish state: A Century later. Updated ed. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001. [online]

Shafir, Gershon and Yoav Peled. Being Israeli: The Dynamics of multiple citizenship. Cambridge Middle East Studies, 16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Recommended texts for further readings

The following texts are recommended for those interested in doing further reading on the subject. These books are not required for purchase.

Course outline

Readings from course textbooks appear in small caps. All other readings include full bibliographical citations and are available electronically on the class Desire2Learn website. It is highly recommended that you prepare in advance by downloading and/or printing all online readings at the beginning of the course, so that you can concentrate on reading them over the semester. While ‘recommended reading’ are not obligatory, they may be useful when preparing research papers (those with an asterisk (*) are highly encouraged). Primary source readings are noted below.

I. Introduction and background

  1. Introduction to Israeli society—I

  2. Required reading:
    • Uzi Rebhun, ‘Major trends in the development of Israeli Jews: A Synthesis of the last century’, in Jews in Israel: Contemporary social and cultural patterns, ed. Rebhun and Waxman, Jews in Israel, 3–19.
    • Examine the class primer (always review relevant materials and bring the primer to each class).
  3. Introduction to Israeli society—II

  4. Required reading:
    • Rubin, Israel, 1–16, 121–130.
    • Asher Arian, Politics in Israel: The Second republic, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2005), 19–47.
    Recommended reading:
    • Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak, Trouble in utopia: The Overburdened polity of Israel, SUNY Series in Israeli Studies, transl. from Hebrew by Charles Hoffman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 1–97.
  5. Zionism and the idea of nationhood

  6. Map quiz
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

II. ‘Israeli’ society before Israel

  1. Ottoman Palestine, 1880

  2. Required reading:
    • Shapira, Israel, 27–29.
    • Tudor V Parfitt, The Jews in Palestine, 1800–1882 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1987), 1–10, 180–223.
    • David Saul Landes, ‘Palestine before the Zionists’, Commentary 61.2 (February 1976), 47–56.
    • Jehuda Reinharz, ‘Old and New Yishuv: The Jewish community in Palestine at the turn of the Twentieth Century’, Jewish Studies Quarterly 1.1 (1993), 54–71.
    Recommended reading:
    • Moshe Maoz, ‘Changing relations between Jews, Muslims, and Christians during the Nineteenth Century, with special reference to Ottoman Syria and Palestine’, in Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared history, Fifteenth through the Twentieth Century, ed. Avigdor Levy, 1st ed. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 108–118.
    • Ruth Kark, ‘Changing patterns of landownership in Nineteenth-Century Palestine: The European influence’, Journal of Historical Geography 10.4 (October 1984), 357–384.
    • Matthias B Lehmann, ‘Rethinking Sephardi identity: Jews and other Jews in Ottoman Palestine’, Jewish Social Studies n.s. 15.1 (Fall 2008), 81–109.
  3. The Founding of the Yishuv

  4. Required reading:
      Second ʿAliyyah labourers eating lunch near the settlement of Migdal.
      Second ʿAliyyah labourers eating lunch near the settlement of Migdal. [Source: Wikipedia]
    • Margalit Shilo, ‘The Transformation of the role of women in the First Aliyah, 1882–1903’, Jewish Social Studies n.s. 2.2 (Winter 1996), 64–86.
    Extra credit film
  5. Zionists and Arabs in Ottoman Palestine

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    • Shindler, History, 23–37.
    • Israel Kolatt, ‘The Organization of the Jewish population of Palestine and the development of its political consciousness before World War I’, in Studies on Palestine during the Ottoman period, ed. Moshe Maoz (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1975), 211–245.
    • Isaiah Friedman, ‘The System of Capitulations and its effect on Turco-Jewish relations in Palestine, 1856–1897’, in Palestine in the late Ottoman period: Political, social, and economic transformation, ed. David Kushner (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1986), 280–293.
    • Neville J Mandel, ‘Ottoman policy and restrictions on Jewish settlement in Palestine: 1881–1908: Part I’, Middle Eastern Studies 10.3 (October 1974), 312–332.
    • Neville J Mandel, ‘Ottoman practice as regards Jewish settlement in Palestine: 1881–1908’, Middle Eastern Studies 11.1 (January 1975), 33–46.
  7. The Yishuv during the Mandatory period

  8. Quiz #1
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. The Emergence of the Sabra

  10. Required reading:
      PaLMaḤ youth marching to a gathering.
      PaLMaḤ youth marching to a gathering. [Source: PaLMaḤ website]
    • Shapira, Israel, 133–152.
    • Oz Almog, The Sabra: The Creation of the new Jew, transl. from Hebrew by Haim Watzman (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2000), 255–266.
    Recommended reading:
    • * Yael Zerubavel, Recovered roots: Collective memory and the making of Israeli national tradition (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 3–76.
    • Shlomo Avineri, The Making of modern Zionism: The Intellectual origins of the Jewish state, (New York City: Basic Books, 1981), 151–158.

III. Early Israeli society

  1. Politics in nascent Israeli society

  2. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  3. Economics and culture in nascent Israeli society

  4. Required reading:
    • Shapira, Israel, 208–221, 248–260.
    • Orit Rozin, ‘Austerity: Desperate housewives and the government’, in The Rise of the individual in 1950s Israel: A Challenge to collectivism, transl. from Hebrew by Haim Watzman (Waltham: Brandeis University Press), 2011), 3–38.
    Recommended reading:
    • * Orit Rozin, ‘The Austerity policy and the rule of law: Relations between government and public in fledgling Israel’, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 4.3 (November 2005), 273–290.
    • Moshe Naor, ‘The 1948 War veterans and postwar reconstruction in Israel’, Journal of Israeli History 29.1 (March 2010), 47–59 (DOI 10.1080/13531041003594889).
    • Paula Kabalo, ‘Mediating between citizens and a new state: The History of Shurat ha-Mitnadvim’, Israel Studies 13.2 (Summer 2008), 97–121.
    • Orit Rozin, ‘Austerity Tel-Aviv: Everyday life, supervision, compliance, and respectability’, in Tel-Aviv, the first century: Visions, designs, actualities, ed. Maoz Azaryahu and S Ilan Troen (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 165–187.
  5. Approaching the Holocaust

  6. Quiz #2
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. The Mizraḥi influx

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Film: Salaḥ Shabbati

  10. Mid-term paper due
    • Salaḥ Shabbati, directed by Ephraim Kishon (Israel, 1964), 110 min. (Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, 1965).
  11. Palestinian-Israelis under military rule, 1948–1966

  12. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

IV. Changing currents in a maturing society

  1. The 1967 War and religious messianism

  2. Required reading:
    • Shapira, Israel, 295–325.
    • Eliezer Don-Yehiya, ‘Jewish messianism, religious Zionism and Israeli politics: The Impact and origins of Gush Emunim’, Middle Eastern Studies 23.2 (April 1987), 215–234.
    • Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish religious radicalism, transl. from Hebrew by Michael Swirsky and Jonathan Chipman (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 79–144.
    • David J Schnall, ‘Gush Emunim: Messianic dissent and Israeli politics’, Judaism 26.2 (Spring 1977), 148–160.
    Recommended reading:
  3. The Dynamic 1970s: From war to political upset

  4. Quiz #3
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    • * Shapira, Israel, 326–339.
    • Ilan Peleg, ‘The Israeli Right’, in Freedman, ed., Contemporary Israel, 21–44.
    • Myron Joel Aronoff, ‘Establishing authority: The Memorialization of Jabotinsky and the burial of the Bar Kochba bones in Israel under the Likud’, in The Frailty of authority, ed. Myron Joel Aronoff (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1986), 105–130.
    Extra credit film
    • Kippur, directed by Amos Gitai (Israel, 2000), 117 min.
  5. Protest and struggle during the 1980s

  6. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  7. Film: Nisuʾin fiqṭiviyim

  8. Research paper proposal due
    Required reading:
  9. Peace, violence, and status quo since the 1990s

  10. Required reading:
    • Shapira, Israel, 422–467.
    • Tamar Rapoport, ‘The Many voices of Israeli youth: Multiple interpretations of Rabin’s assassination’, in The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, ed. Yoram Peri (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 197–226.
    Recommended reading:
  11. New arrivals: Russian and Ethiopian immigrants

  12. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

V. Contemporary trends in Twenty-First-Century Israeli society

  1. Foreign labourers and migrants in cosmopolitan Israel

  2. Required reading:
    • Rubin, Israel, 155–156.
    • Shafir and Peled, Being Israeli, 323–334.
    • Nelly Elias and Adriana Kemp, ‘The New second generation: Non-Jewish olim, Black Jews and children of migrant workers in Israel’, Israel Studies 15.1 (Spring 2010), 73–94.
    • Haim Yacobi, ‘‘Let me go to the city’: African asylum seekers, racialization and the politics of space in Israel’, Journal of Refugee Studies 24.1 (2011), 47–68.
    Recommended reading:
    • Ben-Rafael and Peres, Is Israel one?, 187–199.
    • Rebeca Raijman and Adriana Kemp, ‘Israel: The New immigration to Israel: Becoming a de facto immigration state in the 1990s’, in Immigration worldwide: Policies, practices, and trends, ed. Uma Arnand Segal, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S Mayadas (Oxford/New York City: Oxford University Press, 2010), 227–243.
    • Rebeca Raijman and Moshe Semyonov, ‘Perceived threat and exclusionary attitudes towards foreign workers in Israel’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 27.5 (September 2007), 780–799.
    • David V Bartram, ‘Foreign workers in Israel: History and theory’, International Migration Review 32.2 (Summer 1998), 303–325 (DOI 10.1080/0141987042000246345).
    • Allan Borowski and Uri Yanay, ‘Temporary and illegal labour migration: The Israeli experience’, International Migration 35.4 (December 1997), 495–511.
    • Sarah S Willen, ‘Toward a critical phenomenology of “illegality”: State power, criminalization, and abjectivity among undocumented migrant workers in Tel Aviv, Israel’, International Migration 45.3 (August 2007), 8–38.
    Extra credit film
    • Strangers no more, directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon (Israel, 2010), 40 min. (Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, Short Subjects, 2011).
  3. Privatisation and Americanisation in Israeli society

  4. Quiz #4
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  5. Gender and sexuality in contemporary Israeli society

  6. Required reading:
    • Rubin, Israel, 168–174.
    • Shafir and Peled, Being Israeli, 95–109.
    • Hanna Herzog, ‘Women in Israeli society’, in Jews in Israel: Contemporary social and cultural patterns, ed. Rebhun and Waxman, Jews in Israel, 195–220.
    • Alisa Solomon, ‘Viva la diva citizenship: Post-Zionism and gay rights’, in Queer theory and the Jewish question, ed. Daniel Boyarin, Daniel Itzkovitz, and Ann Pellegrini (New York City: Columbia University Press, 2003), 149–165.
    Recommended reading:
    • Lee Walzer, Between Sodom and Eden: A Gay journey through today’s changing Israel, New York City: Columbia University Press, 2000), 13–57.
    • Yael Azmon and Dafna N Izraeli, ‘Introduction: Women in Israel—A Sociological overview’, in Women in Israel, ed. Yael Azmon and Dafna N Izraeli (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1993), 1–21.
    • Frances Raday, ‘Women’s human rights: Dichotomy between religion and secularism in Israel’, Israel Affairs 11.1 (January 2005), 78–94.
  7. Religion and state from ‘Status quo’ onward—I

  8. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  9. Religion and state from ‘Status quo’ onward—II

  10. Required reading:
    • Eliezer Ben-Rafael, ‘The Faces of religiosity in Israel: Cleavages or continuum?’, Israel Studies 13.3 (Fall 2008), 89–113.
    • Charles S Liebman, ‘Reconceptualizing the culture conflict among Israeli Jews’, Israel Studies 2.2 (Fall 1997), 172–189.
    • Chaim Isaac Waxman, ‘Religion in the Israeli public square’, in Jews in Israel, ed. Rebhun and Waxman, 221–239.
    Recommended reading:
  11. Palestinian-Israelis in the shadow of a Palestinian state

  12. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
  13. Film: ʿAjami

  14. Quiz #4
    • ʿAjami, directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani (Israel, 2009), 124 min. (Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, 2010).
  15. Other minorities: Drūzīs, Circassians, Bedouin, and Bahāʾīs

  16. Required reading:
    Recommended reading:

VI. Contemporary trends in Israeli society

  1. Popular culture in Israel today

  2. Research paper due
    Required reading:
    Recommended reading:
    • Keren Rubinstein, ‘Israeli culture from 1948 to the present’, in The Wiley-Blackwell history of Jews and Judaism, ed. Alan T Levenson (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 548–570.
    • Motti Regev, ‘Musica mizrakhit, Israeli rock and national culture in Israel’, Popular Music 15.3 (October 1996), 275–284.
    • Gabriel Weimann, ‘Cable comes to the Holy Land: The Impact of cable TV on Israeli viewers’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 40.2 (Spring 1996), 243–257.
  3. Israeli society today: Crossroads or continuity?

  4. Required reading:
    • Shapira, Israel, 469–475.
    • Rubin, Israel, 187–188.
    • Ben-Rafael and Peres, Is Israel one?, 283–300.
    • Shlomo Avineri, The Making of modern Zionism: The Intellectual origins of the Jewish state, (New York City: Basic Books, 1981), 217–227.
    • Uzi Rebhun and Chaim Isaac Waxman, ‘Challenges for the Twenty-First Century’, in Jews in Israel: Contemporary social and cultural patterns, ed. Rebhun and Waxman, Jews in Israel, 467–479.
    • Yair Wallach, ‘The Politics of non-iconic space: Sushi, shisha, and a civic promise in the 2011 summer protests in Israel’, European Urban and Regional Studies 20.1 (January 2013), 150–154.
    • Nathan Marom, ‘Activising space: The Spatial politics of the 2011 protest movement in Israel’, Urban Studies 50.13 (October 2013), 2826–2841.
    Recommended reading:
    • Shafir and Peled, Being Israeli, 335–348.
    • Paul Rivlin, ‘The Israeli economy’, in The Wiley-Blackwell history of Jews and Judaism, ed. Alan T Levenson (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 571–585.
    • Eitan Y Alimi, ‘”Occupy Israel”: A Tale of startling success and hopeful failure’, Social Movement Studies 11.3–4 (2012), 402–407.

Upcoming talks and lectures

Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 08 May 2024, 14.15—‘Category imperative: The Establishment of the Bahāʾī Department in the Israeli Ministry for Religious Affairs’’ (47th annual conference of the Middle East & Islamic Studies Association of Israel): Open University, Raʿanannah, Israel.
  • 15 May 2024, 16.30—‘Shoghi Effendi and the development of Bahāʾī-Israeli relations’’ (Il Condominio Italian Bahāʾī forum): Rome, Italy (Zoom).
  • 06 June 2024, 18.30—‘Crisis of authority and authority during crisis: Shoghi Effendi’s succession and the State of Israel’ (Hebrew University Chair in Bahaʾi Studies Public Lecture): Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Zoom).
  • 13 August 2024, 9.30—‘The Return of Iran: Iranian nationalist rhetoric during the Iran-Iraq War’ (14th biennial conference of the Association for Iranian Studies): Mexico City, Mexico.
  • Past events ► click to expand