Yoav  Peled Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Yoav Peled

Professor Emeritus of political science
Tel Aviv University



    PhD, UCLA, 1982
    LLB, Tel Aviv University, 2009

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Citizenship, ethnic relations, Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict



Featured Title
 Featured Title - Religionization Israeli Society Peled Peled - 1st Edition book cover


KPFK/Jacobin radio interview

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion


Suzi Weissman: [00:00:08] This is Jacobin Radio. I'm Suzi Weissman. Today, we're going to look at the momentous upheaval in Israel. The fourth election in two years has finally been resolved, at least for the moment, with the end of Benjamin Netanyahu's 12 year reign, Israel's longest serving prime minister. A consummate and corrupt opportunist, Netanyahu unleashed a major shock and awe campaign against Gaza for 11 days last month, as well as in November 2019, to deflect attention from his own legal problems and his inability to form a governing coalition. Thomas Friedman has written that Netanyahu and Hamas have needed each other for each to remain in power and prevent a more moderate coalition from destroying their respective positions in power. Naftali Bennett, a far right leader of the tiny Yamina or rightward party, will now be prime minister for two years, yielding then to his secular, centrist coalition partner, Yair Lapid, for the next two years. Netanyahu, facing criminal corruption charges, warns he'll be back. We're going to talk to Yoav Peled to clarify what all of this means. He's the co-author, with Horit Herman Peled, most recently of The Religionization of Israeli Society,[*] which couldn't be timelier to explain the dynamics of nationalism and religion in Israel, both among Muslims and Jews. We're going to get Yoav's analysis and look at the ways this conflict reflects political trends in the wider world. All this when our program returns in just a moment.

This is Jacobin Radio, I'm Suzi Weissman and really pleased to have Yoav Peled back with us. He is professor emeritus of political science at Tel Aviv University in Israel, where he joins us, staying up late, and his latest book written with Horit Herman Peled is The Religionization of Israeli Society, and his other books include Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship and Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood. And this book, The Religionization of Israeli Society, Yoav tells me, had as its original title From Ben-Gurion to Bennett. But that was nixed by the publisher because no one knew who Bennett was. Well, I think that's going to change now. The book sheds light on how the country has moved from secular Zionism to an increasingly far right expansionist religious Zionism and how understanding that helps us understand this election, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the relation between everything else culture, politics, nationalism, secularization and new social movement. So welcome Yoav to Jacobin radio. And I want to just begin, because you write that “an anti-Zionist Islamist political party was willing to forsake the cause of Palestinian nationalism, at least for the moment, in return for various material concessions from a right wing Israeli government, while an ultra-nationalist religious Jewish political party was willing to sabotage the attempt to form the most extremely Jewish nationalist government in Israel's history by refusing to cooperate with an Arab party even in its most minimal way”. And of course, I guess you could say that Netanyahu was saved by Hamas, as you do in your article by the rocket attack. So there's a lot to unpack. And Yoav, I'm really glad I have you here to help us understand it.


Yoav Peled: [00:03:44] Thank you for having me.


Suzi Weissman: [00:03:46] Well, let's just begin with how do you see this election and the new coalition with Naftali Bennett alternating with Yair Lapid?


Yoav Peled: [00:03:56] Well, I don't think the alternation will ever come about, I don't think this government will last two years because,  as you know, as I'm sure your listeners also know, this government has a majority of two in the Knesset, and these two include four members of this Islamist political party called the United Arab List, which was before perfectly willing to go with Netanyahu, except, like you said, the more extreme right wing religious nationalist party that calls itself religious Zionism vetoed that. And that's why this United Arab list went with the current coalition. And it's very fragile. For example, next week there will come the need to renew a temporary order which prevents Palestinians from the West Bank, as well as the citizens of other Arab countries, marrying Israeli citizens, namely Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. This law has been on the books as a temporary order since 2003, I think. And it's coming up for renewal every year because it’s a temporary order. Now, this Islamist party will not vote for an extension of this temporary order. It's out of the question. So this government will not have a majority unless some people from the right wing opposition help them get this through one more time. So here you see the tension and potential explosion that are within this very strange coalition that ranges from very, very extreme right to sort of very liberal and including an Islamist political party.


Suzi Weissman: [00:05:39] So there's a lot of right in there and you just said that it's very fragile, this coalition, and you have doubts already that it won't last. But before we get to that, are you saying as well that you don't think that it'll be able to enact any kind of legislation that would boost its popularity or maybe, you know, break through the kind of divide that has existed thus far or for the last 12 years?


Yoav Peled: [00:06:06] It will be very hard. Maybe they will succeed in some things, but it will be very hard because there are very, very deep divisions within that coalition, and it's very unusual. And now we also have to remember that the prime minister for the first time in Israel's history has behind him a party of only six members. So he's very weak, is very weak within his own coalition. So I'm not saying they will not be able to enact anything, but I think everything that is somewhat controversial within this very multicolored coalition will be very difficult to pass.


Suzi Weissman: [00:06:44] I guess that we should go into who Bennett is and then go back to looking at both the populism and the Israeli variant, let's say, of populism and then religious nationalism. But, you know, I alerted you earlier to an article that appeared in The New York Times that is basically saying, let's not judge him too quickly. Naftali Bennett may come from a small right wing party, but he's got this subtle and sophisticated mind, that he's a rigorous thinker. And I guess it sort of implied that he is more flexible than people have imagined. And I'm sure you have your own take on that. But let's talk a little bit about who he is and what he represents. You've already said that he comes from a tiny party, but he's managed to be the person now who will be the prime minister.


Yoav Peled: [00:07:35] Yes. Well, let's talk about him personally for a minute. Personally he is very much like Bibi Netanyahu. That's interesting and strange. Like Netanyahu, he was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. His parents went to Berkeley, were active in the civil rights movement, then made teshuvah -- in other words they became religious Jews who went to Israel, then returned to the United States where he grew up, then returned to Israel again. So you already see this kind of a background. But he himself has always been very right wing. He was director general of what is called the Yesha Council, which is the organization that represents all of the local authorities, the Jewish local authorities, in the West Bank. And before that, in Gaza, too. When he was there, it was in Gaza too. So his record and his activities are all very much right wing. There is another faction that's even to the right of him. That's the one that calls itself now Religious Zionism. So compared to them, he's moderate. But this moderation is very, very, very limited, I would say.


Suzi Weissman: [00:08:49] How do you characterize this religious Zionism? I know you've written, you know, more than a book on it. And also your article in Merip?


Yoav Peled: [00:08:57] We have to distinguish between two things which can get confused here. There is the historical movement of religious Zionism, that was never called Religious Zionism, it had all kinds of different names. Politically for most of the years after the establishment of Israel they were called the National Religious Party. So there was no party called Religious Zionism, but religious Zionism was a stream within Zionism and for most of its history, it was more moderate politically than the mainstream Zionist political parties. This changed in 1967 with settlements and all of that. Now, the party that now calls itself Religious Zionism is more extreme, nationalistically and more extreme religiously. And I think it would be quite fair to say, to characterize it, or at least some elements in it, as proto-fascist.


Suzi Weissman: [00:09:53] All right. Well, is there a populist aspect to the religious Zionist movement?


Yoav Peled: [00:10:00] Well, certainly not historically, certainly not historically, and in that sense, Bennett continues the historical course of the mainstream religious Zionist movement, except, of course, that he is politically on the right wing, and they were not, until 1967.  Historically the religious Zionist movement within Zionism was very much a bourgeois political movement, very, I would say, a kind of staid, maybe that is the right word for it. You know, respectable, respectable middle class families. Moderate in every respect. And so I remember, I can still remember we were next door neighbors of the leader of the religious, historical religious, Zionist political party, the National Religious Party. And I remember his eldest daughter, who now unfortunately died prematurely, but she used to come back from activities within the youth movement that they have in shorts, and she would hug and kiss her boyfriend in the entrance  of our building, I mean hidden a little bit. But today, I mean, you cannot imagine the girls in that movement in anything but a skirt that sweeps the floor and so on and so on, not to mention even shaking hands with a boy or anything like that. And the party called Religious Zionism is on the extreme pole of all of those changes.


Suzi Weissman: [00:11:44] So, I mean, I think we're going to have to go back historically a lot to understand this at least, so American listeners can get, you know, some grasp of what's happened in Israeli politics over the last period. What we mostly see is the eclipse already 12 years ago or more of Israeli Labor and the notion of a secular Israeli society promoting more economic concerns as well as the nagging Israeli-Palestinian issues. And I know you go into all of that, but I think before we go there, let's just talk a little bit about this election and then go back to the forces that are represented in it, because Netanyahu warns that he'll be back. You think that this is a fragile coalition. It seems that most of Israel was united to get rid of Netanyahu, that they could see through his sort of opportunistic antics that were there just to keep him in power. And he's been compared everywhere to Trump or Trump to Netanyahu. Could you talk a little bit more about that and how it came to be in this, what, four elections in two years and this outcome?


Yoav Peled: [00:12:52] Yes, you're right. But it's not most of the Israeli public. It's just like Trump, it's half and half. That's why Netanyahu was on the verge of being able to form a government and the current government was also on the verge of being able to form a government. That said, they succeeded and he didn't. And the only reason he didn't was that the most extreme right wing party in his coalition vetoed the participation of the Arab party. That's the only reason why Netanyahu could not form a government. But in terms of the Jewish Israeli public, of course, it's about 50/50. So I think that there are two possible scenarios with this government: one, that it will disintegrate while Netanyahu is still leader of Likud and he will come back. But I think more likely is that the Likud eventually -- and I think rather soon -- will get rid of Netanyahu, because by now he's a liability for them. He's the only reason they couldn’t form a government, because in this new coalition there are three right wing parties, which naturally would vote with Likud; only because of Netanyahu they don’t vote with Likud. And by the way, the reason is that the leaders of these three parties were close associates of Netanyahu in different stages of his career, including Bennett. Bennett was his chief of staff when Netanyahu was head of the opposition. And they all know him very well and they hate him. I think there's no other word. So they were willing to do anything to get rid of him.. So I think if Likud gets rid of Netanyahu, which they have to do because he's only a burden on them, and  I assume it will take maybe six months, then these three right-wing political parties will join Likud, it is their natural ally, and will form a new government, which would have the support of maybe 70 members of the Knesset, out of 120. There would be a normal right wing government which the division of public opinion in Israel warrants.


Suzi Weissman: [00:14:59] What about Netanyahu's legal problems? The last time we spoke, you know, we were talking about, I think the third election, perhaps the fourth, was very clear that he needed to stay in power, to stay out of jail. How is that proceeded and will that have some impact on whether or not he'll be toppled from the leadership of the Likud?


Yoav Peled: [00:15:20] Yes, definitely. The trial is going on. They are still examining the first witness for the prosecution. And this will go on for at least, I don't know, a month or two. And of course, the more the trial advances, the deeper will Netanyahu be a problem. And I think this will hasten the time when Likud will get rid of him, because not being the prime minister is harder for him to fight this trial. And that's like you said, this was the reason it was so important for him to stay as prime minister. Now, that he is only head of the opposition, it will be harder for him to do all these tricks and schticks that he likes to do, in order to at least slow down the pace of the trial. And the more the trial goes on, he is deeper in trouble and the better chances that we get rid of him.


Suzi Weissman: [00:16:15] Did he have immunity or does he have immunity while he's in power but loses it as soon as he's out of power? Is that what you're saying?


Yoav Peled: [00:16:21] No, he has immunity, but his immunity is as member of the Knesset, that's all. But his immunity as member of Knesset applies only to actions that he performs in his capacity as a member of Knesset. Then he has general immunity, which he can be stripped of -- the procedure is that he has to ask for it, it is not automatic. And he did not ask for it, because asking for it, I think, would be an admission that there is something there, so he did not ask for immunity. And the truth is that when he was prime minister he tried to pass a law, they call it in Israel the French Law, that would give him immunity as prime minister as long as he serves,  like an American president or a French president. But he never had enough votes to get this law through the Knesset.


Suzi Weissman: [00:17:13] And, you started out Yoav by saying how Israeli society is divided pretty much evenly. And this has been the case for a very long time, even though it seems that the issues that they have been divided around have shifted somewhat. And I want you to explain that in terms of the increasing religionization of the society. But would you say then that the half of the society that has supported Netanyahu so long will look past any of his improprieties, his corruption charges? Do they dismiss them in the way that, let's say, Americans who love Trump don't care about his activities, they just like him?


Yoav Peled: [00:17:54] Exactly. Exactly. Exactly the same thing. I mean, it's a typical populist leader. His followers are completely committed to him. They either don't believe or else don't care that he's done what he's accused of and they support him totally. So I don't think that this downfall will come from them. Hisdownfall will come from his colleagues in the Likud, leaders who know that they can all be in the government, they can be ministers, and one of them can be prime minister, as soon as they get rid of him. And so the coup d'état within the Likud will come from the leadership, it will not come from the rank and file. The rank and file, I think, will stay committed to Netanyahu for a long time.


Suzi Weissman: [00:18:40] Let's go in a little bit deeper then into the nature of that support and the role that religion plays, this is really the subject of what you've been writing about, the sort of advent of religious Zionism, and the kind of unlikely part of it is that it's nationalism. Of course, Zionism is a form of nationalism. And you have one side and the other, each expressing, I don't mean in Israel, but I'm talking about Israeli-Palestinian conflict here, that the opponents both represent a form of this religious nationalism. But let's go to the Israeli part. How did this come about and how do you characterize it? You've started to say Yoav, you've talked about the sort of two aspects of it. Let's go a little deeper into it.


Yoav Peled: [00:19:22] Well,  like we wrote in our book, there is a long term process of religionization which begins in 1967 with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and all the rest that was occupied. But the main thing, of course, is the West Bank. And as it becomes evident that there is no peaceful solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, or to the problem of the occupation of the West Bank, people turn more and more to religion to justify this reality, because how can you justify it otherwise? And it's also to overcome the insecurity that develops, because people realize that we're going to live in a situation where war is imminent all the time. And we just had one, although it lasted only 11 days. That's true. But it was pretty, pretty traumatic for a lot of people that were subjected to missile attacks from Gaza. And so religion gives them some kind of, like always, religion gives them some kind of solace, some kind of refuge from this deep insecurity. This is what strengthens religious Zionism and it is on its way to becoming culturally hegemonic, which doesn't necessarily express itself in votes in elections, because their vote in elections has been more or less stable, around 10 percent plus or minus of the Knesset. And this is where it is right now, too, but in terms of the way people see the world, the way people see the issues is more and more consonant with the religious Zionist outlook. And Bibi’s supporters, first of all, part of his staunchest  supporters are the ultra-orthodox. The ultra-orthodox political parties are completely, totally committed to him. And then there are the people who are called traditionalists, who are somewhat religious but not fully observant. Typically, these are what is called now Mizrahim, in other words, people whose families came from the Muslim countries and they form the bulk of Bibi’s popular support.


Suzi Weissman: [00:21:36] So what's interesting about this is that, you mentioned in your article that was in Merip, that this process, yes, was very long and that one of the ways that it became more acceptable, this form of religion in a society that was more secular previously, was that,


Yoav Peled: somewhat secular, I’d say, not really secular.


Suzi Weissman: [00:21:58] Well, right. And of course, it is a religious state. But on the other hand, it was not a society known for its deep religious practice for the majority. But you say in your article that under several Zionist religious education ministers that came into place and changed the nature of public education to insert more religious quality into it, and that Naftali Bennett was one of them. How did that go over? Was that a sort of simple process? And, you know, when you and I spoke over one of the last three elections, at that point, Netanyahu's ability to govern depended on him uniting with Avigdor Liberman's far right nationalist party. But he was an avowed secularist, as so many of the Russian immigrants were, and that was a breaking point for them. Can you sort of explain how the hegemony of the religious side has come to be in the forefront?


Yoav Peled: [00:22:54] WelI I think that the deepest reason is this fact, this phenomenon, that there are hardly any really secular Jews in Israel, because what is the justification for Zionism, if not Jewish religion? So people tend to feel that the more religious you are, the more legitimate you are. So when Bennet, he’s is the main one, he is not the only one, he is the main one who introduces very, I would say, fast and deep religionization in the educational system. People don't really object to it. There may be murmurs of some kind of dissatisfaction, but people were not really organized to fight it, because there's always this feeling that there's this inferiority complex of the supposedly secular in front of the religious. So, you know, so what's wrong with a little bit of Yiddishkeit  in the school system? So what's wrong if the kids know this prayer or that prayer and this page of the Talmud or that page of the Talmud? after all, we are Jews and this is a Jewish state. So there is some resistance, but it never crystallized to anything effective, and this process is going on and on and on.


Suzi Weissman: [00:24:12] Right. OK, so let's talk a little bit more then about how this form, you know, replaced the Labor Zionism that had existed for so long in Israel and which also created a sort of polarized society between labor and more liberal outlook and Likud in the more religious nationalist ones, both of which, though, had more or less a similar position with regard to the Palestinian conflict.


Yoav Peled: [00:24:39] Well, Labor since 1967 had two major problems, which really brought it down. First of all, in 1967, they could not decide of a course of action with respect to the newly occupied territories. It was a deep split within the Labor Party. So the result was paralysis and inaction. They didn't decide what to do. So religious Zionists took the initiative and started settling in the West Bank with all kinds of winks from Labor dignitaries, including Shimon Peres, who later on became this Nobel laureate for peace. But a wink from Shimon Peres, a wink from Rabin, a wink from Yigal Alon, and they started establishing settlements. When labor lost power in 1977 there were only five thousand settlers in the West Bank, but still the process began. The second problem Labor had was the shift to neoliberal economics from corporatist economics to neoliberal economics in 1985, which completely shattered the social economic basis on which Labor’s power rested, which was based on the Histradut, which is usually translated in English as a labor union federation, but  it  was not a labor union federation. It was what is called an umbrella labor organization, that at its height owned 25 percent of the economy, employing 25 percent of the industrial workforce, and provided secure jobs with relatively decent salaries and a whole host of social services, most importantly, health care -- at its height it provided health care to 70 percent of the population. Now in 1985, Labor itself started the process of dismantling this whole structure. So with their own hands they destroyed their social economic, plus what happened with the West Bank and Gaza, and at the beginning, Sinai too, after 1967, this was the reason that Labor lost its power and lost its cultural hegemony.


Suzi Weissman: [00:26:57] Can you talk a little bit more, because now you've introduced it in all of your analysis previously, Yoav Peled, you have talked about the economic basis of the so-called peace process, which was always a fraud, in your view. But can you go back now a little bit? Because what we're seeing right now at this present moment, and it's not just in Israel but in the world, is a rejection of the neoliberal economic model, which is seen to promote widespread inequality. That's also happened in Israel, maybe not as accentuated as other places because there is still somewhat of a social safety net, at least for Jews. But how is that reflected in the current political lineup in Israel and especially after this almost a year and a half of the pandemic?


Yoav Peled: [00:27:42] Well, first of all, Israeli politics in the last two or three years were only around one issue -- Netanyahu.  You were either for Netanyahu or against Netanyahu, and everything else receded into the background. Now, Netanyahu's performance during the pandemic was, I would say, mediocre at the beginning as far as identifying and treating the illness, the Corona, but then, excellent as far as getting the vaccines. So, you know, Israel is first in the world in terms of vaccination. We are now completely moving around, completely free. And so on, so his record on that is very mixed and so it depends which side you're on. If you're for Netanyahu, you extoll the vaccinations. If you're against Netanyahu, you say, OK, the vaccinations but what  happened before the vaccinations, why was the health care system not more effective? Why? For example, when we started the lockdown, they allowed 12,000, Yeshiva students from New York to come into Israel when New York was absolutely infested with Corona. And so on and so on and so on. So on the issue of that, of the pandemic, also, there's the same split. You see Netanyahu’s positive side or negative side, depending on where you stand on him personally. So all other issues, the stimulus, the economy, state and religion, and so on and so on are all irrelevant now or were irrelevant, at least, until this new government came in. And now we'll see what happens.


Suzi Weissman: [00:29:22] When that's obviously the place where most of the journalists that we're seeing are talking about the hopes that they have for this new government, that because the new coalition, which you say is fragile, but nonetheless represents both far right and center, I don't know if you would call it center left, but at least centrist, more moderate, let's say, forces, that it will allow issues that have been plaguing Israeli society but have been ignored, like unemployment, like other issues that you could bring up, come to the fore. But then there's also the other main issue that we'll get to after that. But do you first accept that this is a possibility now and that this could strengthen perhaps this coalition, that they'll address these more pressing economic and social issues?


Yoav Peled: [00:30:07] The Israeli economy was in a very good state before the Corona, unemployment was around four percent, which, as you know, is considered full employment. And now it's recovering very fast.  In general, as surprising as this may be, neoliberalism really benefited the Israeli economy after the first 10 years, which were harsh on the poorer sectors of society. Since about 1995, things have changed and the overall performance of the economy, as well as the situation of many, many people improved. And that's also part of the reason for this very strong support for Netanyahu, because a lot of people are much better off economically during these 12 years than they were before. So that's another reason. Now, as you know, for a government it's not so easy to deal with economic issues. I mean, there are very powerful interests involved, and the new finance minister, this same Avigdor Liberman that you mentioned, whose reputation, as you know, we all know about, I don't want to say any more than that, he's now in charge of the public purse. He's a staunch neoliberal in his political economic views. He also controls, and this is the first time this has happened, at least since the old days of Mapai, this is the first time this has happened, that his party also controls the Knesset Finance Committee, which is supposed to supervise the finance minister. So what he will do is very hard to tell. And I doubt very much that he's going to do anything that would move towards a more, let's say, less unequal society.


Suzi Weissman: [00:32:03] And what about, let's go to the Israeli-Palestinian, not just the conflict, but also the role of the Israeli Arab parties or  the United Arab List, the UAL. What does the United Arab list that is now part of the governing coalition do? This is a first, but you have people in the coalition who say that Arab Israelis should not be Israeli and that, you know, they may be citizens for now, but not forever.


Yoav Peled: [00:32:28] No, that isn’t somebody in the coalition, that's the most extreme right wing religious Zionists, who are not in the coalition. Nobody in the coalition is saying anything like that.


Suzi Weissman: [00:32:37] All right, that's good. So what does it mean, though, to have them [the UAL] in the coalition? Will it change some part of it? And the reason I'm asking, not just in general, but also there was an article, I think, in The New York Times that talked about the Arab Israeli medical personnel that were considered front line workers and heroes during the pandemic, but complained that once they left the hospital, they were humiliated and treated as second class, just as all Arabs are in the society. And the question then would be whether or not there would be some form of recognition of their role in society?


Yoav Peled: [00:33:14] What we know is what happened the previous time that an Arab political party was part of the coalition, even though at that time it was not really officially  part of the government, but  supported it from the outside. This was during Itzhak Rabin's government, and that was the best period for Israel's Arab citizens in Israel's entire history. So there is this reason for hope that the fact that this government depends, absolutely depends for its very existence, on these four votes of Arab members of the Knesset, that the policy towards them would improve. Now, of course, in the daily lives of Israel’s Palestinian citizens it doesn't matter that much who is in the government, and what the government is doing, if they are viewed as in the way you describe them. It's absolutely true. And their presence in the medical, all the medical professions, but also at the top, they are hospital directors and the heads of hospital departments and so on and so on. But it's true when they leave the hospital and go home, they are just Arabs. So it's hard to see how this attitude of the everyday person  towards them would change, no matter what the government does. Now, we also have to remember that we just went through a period of mutual pogroms and lynches between Arabs and Jews and Arabs played a major role in this. That also had a very serious impact. And a lot of people view the Arab citizens much more negatively than before these events. That's also a factor.


Suzi Weissman: [00:35:01] Maybe you could elaborate a little bit more Yoav on that, because what we see from here is simply the Hamas rockets that were propelled and were certainly of inferior might and weight compared to what Israel had against the Gazan citizens. But talk a little bit more about how this played out in Israel. When you  looked at news reports, you saw Israelis talking about Arabs in a way that was so openly racist that it was even shocking to see. So what kind of lynchings took place, what kind of pogroms?


Yoav Peled: [00:35:35] There were, you know, at least one of them was a case of an Arab or Muslim, who didn't die, but was very, very heavily injured by Jews, near Tel Aviv. And there was at least one case of a Jew being lynched to death by Arabs in Lydda.  In Jaffa, which is more or less, you can say, the Arab neighborhood of Tel Aviv, or a neighborhood that is at least partially Arab, there was a famous incident where a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the apartment of an Arab family by mistake by Arabs, because they mistook them for Jews. And there were also several synagogues that were burned down and cars that were burned down in the mutual attacks here and there. Numerically, it happened more on the Arab side towards the Jews than vice versa, but it was on both sides. Tensions are strong now and a lot of Jews avoid Arab areas, which, of course, harms Arab businesses, which depend on their Jewish clientele.


Suzi Weissman: [00:36:43] Does this change the dynamic in any way in terms of the willingness to, let's say, have any negotiation, you know, with the Palestinians? You mentioned that it hardens each population against each other. But previously we've talked about and it's certainly in the articles that Netanyahu needed Hamas and Hamas has also needed Netanyahu, that it galvanizes each of them in their own society. How do you see that now that this new coalition will be in power? Is it the same dynamic?


Yoav Peled: [00:37:15] Yes, it is the same dynamic, there's no such thing as negotiations with the Palestinians. There's nothing to negotiate about this, about the whole issue of the two states and the peace process. All of that is long dead. So there's really nothing to negotiate. I mean, they can negotiate, you know, very mundane kind of day to day things. But overall, the conflict, there is no process or any attempt to try to do anything about the basic conflict, neither with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and of course, not with Hamas in Gaza. So that issue is really dead. I know that now the Biden administration says we want you to start. This is nonsense. Since the second intifada of 2000 this possibility died, there is no question…


Suzi Weissman: [00:38:06] you are talking about the two state solution that has died…


Yoav Peled: [00:38:08] Two State solution or any solution. Because what we have is, we have the reality of one state which is being ruled, governed, very unequally between different segments of that one state. That’s the reality. And of course, there is no movement to change it except to make it a little bit more formal. This whole issue of annexing parts of the West Bank, what is known as Area C, which Bennet is totally in favor of, at least until now he was totally in favor of annexing it to Israel. We will see if that happens, and so on and so on. But basically, no major changes in the setup of Israeli-Palestinian relations is likely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.


Suzi Weissman: [00:38:54] And do you see as separate the issue of Fatah's difficulties in maintaining its governing role that you see Abbas postponing elections, that you get youth demonstrations there saying we're sick of the same leadership, we want more democracy? Does that have any repercussions in Israel, does it affect anything? How do you see that?


Yoav Peled: [00:39:16] Israel didn't want them to have these elections because Hamas was sure to win these elections as it did the previous one in 2006. Hamas won that election, but in the West Bank they wouldn't let them take power. In Gaza, since Israel withdrew, Hamas took power because Israel was not there to prevent it. But Hamas won the last election. They would have won this election too. And that's why both Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. were interested in not having those elections. And so this is what happened. But the Palestinian Authority is an empty shell now. There's really nothing there. It's just a totally empty thing now.


Suzi Weissman: [00:40:01] So do you see anything Yoav Peled, other than a hardening along both nationalist and religious lines on both sides of this conflict?


Yoav Peled: [00:40:09] Well, unfortunately not. I think this is the dynamic right now. Like you say, on both sides. On the Palestinian side, Hamas is getting stronger and more influential, which means also that people become more religious, because Hamas, of course, is an Islamist party. Hamas and the United Arab List are both sort of affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. So even though right now, politically, they are, let's say, on opposite sides of the political divide, basically they are part of the same larger movement of the Muslim Brotherhood. And so religion is being strengthened among Muslims in Israel and among the Palestinians in the same way as it is among the Jews.


Suzi Weissman: [00:40:58] And how do you see that developing, because this is a really bleak picture, you know, Yoav, and it's one that we saw the triumph, I guess you could say that Trump allowed, that certainly published and publicized was his success in getting other Arab states to recognize Israel. And just the dynamic seems to be hardening. And I'd like to get more of your view about how Trump affected the situation and now perhaps with Biden, and then this new government, whether there'll be any change whatsoever in relations with the wider Arab world?


Yoav Peled: [00:41:36] Trump did a few things, of course, moving the American embassy supposedly to Jerusalem, I don't know. The American embassy is very close to us in Tel Aviv and I don't see any less security or less activity there, it is purely symbolic. But it was an important symbol. Trump also enabled Israel to make peace with countries it was never at war with. So it's paraded as a great achievement. Of course, it doesn't mean very much in terms of the real issues. So I don't think the Biden administration is either interested or capable of changing anything with regard to that, that they will do maybe like Obama, they will pay some lip service to the peace process and sponsor some kind of empty negotiation meetings or discussions. But I mean, of course, if the United States decided to go all out and force a settlement, it would be easy to do that. But you know very well this is not going to happen. So it would be, you know, blah, blah, like before and nothing substantial would happen.


Suzi Weissman: [00:42:49] All right. Well, let's talk a little bit more then about that, Yoav, because we have a few minutes left. And I want to get a sort of wider perspective of the divide within Israel, because you still have now the centrist coalition. You said that for the last several years, the only issue has been Netanyahu. But is that the case, that it was Netanyahu as leader of Likud and it was a rejection of Likud's policies or just the person of Netanyahu? What I'm looking for is some understanding of how politics, the wider politics of the situation in Israel, of the economic situation, of inequality, of labor, of all of these other issues, immigration. How does that fit in now? Does that sort of play into people's getting tired of Netanyahu but doesn't get reflected in, say, support for the other parties on the more centrist side?


Yoav Peled: [00:43:41] Yes, the issue was Netanyahu personally, his corruption, his corrupting of many of the state systems, especially the ones that deal with law enforcement, especially the ones that deal with his trial. And the clearest indication of that is that you see that in the current government, in the anti-Netanyahu coalition, you have three real very right-wing political parties. So they don't have any problem with Netanyahu in terms of policy or in terms of ideology or in terms of politics in general. They have a problem with the person who they see, I think correctly, is really a very dangerous, corrupting agent within the Israeli political system. And they would, like I said before, these were three leaders or people who worked very closely with him. They know him very well and they realize that it is really dangerous to let him continue. It's not any political disagreement. Just a question of this person is dangerous for Israeli democracy, for Israel as a whole. He needs to be removed. This is the only thing that ties this government together, no major differences with Likud or anything like that. Some of them are to the right of Likud. Bennett is supposedly ideologically to the right of Likud. The party headed by Gideon Sa’ar, a former student of mine by the way, is also to the right of Likud. Avigdor Lieberman, well Lieberman is Lieberman, so it's hard to tell, but he's also very right wing. So they have no problem with Netanyahu’s economic policies, policies towards the Palestinians, or anything substantial. It's just the persona, the persona that they know very well and that they realize that he needs to be removed in order to maintain some kind of democratic, I would say, democratic setup in the state of Israel.


Suzi Weissman: [00:45:45] I'm glad you said that, because that's clearly the issue and Thomas Friedman was writing in The New York Times, you know that. Well, first of all, he compared Netanyahu and Trump and the populism of each, but that  has now come to an end. And he saw, I guess, the recent explosion or the recent bombing of Gaza to be similar in a way to, or the events around it to be similar to the January 6 insurrection or riot in in the United States. But he thought that mostly it was a ploy to prevent any further integration of Arabs into Israeli society. And I know you agree in some respects with Friedman’s overall view, but I guess the real question is how Israel fits into this wider, far right populist dynamic that we're seeing around the world. That is, by the way, I think receding. But I'd like to get your opinion. Does Israel fit into this context in any way?


Yoav Peled: [00:46:42] Well, I'm glad that you see it receding, I’m not so sure, but let’s hope.  I think you see the same pattern, you see the same pattern in Israel like you saw in the United States, like you see in those Eastern European countries, like you see in India and so on, and so on. It's nationalist populism. And it is based on the very kind of, on the dichotomy between us and them. They are the enemy. They are, if they are among us, the traitors. And, you know, everyone, all of the Likud members of Knesset didn't let Bennet even speak in his first speech as prime minister by yelling: “you traitor,” “you liar,” so he couldn't finish the speech. So with the populist supporters, it is also the same thing. It's either you are with us, meaning the leader, the leader who embodies the people. Whoever is with the leader is the people. Everybody else is the elite and a bunch of traitors. And you see this dynamic in all of those places and it goes the same way. So I think Israel is very much within that stream, and also in the UK, with Brexit, you see the same dynamic in a lot of places. And Israel is part of it in the same way. I mean, the issues are different because, for example, in Israel there is no issue of immigration. Nowadays, you know, we have those miserable 30,000 African asylum seekers that the populists make out to be a huge issue. But of course, it's not an issue. They are only a fraction of the population. And the economy is also not a big issue because the situation has improved for the same kind of people who might support the Trump in the United States. In Israel, for the equivalent people in a similar situation, economically it has improved. So it's not that. It's that Jewish Arab division and support for this leader. I mean, support is a weak word to describe it, total commitment to this leader. And so it's very much part of the of the general right-wing populist phenomenon that we've seen in a lot of places.


Suzi Weissman: [00:49:05] With the difference that in Israel it's more religious based. And I think that's really important. But when I said it was receding, you know, so long as these populist governments that are anti-democratic, increasingly authoritarian, they certainly got a lot of popularity among certain sectors of the population. But if they can't deliver economically, it can't go on forever. And that's really, in a way, how I see the divide in the United States. And I'm asking because obviously the labor movement is insignificant right now in Israel, as it is in the United States. It's been pummeled, even though there's lots of struggles. But the social safety net must be an important aspect in Israel to maintain the support. You say the economy has performed better and neoliberalism worked in a way there, at least for the population that supports Netanyahu. How has that worked out there? Because one sees here that health care was a dividing issue, that inequality was a dividing issue. And because the Democrats representing, you know, this sort of, what liberal neoliberalism, however you want to talk about it, did nothing to ameliorate the economic situation that created a base for a populist Trump to come in, very much like Brexit, because these are the left behinds. Is there any sort of similarity in Israel? In other words, can you talk a little bit about that, and within that, the role of the strong public sector?


Yoav Peled: [00:50:37] Well you see that the left behinds in Israel are not left behind that much, that's the issue. So because they really, they benefited in the last 10, 15, 20 years from economic liberalization. I think it's peculiar to this country, not what you see in other countries, but this is the situation here. And that's part of the reason they support Netanyahu so much. Now, I think Israel's luck is that the neoliberals have not succeeded in destroying the entire safety net so far, so even though the Histadrut, that umbrella labor organization, was pretty much destroyed, and so it’s now really a bunch of labor unions, some of their institutions continue in one form or another. Most importantly, the health care institutions, which are not tied to it anymore. But they are still non-profit, even though the neoliberals in the government wanted to make those HMO’s in American language, they wanted to make them for-profit organizations, but they have not succeeded in doing that yet. And because they are not for profit and because they are very effective in terms of providing health care and gathering data about public health, this is a major incentive for Pfizer to give, to sell, of course, at a very high price, but sell so many vaccinations because the data that they could get from Israel about the effects of vaccination was better than they could in any other country. So you see, this is a remnant of the Labor legacy, which so far, the neoliberals have been unable to distort. But in terms of other social services, in terms of the public sector in general, Israel is following the United States pretty closely. Even in health care Israel is only second to the United States in the OECD in terms of the share of health care expenditures that comes out of the pocket of the people, of the clients, you may say, of these HMO’s. So, OK, well, I don't want to get into more details because it would be boring.


Suzi Weissman: [00:53:02] It's never boring. But what I'm really interested in is the way that I see what you're describing, Yoav, is that even though neoliberalism as a model has improved the economy and has successfully divided, let's say, the population, even though it may not be the economics, is not the real issue. But if they dared to, let's say, completely eviscerate the national health system in Israel, that clearly would have been a dividing line, wouldn't it? Or wouldn't it have some effect in breaking away support for Netanyahu and Likud, and perhaps reviving…


Yoav Peled: [00:53:38]  No, you see because the way they do it in this country, at least,  is very smart. They do it in a way that people support it. You see, when they nationalized the health care system, those HMOs, they used the fact that people were bitching all the time about waiting in long lines and clinics being physically dilapidated somewhat, and so on. And so people had a lot of resentment against these HMOs, especially the one owned by Histadrut. So it was easy. It was easy to get through that whatever opposition there was. Now I’ll give you an amazing anecdote. They have been trying to privatize the National Electric Company and now we have on television ads paid for by the electric company, advertising the fact that it is being privatized. That it is privatizing some of its power stations. I mean, it was hard to believe when I see it, they are publicizing their own destruction as an achievement! People, you know, there's a strong anti-union feeling like in the United States, like in many other places, because in Israel historically the workers in the National Electric Company get free electricity. That gets people mad. How come they get free electricity? Really, the fiscal effects of that is nothing but, you know, it makes people mad. So if it is privatized, the union would not be so strong, they would not get free electricity. But, as you know, it will happen like everywhere when electricity is privatized and I don’t have to tell you. They think they are smart, that they can get it through in such a way that it will not encounter any real serious opposition.


Suzi Weissman: [00:55:37] Amazing story Yoav. I have one final question, and that is, given that Netanyahu is now out, at least temporarily, do you see this as a kind of status quo ante to Netanyahu? Do you see any change in the politics or will it just be away from the personality, but the same sort of policies?


Yoav Peled: [00:55:56] I think that the policies will stay more or less the same, if for no other reason, because this new coalition is so internally divided. So it is hard to see how they can -- and by the way, in the agreement that set up the government they said, we're not going to implement any policy that is not agreed upon by everybody, which means there's very little left that they could do, because you will find it very hard to agree on anything except for very few issues.


Suzi Weissman: [00:56:24] Yoav Peled, thank you so much for all of that. And I'm going to encourage people to look for your article in Merip and also to get your book, The Religionization of Israeli Society, which really goes into explaining in depth how we've come to the situation that we have, that you have this increasing religious nationalist divide. Yoav Peled is a professor emeritus of political science at Tel Aviv University, author of many books. And thank you so much. You're my go to person for understanding both Israel and the wider conflict.


Yoav Peled: [00:56:56] Thank you very much.



[*] Yoav Peled, Horit Herman Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society, Routledge 2019.

From Maniv and Benziman's article in Israel Studies.

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Education, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

“Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled[‘s book is] the most comprehensive research on religionization in Israeli society to date” (Omri Maniv and Yuval Benziman, “National-Religionization (and not Religious-Religionization) in Policies of Israel’s Ministry of Education,” Israel Studies 25.2: 2020, p. 116.

Review by Hayim Katsman

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Art & Visual Culture, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Political Science, Politics & International Relations, Religion, Sociology, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice

Yoav Peled, Horit Herman Peled. The Religionization of Israeli Society. Oxon:
Routledge, 2018. 250 pp. $150.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-138-95479-3.

Reviewed by Hayim Katsman (University of Washington)

Published on H-Judaic (October, 2019)

Secular Israeli journalists, publicists, and academics
have recently expressed their concerns with the increasing
influence of religion on Israeli society and politics.
In The Religionization of Israeli Society, Yoav Peled and
Horit Herman Peled aim to explain the sociopolitical origins
of this process and describe how religion influences
various spheres of Israeli society. The authors identify
religionization as replacing secular civil religion in Israel
with traditional religion, a process which has been
taking place since the decline of the Labor Zionist Party,
starting with its fall from power in 1977. The religionization
of Israel entails the increasing representation of
Religious Zionists in state institutions, as well as cultural
fields, such as fine arts and cinema. This process is analyzed
by the authors through the Gramscian concept of
cultural hegemony. They describe how the Labor Zionist
hegemony has gradually been replaced by a new historic
bloc consolidated around the Religious Zionist (or
National Religious) movement. The authors argue that
the Religious Zionist nationalist worldview is now supported
by broader parts of the Israeli society, which can
eventually lead to the theocratization of the Israel state.
The main contribution of the book lies in the first
three chapters, which discuss secular-religious relations
within the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.
In the first chapter, the authors give an overview of
some of the scholarly work on the tensions among religion,
modernity, and nationalism, and how these tensions
were dealt with in the Zionist context. The authors
show how the Zionist movement’s reliance on Jewish religious
symbols later served as an ideological foundation
for the Religious Zionist hegemony, enabling other secular
groups to support the Religious Zionist worldview.
The second chapter explains the economic factors that
led to the rise and fall of the hegemony of Labor Zionism.
The third chapter briefly describes the ideology and history
of the Religious Zionist movement and how its political
alliance with the existing Labor Zionist hegemony
shifted to a direct challenge of that hegemony during the
1960s and 1970s.
The fourth chapter is intended to present groups that
are not part of the Religious Zionist movement, but still
can be considered as falling under its “sphere of influence”
the movement of “return” to religion (teshuvah)
and the movement for “Jewish renewal.” The rest of the
book is dedicated to various domains of Israeli society, in
which the authors identify growing religious influence,
mainly due to the increasing presence of Religious Zionists.
The book focuses specifically on the influence of religion
in the education system, Israeli military, and visual
fine arts. One more short chapter discusses the rise of Orthodox
feminism, although it does not account for many
of the recent developments in the movement. The last
chapter analyzes television and film productions created
by Religious Zionists and haredim, or the ultra-Orthodox.
How do the authors define “religionization”? It is not
understood in terms of increasing adherence to religious
law; indeed, religious observance has not grown in Israeli
society. Religionization for them, rather, is the increasing
influence of the Religious Zionist ethnopolitical
worldview on the Israeli public. This influence, in turn,
appears to be measured primarily by the growing numbers
of people associated with religious groups present in
various domains of Israeli society: their mere presence is
defined as “religionization.”

It is of course important not to overlook these processes,
since religion consists of a social dimension and
cannot be reduced to piety and adherence to religious
obligations. However, this emphasis on social representation
and cultural influence raises some analytical problems.
Since the authors argue that the mere fact that
Religious Zionist individuals fill certain influential roles
in society constitutes religionization, how do we understand,
for example, the increasing enlistment of Religious
Zionist women in the Israeli army? It certainly increases
the representation of Religious Zionists in the army. At
the same time, as the authors note, these women are explicitly
disobeying rulings by prominent Religious Zionists
rabbis prohibiting women’s army service. As a result,
a phenomenon that clearly indicates a decline in religious
authority is paradoxically considered to constitute an example
of religionization.
While the authors note some political diversity in
the Religious Zionist movement, they also consider it as
“very strongly correlated with right-wing nationalist political
positions” (p. 216). They emphasize that since
the 1960s and 1970s a group formed around Rabbi Zvi
Yehudah HaCohen Kook became the dominant ideological
force within the Religious Zionist movement. This
group’s explicit political agenda challenged the Labor
Zionist hegemony and argued that political considerations
must be subject to religious considerations. The
main consequence of this idea was the formation of Gush
Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a social movement that
began settling Jews in the territories occupied by Israel
in the 1967 war. The authors successfully show how
this ideology and system of symbols became increasingly
dominant in Israeli society, replacing Israeli civil religion.
However, research has also shown that the influence of
this group within Religious Zionist circles has been declining,
opening space for alternative Religious Zionist
interpretations.[1] Therefore, merely pointing to the increasing
participation of Religious Zionist individuals in
the Israeli public sphere misses the internal diversity of
the movement and the growth of alternative ideological
The authors describe the religionization of Israeli society
through an analysis of Religious Zionist values, focusing
on their influence on the broader Israeli society
and its dominant social symbols. This influence, they
argue, comes about through the increasing participation
of Religious Zionists individuals in various public
domains. However, the authors’ normative standpoint
against what they consider to be Religious Zionist values,
together with the choice to avoid a positive description
of “religionization” is problematic. The book does
not provide us with analytical tools to interpret more ambiguous
cases, such as the non-Orthodox movements for
Jewish renewal, in which the increasing influence of religion
does not necessarily promote an ethnonationalist
worldview. Therefore, the use of the concept is sometime
almost tautological (actions of religious people equal religionization).
To sum up, this book is an important contribution
to the field of Israel studies, offering a comprehensive
and detailed description of the changing role of religion
within the Israeli society. However, scholars of religion
in Israel, and specifically scholars of Religious Zionism
might be disappointed by the lack of a more nuanced and
updated description of the contemporary Religious Zionist
community as well as other forms of Judaism in Israel.

[1]. Chanan Moses, “From Religious Zionism to Postmodern
Religion” (Hebrew) (PhD diss., Bar-Ilan University,

Hayim Katsman is doctoral candidate at the University
of Washington. His dissertation project is entitled “Religious
Nationalism in Israel/Palestine: The Case of Religious
Zionism and Hamas.”

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at:
Citation: Hayim Katsman. Review of Peled, Yoav; Peled, Horit Herman, The Religionization of Israeli Society. HJudaic,
H-Net Reviews. October, 2019.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54272

Review by Paul Scham in Israel Studies Review

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

Yoav Peled and Horit Herman Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society
(New York: Routledge, 2018), 250 pp. Hardback, $150.00.

‘Religionization’ (hadata) is one of those words like phylacteries (tefillin)
and Pentecost (Shavuot) that are best left in their original Hebrew. It is
the central concept of this book (unfortunately used in its gawky English
form) by noted Israeli political scientist Yoav Peled and Horit Herman
Peled, a fine arts and media culture researcher, which demonstrates both
the actual dangers to Israeli life by the process of hadata, as well as the
myopia that afflicts much of the secular left when talking about Judaism
in Israel. In an attempt to avoid confusion I will use hadata when referring
to the actual process, and Religionization when referring to the book itself.

The thesis of the book is neatly encapsulated in the introduction: “Religious
Zionism is fast becoming the hegemonic sector in Israeli society”
(17). Note that it does not mention traditional religious Judaism, whether of
the ‘modern’ or Haredi forms, which, we learn later, are incorporated into
Religious Zionism through the processes of hegemony. The Peleds’ argument
is that all of these varieties are subsumed in and aiding the process
of hadata, even if their devotees are unaware that they are doing so. It thus
mirrors the characterization used by Rabbi A. Y. Kook, the first Ashkenazi
chief rabbi of Palestine, who referred to secular Jews as the “Messiah’s donkey”
because, by fulfilling the mitzvah of living in and rebuilding the Land
of Israel, they were, unheedingly, bringing the Redemption closer.

The first chapters of the book lead us through the rise and fall of the
Labor hegemony (the latter largely self-inflicted, especially by stripping
the Histadrut of its businesses and membership) and the subsequent rise of
the ‘Religious Zionist challenge’. In the chapter of that title, the Peleds analyze
polling and demographic data showing that the National Religious
population is younger and growing faster than the rest of the population
(which is undeniable). But they claim as well that “what may be viewed
as the national religious sphere of influence is at least as large as the core
national religious sector and includes people holding the whole range of
levels of religiosity that exist in the society” (53–54). In other words, the
values, ethos, and political beliefs of the National Religious sector have
spread well beyond those whose religious practice is normative ‘national
Orthodox’ (largely synonymous with ‘modern Orthodox’ in the US).

One of my two major criticisms of the book is its insistence that all
forms of Jewish religiosity are symptomatic of the expansion and hegemony
(in the Gramscian sense) of national Orthodox political and social
values and aims. These ‘hegemonizing’ groups include Haredim of all
stripes, Conservative, Reform, TALI schools (largely formed and directed
by Conservative-oriented American olim), and New Age/Jewish Renewal
movements. However, in my view, and certainly in their own, most of
these groups are explicitly and politically opposed to much or all of the
National Religious agenda. When I brought this up with Yoav Peled at a
discussion of the book in which I was a panelist, he dismissed these groups
as “useful idiots” (shades of Rav Kook’s Messiah’s donkey!).

The book goes on to document National Religious penetration into the
spheres of education, the IDF, fine arts, feminism, and film, television,
and media. While some of this penetration (e.g., education
and the IDF) is well known and the subject of considerable public discussion, other
aspects, especially the fine arts and feminism, are less so. Again, here
the Peleds see any Jewish religious manifestations as proof of National
Religious inroads. According to their interpretation of hegemony, opposition
to Orthodox strictures and demands for loosening its strictures serve
objectively to make Orthodoxy more acceptable. I am highly dubious that
any such thing ‘objectively’ happens.

My other criticism of the book is that it provides no positive vision of
any role for Judaism in Israel. Other than the timeworn argument over a
‘state for the Jews’ versus a ‘Jewish state’, the book does not supply any
vision that takes into account the reality of the enhanced role of religion
in Israel, as in all Middle Eastern states. I got the strong feeling that the
Peleds are not so secretly yearning for the Israel they knew before the 1967
War changed everything—a time when Haredim were barely visible and
the Mafdal was a liberal extension of Mapai that cared only about mildly
increasing the availability of kosher food and observance of Shabbat, and
when very few people argued about ‘who is a Jew’. Those days are long
gone, and those of us who are critical of the role that religious extremists
play in Israeli society today should ourselves have a vision of what we
would like to see. The US, perhaps needless to say, cannot be a role model
in this as it is ideologically constituted on totally different premises with
regard to religion. But I suspect that the Peleds, like many secular Israelis,
feel more comfortable with religion in the US than in their homeland.

Despite my criticism, there is no doubt that this is a valuable book in
presenting—with numerous facts and figures—the demographic, ideological,
and cultural growth of Religious Zionism. I am not equipped to discuss
the quarter of the book that is devoted to film and to the fine arts, but
these chapters are a knowledgeable guide to Orthodox interest in these
fields, in which, not long ago, few Orthodox Jews would have set foot. I
should note that Orthodox feminism—the idea that feminists would and
do take Orthodoxy seriously—seems to surprise the authors by its mere
existence. This phenomenon of Orthodox feminism is perfectly illustrated
in an article that appeared in the spring 2019 issue of this journal: “Staying
and Critiquing: Israeli Orthodox Women Filmmakers” (Seigelsheifer and
Hartman 2019).

Despite my caviling, Religionization is an important voice in understanding
the religious wars currently besetting Israel. I wish, however, that the
authors would have looked a bit more into Orthodoxy on its own terms
in order to understand it as a flowering as well as a danger, as an authentic
and important cultural phenomenon beyond its status as a political
impediment to eventual peace with the Palestinians and a threat to the
secular Israeli lifestyle.

Paul L. Scham
University of Maryland

Seigelsheifer, Valeria, and Tova Hartman. 2019. “Staying and Critiquing: Israeli Orthodox
Women Filmmakers.” Israel Studies Review 34 (1): 110–130.

From a recent review by David Sperber

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Art & Visual Culture, Political Science, Politics & International Relations, Sociology & Social Policy, Sociology, Criminology and Criminal Justice

The Religionization of Israeli Society depicts the influence of religious Zionism on various areas of Israeli society from 1967 to the present day. The authors, political scientist Yoav Peled of Tel Aviv University and artist Horit Herman Peled, present the general evolution of Israeli society in such fields as education, defense, art, feminism, film, and television, and focus particularly on Jewish religious communities. This book is unique in that it is the first to undertake a broad survey and examination of the new circumstances of national-religious and ultra-Orthodox Jewish artists in Israel. Chapter 7 examines the art created in the religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox communities, while Chapter 9 surveys film and television. Chapter 8 addresses religious feminism in Israel and discusses religious feminist art. The book converges on a gloomy and disturbing description of right-wing, messianic Orthodox Jews (“Gush Emunim”) propelling Israeli society and its educational system, military, and culture to the brink of a constitutional theocracy.

Prof. David Sperber

Yale University


KPFK interview: Religionization and Israeli Elections of April 2019.

By: Yoav Peled
Subjects: Area Studies, Middle East Studies, Other, Philosophy and Religion, Religion

KPFK interview: Religionization and Israeli Elections of April 2019.