Israeli Society in the 21st Century – Book ReviewFeb 12 2016 / 6:39 pm
Reviewed by Jim Miles
(Israeli Society in the 21st Century – Immigration, Inequality, and Religious Conflict. Calvin Goldscheider. Brandeis University Press, Waltham , Massachusetts. 2015.)
This work intrigued me as it is obviously supportive of the Israeli position in the Middle East and at a quick glance would illuminate something new about the state of Israel and the State of Israel. Unfortunately it does neither.
Calvin Goldscheider is a professor of sociology at Brown University, and unfortunately sociology from my experience is probably the weakest of the social sciences, is not a science at all really, and ranks beneath both political ‘science’ and economics as fields of rational study. My definition of sociology is that it is the art of taking something that could be explained through common sense and common language and transforming it into something pseudo-scientifically profound. This is done through the use of a particular lexicon, and the lengthy creation of repetitious and supposedly neutral academic explanations that are not academically tested.
Having said that it can be assumed that I would be a ‘hostile’ reviewer, but rather I was simply bored – until I arrived at the end where Goldscheider concludes “our exploration of emerging Israeli society by unpacking the influence of external factors.”
The boredom derives directly from Goldscheider’s methodology. As he states himself in the preface “The evidence presented in this book is primarily based on the official statistics of Israel located in the Statistical Abstracts of Israel of 2013 and 2014.” In a brief Appendix he reiterates this, saying “I have relied on the excellent statistical materials presented in yearbooks of the Central Bureau of Statistics [named above].”
In essence, he did nothing scientific, no original research, and performed only two tasks: first, writing out longhand all the statistics that would have been way better presented in graphic form (graphs of some kind); and secondly, writing out very poor analysis in lengthy terms that could have all been done with more basic language annotations under each graph.
The statistical information is obviously very comprehensive and covers many if not most aspects of life in Israel. The sociological lexicon makes any explanation of those statistics repetitive and lacking in common sense. Part of the effect of the sociological lexicon is the sterilization of the information, making it dispassionate, and a facade of intellectual rigor making the ordinary complex.
For example, Goldscheider writes,
“Vulnerability among Arab Israelis stems from the fact that segregations intensifies and magnifies any economic setback and builds deprivations structurally into the socioeconomic environment. The costs of segregation are exacerbated by the economic dependency of Arab Israelis.”
A rather fancy set of terms that seems to say that Arab Israelis are subject to racism. The definition is reiterated on the next page,
“Residential segregation is a structural condition, making deprived communities more likely; combined with social class disadvantage, ethnic segregation concentrates income deprivation in small areas and generates structural discrimination.”
It doesn’t sound like racism, doesn’t look like racism, but if translated into common English, it is racism with all that implies for laws, policing, and opportunities.
Narratives, Lies, and Mythology…
Occasionally within the writing there are short moments of lies, sterilized commentary, and the traditional Israeli narrative. They are not truly surprising but do allow glimpses of how the Israeli narrative can be carried forward so easily in a pseudo-scientific manner:
(1)The Jewish migrants were “working in agriculture to develop barren wastelands.” Not true.
(2) In 1948, “there was an exodus of Arab residents…as territorial control was transferred ….” A good sterilized narrative.
(3) The Jewish migrant is a “fact that Jews returning to the state of Israel descended from ancestors who had not lived there for almost 2,000 years.” Essentially mythological without the scientific proof that a ‘science’ should demand.
(4) “…administered territories [do not imply] long term possession or control…since there was a clear recognition that control was “administrative,” not ideological.” This goes against all historical records in particular from Zionists wanting all of Eretz Israel for their homeland.
(5) Further, “The control is political and firmly anchored in history, religion, and legitimacy.” Yes, political, but mainly military, and also economic. Yes, anchored in history, the history of military wars against the Arab indigenous populations. Legitimacy is part of the religious narrative of which the author says the territory is “named by its Hebrew-Judaic origins is part of a gift of God to the Jewish people.” This could lead to many arguments about the biblical legitimacy, as it does internally within Israeli Jews, and externally.
But accepted that it is “god given” could it not also be “god taken?” Are the current possessors of the land living the will of a just and peaceful god or a god of retribution and violence?
(6) Finally – but not completely – the author mentions “forays from Israel to population centers in Gaza have become routine and costly in human lives, property, economic growth, and trust between neighbors.” Forays!! Umm, perhaps full out military invasions with aerial support from Apache helicopters and fighter jets. Costly – obviously – but trust? The latter is not even to be considered between Israel and Gaza as witnesses from the manner in which Gaza has been made into an open air prison/concentration camp.
Either way, not good.
Even if you are an ardent Jewish Zionist supporter, this is not a good read. It would be much better to go to the Israeli statistical records that are referenced and simply read them. It will save much time and agony from trying to read through a sociological lexicon that speaks volumes but says little.
Along with the poor writing, Israeli Society in the 21st Century provides poor analysis and sterilizes the Israeli narrative of occupation and settlement, not surprising considering its origins.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.