Israeli Affairs (Issue no. 79)

The Haredi community and the state in Israel

  • Editor: Raif Zureik, Nabil al-Saleh, Honaida Ghanem
  • Preparation: Tomer Persico,Lee Kahaner and Yossef Shalhav,Mohannad Mustafa,Haim Zicherman,Malek Samarah,Walid Salem,Nabih Bashir,Itamar Rickover,Ayman Talal Yousef and Mahmoud al-Fataftah,Yael Berda and Itamar Mann,Ihab Maharmah,Ali Zubeidat
  • Number of Pages: 140
  • ISBN: 2709-0353
  • Date of update: Tuesday, 17 November 2020
  • Price: $0.00

Much water has flowed in the river since the historic announcement by the Jewish Rabbinical Council in Germany, in 1897, that is, prior to the founding Zionist Conference in Basel, an announcement which condemned the Zionist idea of establishing a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. Among the reasons cited by those Orthodox circles was that the Zionist project provides a new understanding of Judaism, enabling a person to be a religious atheist and a good Jew at the same time, as Judaism was no longer merely a religion but had become, through the Zionist understanding of it, a nation, as well, one which conceptually permits the existence of non-religious Jews who do not adhere to religious teachings. Those circles thought that this posed a threat to Judaism, and that the Jewish existence could only be maintained by considering Judaism as a religion, not a nation,

such that only its religious aspect was capable of keeping it a timeless, distinct and authentic phenomenon. On the other hand, Zionism was seen as interfering in the process of salvation, which in its religious essence meant waiting for the Messiah; thus, Zionism was a form of interference in the divine will and a kind of blasphemy. The conflict reached the point where one of the German Jewish rabbis was dismissed for expressing sympathy with the Zionist movement in 1907.

However, since that time, many events have unfolded, including the Balfour Declaration, a mandate instrument over Palestine that gave the Zionist movement international recognition, and, later, the rise of Nazism and the occurrence of the Holocaust, all of which diminished the level of opposition within those circles to the Zionist project, such that they refrained from issuing a position opposing the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion reached a well-known agreement with the Orthodox religious forces on the relations between religion and the state, that is, all matters related to the role of religion in the state, the sanctity of the Sabbath, religious schools, and so on.

How has history unfolded since that agreement? How have relations developed, and to what extent have the Orthodox forces become more Zionist, while Zionism has become more Jewish? This is a lengthy topic, and we attempt, in this issue, to highlight some of the changes in this field. In this short opening, I would like to note that, although the prevailing narrative speaks of a steady transformation in Israel from Zionism to Judaism, I think that this narration does not represent the whole story.

Israel has witnessed several liberal transformations that appear hostile to religion in recent decades, such as recognition of the rights of women and homosexuals, the violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath and holidays, and the increasing interference of the courts in some religious matters. Thus, the story appears to be more complex and dialectical in its ebbs and flows.
Undoubtedly, however, many interesting waters have flowed in the river since the 1897 announcement. Currently, a significant number of rabbis occupy seats in government, control many matters of the state, participate, heavily, in the process of settlement, and provide politics and politicians with religious imagination and theological terms that return Zionism to its religious origins.

Table of Contents Editorial Main Theme

Haredi Jews
Tomer Persico
Haredi Judaism is not just ultra-Orthodox, nor is it simply a response to modernism. Certainly, Haredi Judaism should be understood and considered as Modern Judaism. It is inclusive and isolationist like one of the many movements, which emerged during the 19th century. Naturally, the Haredi identity has its own distinctive features. It is different from other Jewish identities.
In this introductory article, Persico seeks to redefine the outlines of the Haredi Jewish identity. In a brief review of various streams within the Haredi identity, Persico examines the status of these streams in the Jewish community inside the State of Israel and form of involvement in Israeli politics.

Evolution of the Haredi space in Israel
Lee Kahaner and Yossef Shalhav
In this article, Kahaner and Shalhav review the distribution and settlement patterns of the Haredi population in Israel. The authors investigate the progressive evolution and changes in the concepts of settlement, which have shaped the modern-day perception of settlement activity among the Haredi Jews.
Isolation of the Haredi population is distinctive in terms of power, size, nature, and underlying processes. Religious-cultural, demographic, and social-cultural characteristics of the Haredi Jews are part and parcel of the distinct space organising at the level of internal components and processes and how the Israeli environment treats this space. The Haredi population from across the spectrum is undergoing social changes and transformations in the rate of natural increase. These shifts are drawing a new picture of the Haredi concentration map and position in the Israeli milieu.

Haredi Jews and the army in the context of the question of religion and the state in Israel
Mohannad Mustafa
In this article, Mustafa discusses the recruitment of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews in the Israeli army. This issue falls within the context of resurging and escalating conflict over religion and the state. Conscription of the Haredi Jews is part of this question. The article is premised on the hypothesis that calls for recruiting the Haredi Jews in the army do not occur in the context of the mounting security and military challenges faced by Israel, necessitating that more combatants be recruited to counter these challenges. Recruitment falls within the ambit of a recently simmering conflict over religion and the state. The army is nothing but an arena of conflict over this question. Therefore, conscription of the Haredi Jews is not a military, but a socio-political, issue.

The Haredi community and judicial system in Israel
Haim Zicherman
Zicherman investigates the tense relationship between the Haredi community and High Court of Justice (HCJ) in Israel. Triggered by the cultural confrontation with the HCJ, tension is caused by the Haredi Jews who interpret the HCJ decisions on cases involving religion and the state as seeking to hamper the advancement of the Haredi community. Zicherman reviews the only protests organised by the Haredi leadership over recent decades. Engaging hundreds of thousands of participants, these demonstrations were in protest against the judicial system and court decisions. Lack of confidence is also reflected in the absence of Haredi representation in various judicial departments, with the exception of Jewish religious courts. By contrast, many Arab judges are employed in several judicial chambers, including the HCJ itself. More recently, an Arab has been appointed as the HCJ Vice-President.
While their presence is felt in the legislative and executive powers, absence of the Haredi Jews from the judicial branch offers a multiplying effect. It lays the ground for distrust and delegitimises those few who seek to assimilate into the judicial system. In the second part of the article, Zicherman provides an overview of transformations within the Haredi community over the past decide. The education revolution prompts thousands of Haredi young men and women to enrol in law colleges. Trained every year, hundreds of Haredi apprentice lawyers are admitted to the bar and appear before courts on a daily basis. Zicherman argues that the Haredi youth engagement in the judicial apparatus will create a real change in the overall Haredi position towards the judiciary. Within the framework of this change, reference can be made to the increasing cooperation between the Haredi community and the judicial service. In the near future, the Haredi community’s confidence in the Israeli judicial system can be expected to grow further.

From modern Hebrew literature: A poem and commentary
Bab El Wad, Haim Gouri: The “Zionist” metaphor and reproducing the place
Malek Samarah

Revisiting the colonial present
Continuity of the settler colonial project through the settler colonial state: The Case of Israel
Walid Salem
Salem argues that the settler colonial present is embodied in a settler colonial state. Salem outlines the political, economic, social, and legal features of the settler colonial state and the different tools it uses in the process of completion. For example, that state combines settler colonialism and internal colonialism when it deals with Palestinians in Israel. It uses the tools of settler colonialism, apartheid, and belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territory in 1967. In this article, Salem assesses how the settler colonial project has been maintained through the settler colonial state in comparison to other settler colonial cases. Salem attempts to liberate Settler Colonial Studies from the dominance of the “post-colonial” narrative implied in the writings of Veracini, Yiftachel, and Gordon. The latter is the misleading narrative in the case of Israel.

Zionism of the Religious Settler Movement: Historical Context, Ideology, and Public Institutions in Israel

Nabih Bashir
Over the past few decades, Israeli society at large has experienced a process of deep religiosity in the realms of education, culture, army, media, and political discourse. Religionists are increasingly holding senior positions at different governmental and nongovernmental institutions, particularly in the army, media, culture, higher education, and archaeology. Religionists are also employed at the judicial system and volunteer for civil service. All this is a key indicator of the growing status of religion in the public sphere and its impact on public discourse. Additionally, it reflects the involvement of members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish movements and groups, who were once at odds with Zionism, in all institutions and cultures of Israeli society. This participation is more visible in matters connected with settlement activity, composition of the Israeli army and its military-religious discourse, which has been increasingly invoking the biblical imagining, ancient historical events, and Jewish religious terms as part of the combat doctrine. Although many studies have investigated the latter, settlement activity and discourse have not so far received adequate attention. In this article, Bashir places a particular focus on the first theme, while not losing sight of other relevant issues.

Between the sweat of the worker and blood of the warrior: Roots of the strategic culture in Israel
Itamar Rickover
Rickover traces the incremental evolution of the Israeli strategy into a strategic culture of war and fighting. Rickover monitors the gradual mental change in the perception of the Jewish warrior. These processes began with the Yishuv period, but reached a climax with the proclamation of the state. In the theoretical part of his article, Rickover gives a detailed account of a number of features, providing answers that allow room for characterising the nature of the strategic culture of a particular state.
To characterise some of these features, symbols and images of the Jews from the Yishuv period towards the early years of the state are reviewed. The Yishuv have changed their concept of the “Jewish warrior”. At the time, the younger Jewish generation viewed themselves as a powerful and crucial factor in the region, prompting them to liberate themselves from the defensive spirit of their ancestors and shift to an offensive attitude. They have adhered to and instilled this alternative in the personnel of the army, which was then in the making. Rickover describes how the “Jewish warrior” has turned into a a cultural and social example followed by the Jewish community. Subsequent militarisation addresses other characteristics. Evolving in Israel during the 1948 war, the spirit of militarisation took root with the crystallising military doctrine of the Haganah. Rickover claims that, from the onset, the warfare strategy was underpinned by the principle of negative defence. As threats heightened, the strategy was changed into active defence. Ultimately, an offensive, pre-emptive, and active strategy was embraced. The impact was demonstrated through Plan Dalet, which converted the offensive into a normative strategy, which is also adopted by the political leadership.

Israel and Azerbaijan: The beginnings and prospects for a strategic partnership
Ayman Talal Yousef and Mahmoud al-Fataftah
Yousef and Al-Fataftah introduce the growing relationship between Israel and Azerbaijan from a strategic and economic perspective. This is investigated in the light of Israel’s broadening foreign relations in the aftermath of the Cold War, as well as the demise and replacement of bipolarity by unipolar international politics. Israeli relations are first placed in a renewed theoretical framework in the context of realism, neorealism, liberalism, and neoliberalism. Based on a historical background of the Caucasus and Central Asia, Yousef and Al-Fataftah review international power struggle in these two geographically and strategically entwined regions. Israel has struck a chord of Azerbaijan’s disputes with neighbouring states, particularly Armenia, Iran, and Russia. The relations Israel sought have amounted to a strategic and economic partnership. Energy, oil pipelines, Iranian threat, and geopolitical considerations have contributed to promoting this partnership.

Long term occupation, self-determination and the right to vote
Yael Berda and Itamar Mann
In parallel to the Israeli plan to annex large swathes of the West Bank, Berda and Mann attempt to identify the basic legal building blocks for a programme that would liberate Palestinians under occupation, ensure self-determination for both the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples, and democratise the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The key is that one must carefully consider not only the illegality of changes to occupied territory, including annexation. Equally important are the effects of perpetual occupation on the exercise of individual political rights. Part 2 of the article briefly presents the need for a new paradigm in international law, which would displace the separationist legal presuppositions about the area. Part 3 answers the question of “how did we get here?”—i.e., how we became so unnecessarily committed to a separationist view of self-determination. Parts 4 develops an alternative view of self-determination; one that is premised on the sovereignty of the people, not territorial sovereignty. And it clarifies how we understand individual rights within such a context. Part 5 briefly concludes—with the hope this article encourages further discussion.

Critical readings and book reviews
Ihab Maharmah, Refuting Israeli Narratives.
Ilan Pappe, Ten Myths About Israel.

Library: A synopsis of latest Israeli publications
By Ali Zubeidat

Monday, September 27, 2021


The Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies (MADAR) is an independent research centre specialising in Israeli affairs, based in Ramallah, Palestine. MADAR was established in 2000 by a group of Palestinian intellectuals and academics, including the late poet Mahmoud Darwish, Dr. Lily Feidy, Dr. Ali Jarbawi, Dr. Ahmad Harb, Mr. Walid Al-Ahmad and Mr. Akram Haniyyeh. The centre was registered as a not-for-profit organisation with the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, and obtained a research centre’s operational licensing from the Palestinian Ministry of Information.