Ram Madhav
August 29, 2020

Israel – State and Society

Israel is a country that fascinates many. A tiny Jewish island surrounded by largely hostile and many times bigger Arab countries, Israel has defied conventional understanding of statecraft to emerge as one of the developed, strong and courageous nations kindling a romantic imagination about the uniqueness of its people, and the government. I have been a student of Israel’s history and politics for many years. It fascinated me too and a couple of visits to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and a constant engagement with the political, academic and strategic establishment of that country have fortified my belief that the country offers many important lessons in history to the world in general, but to India in particular.

It will be a historian’s delight to undertake a comparative analysis of the freedom struggles of the two countries – India and Israel – which began around the same time – with the formation of the Indian National Congress in India towards the end of the 19th century, and the creation of the Zionist Congress by Theodore Herzl and colleagues in Israel a few years after that. Incidentally both countries secured independence under similar circumstances of partition in August 1947 and April 1948 respectively. Both got freedom from the British. Freedom in both countries followed widespread violence and bloodshed between communities. In the end, India got a partitioned freedom, and Israel got freedom refusing partition. In the process, it inherited a problem in the form of the Palestinian cause, which dominates the current discourse and understanding about Israel.

The 15-week course that I just concluded, ‘Israel – State and Society’ offered by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is an interesting narrative about the rise of a nation, that is yet to find a homogeneous identity for itself. Israel, as we all know, was born out of a conflict. The conflict continues at multiple levels even after seven decades eluding a common identity and purpose for its entire populace.

The course offers valuable insights into how the modern nation of Israel was created through the genius of a movement called the Zionist movement started and led initially by Theodore Herzl. Zionism, a secular Jewish ideology tracing its roots to the Temple Mount of the the 10th century BCE Jerusalem is the soul of Israel and prima identitatem of every Israeli.

The course offers valuable insights into the issues involved in the formation of the Israeli nation, Israeli identity and Israeli state institutions. It also talks about Israel’s relations with its own diverse population as a constitutionally declared Jewish state, its relations with the Arab world and the conflicts that ensue. Israel is described as a ‘Nation in Uniform’, with its compulsory military service rule. Yet, it is not a military state. It has one of the clumsiest democracies, with a multi-party system and proportional representation model for its parliament called the Knesset. Due to the typical conditions in Israel, it is always ruled by a coalition of parties, sometime absurd like the current one. The course throws some light on Israels politics and elections.

There are a couple of very interesting lessons like the one on the question of whether there is an Israeli identity at all. The lesson talks about ten codes that form the core identity of an Israeli. Similarly the last lesson on the city of Jerusalem, the heart of Israel is also interesting, although it could have been more detailed and covered better.

Overall, an interesting course for those who follow the country and its politics. I can assure you that the course will help in getting perceptional clarity about the issues involving that country so that we can look at it from a clearer prism.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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