Israel: Major Debates (English Review)


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Reliable information about a region or a country is essential, especially for academics and journalists. If it comes to Israel the background information are often meager or they don’t exist at all. We don’t talk about obvious dates and events like the war in June 1967, those key events most journalist usually know about. However, the inner debates, the arguments and fights within Israeli society are lesser known and, therefore, many journalist do not understand the dynamics of Israeli society and politics. The Handbook of Israel: Major Debates wants to change all that. It is a two-volume-book, an almost monumental work, which aims to highlight the contradictions and debates within Israeli society. A review by Sebastian Kunze

This Handbook is intended for a wide range of groups. As the editors explained at the academic presentation event, it is aimed at teachers at universities that offer teaching in the field of Israel Studies, but also for journalists who write on Israeli topics and, finally, to the interested public. I would like to concentrate on the merit of this book for journalists.

In the public sphere, there are many debates about Israel and its democratic nature. Oftentimes Israel is called Apartheid State or Ethnocracy and other things. Many journalists don’t know about those discussions and cannot evaluate those ideas properly, one can read it in their texts. In the Handbook one can find concise presentations of different positions in a relatively short space, for example in the question of the categorization of Israel as a democracy.
The question is usually quickly resolved: Yes, Israel is a democracy, but what kind of democracy? While some contributions are also debating the first question, Sammy Smooha, for example, gives a good overview of different types of democracies and locates Israel in them. What is clear in his contribution, however, is that his argument is shaped by the concept of ethnic democracy he is embracing.
Such contributions are nevertheless extremely helpful to journalists writing about Israel. They give not only an insight into the theoretical basis of the topics, but the contributions themselves can be read as debates against each other. As a result, interested journalists can quickly see how complex conditions are in this country, and the reading of the Handbook also prevents a narrow perception of the Middle East conflict when it comes to Israel. The Handbook, in a precise and concise way, reflects the debates and contradictions within Israel, as no introduction to Israel has made so far. Such introductory books have the advantage of being clear, structured, and usually chronological through history. The present Handbook, however, is approaching themes and this is also its claim. If one does not mistake the Handbook with an introduction to Israel, the book is more than helpful and instructive.
The Handbook wants to highlight the great development lines and the related debates that play a key role in Israel. Therefore, it is also elaborately arranged, three major parts structure the work on a first level: Cleavages, The Challenge of Post-Zionism and Israel Outward. Among these three categories, there are a total of 13 sub-chapters, to which the nearly 70 contributions are assigned.

Each of these 13 chapters is preceded by a brief introduction, which is based on the topic and then summarizes the contributions in a few lines. The introductions give a good orientation and can quickly let a reader decide whether he wants to deal with a section or read only one or individual contributions. In this respect, the book is not only very well developed, it is especially well-structured and extremely reader-friendly.

The reader recognized it: I really like this book. However, there are also some flaws. First of all, it is quite expensive; it costs about 160€ and, therefore, it is not for everybody. The second downside is that the language of the book is sometimes somewhat academic; this kind of language is sometimes hard for quick readers and e.g. journalists don’t have so much time anymore. Those are the two prominent flaws of the handbook.
The editors do justice to their claim, even if the manual is especially suited for the academic field and specialist journalists, it is a great deal also for interested people. This Handbook of Israel differs from the idea and its conception clearly from other such manuals, thus complementing the international literature on Israel. The editor achieved their goals and everybody who writes about Israel, should at least for once have a look at this book.

About the book

© Picture of the book by DeGruyter, taken from the website.

Ben-Rafael, Eliezer / Schoeps, Julius H. / Sternberg, Yitzhak / Glöckner, Olaf (Eds.) – Handbook of Israel: Major Debates. DeGruyter 978-3-11-035163-7 159,95€
Book-Website at DeGruyter


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