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.
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:
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:
Shafir, Gershon and Yoav Peled. Being Israeli: The Dynamics of multiple citizenship. Cambridge Middle East Studies, 16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Rebhun, Uzi and Chaim Isaac Waxman, eds. Jews in Israel: Contemporary social and cultural patterns. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2004.
Ben-Rafael, Eliezer and Yochanan Peres. Is Israel one?: Religion, nationalism, and multiculturalism confounded. Leiden & Boston: E J Brill, 2010.
Freedman, Robert O, ed. Contemporary Israel: Domestic politics, foreign policy, and security challenges. Boulder: Westview Press, 2009.
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.