# 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd=13563460500031289
Shimshon Bichler develop a startling Veblenian–Marxist account of Israeli
society and its integration into the global economy that dispenses with all of the
prevailing orthodoxies on the subject.
useful lenses for analysing the changing nature of Israel’s political economy
and society, as well as the roots of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the
merits and limitations of the authors’ divergent theoretical perspectives.
Kimmerling’s central thesis is that the monocultural regime established under
the young Israeli state has given way to a segmented and pluralistic polycultural
society, within which there is growing conflict ‘over the meaning of what might
be called Israeliness’.
major cultures or counter-cultures: the previously hegemonic Ashkenazi (that is,
of European origin) secular upper middle class; the largely Ashkenazi national
religious movement; the Mizrahi Jews (of Middle Eastern and North African
origin); the non-Zionist Orthodox Haredim; the Arab minority within Israel; the
Russian-speaking immigrants from the former USSR; and the Ethiopian immigrant
population. These more or less discrete ‘islands’ of Israeli society each
have their own distinctive cultural patterns of consumption, lifestyle, speech
and apparel, their own sets of perceptions and beliefs, and their own separate institutional
bases—whether in schools, in the print and broadcast media or in political
in the conquest and subsequent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
occupation, he argues, inspired deep religious sentiments, leading to the rise of
the national religious Gush Enumin movement for the settlement of the Occupied
Territories; the fragmentation of the hitherto largely secular monocultural regime;
and a general ‘turn from a more civic and citizenship-based identity towards a
Jewish ethnocentric primordialism’.
chain reactions’, which, in addition to the slow and incremental empowerment
of population groups and the arrival of new immigrant populations, led to the
emergence of a ‘new polycultural, multivocal, multiracial Israeliness’.
remains from the previous monocultural regime, Kimmerling argues, are just
two powerful ‘metacultural codes’—Jewishness and security.
one hand, Israel remains an essentially Jewish state and society, an ‘ethnocracy’
in which the ‘basically undemocratic nature of the Israeli regime’ is ‘compulsively
and systematically’ denied; on the other, it is a society in which the values,
practices and institutions of a ‘military-cultural complex’ are so dominant that
security is no less than a ‘civil religion’.
6 Taken together, these works serve as7 Israel, Kimmerling holds, is now divided into seven8 For Kimmerling, the roots of this cultural pluralism lie most importantly9 The10 The 1967 war, in short, caused ‘social11 What12 Thus, on the13
While much of this is instructive, especially in its emphasis on the ethnocratic
and militaristic character of Israeli society, there are at least three characteristically
Weberian problems with Kimmerling’s account. First, Kimmerling
completely fails to address the political economy of the formation and transformation
of Israeli society. He sees Zionism as ‘a uniquely nonprofit and noneconomic
settler movement’ driven exclusively by nationalist sentiment, the result being that
he ends up saying nothing either about the world-systemic colonial context within
which the Zionist movement took shape, or about the political economy of
settlement within Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine (which was crucial to
Israeli state formation, as we shall see below).
mention of the class structure of Israeli society and says nothing at all about the
14 He provides only sporadic
impacts of domestic economic change, growing economic inequality and Israel’s
deepening integration into the global economy on the cultural cleavages which
are his primary focus. Moreover, while he recognises that the Israeli economy
has recently become dominated by a small number of conglomerates, he fails to
square this growing concentration of ownership with his characterisation of
Israeli society as increasingly pluralistic.
that an Ashkenazi elite ‘still maintains primary control of large businesses,
commerce and industry, the media establishment, and the upper echelons of the
armed forces and of higher education’, yet apparently sees no contradiction
between this and his view of Israeli society as consisting of seven autonomous
cultures ‘without an accepted hierarchy between them’.
15 Thus Kimmerling notes, quite correctly,16
A second problem with Kimmerling’s account lies in its inadequate theorisation
of the relations between the Israeli state and Israeli society. Like so many
Weberians beholden to the idea of ‘bringing the state back in’, Kimmerling is preoccupied
with the question of the strength and autonomy of the state relative—and
in opposition—to society.
Kimmerling sees Israel as a ‘strong state’ with a ‘high capacity to recruit internal
human and material resources for collective goals’.
actively engaged in assigning tasks to the population and in excluding certain
groups from the political process, in accordance with its own ‘best interests’
continually diminished in the face of ideological groups that stress its “primordial
Jewish” identity’, and further that ‘Israel is presently facing a situation of
somewhat diminishing “stateness”’.
reality, the supposed ‘autonomy’ of the Israeli state prior to 1967 is a
mirage resulting from the erstwhile social hegemony of Labour Zionism. From
the pre-state days until the 1970s, Yishuv and Israeli society were dominated by
the Ashkenazi-led Labour Zionist movement, which espoused a mixture of
secular, socialist, nationalist and pioneering values, and found institutional
expression in the kibbutzim, the Histadrut labour federation, the paramilitary
Haganah (which formed the basis for the Israeli Defence Forces) and the leftwing
political parties which led every Israeli government until 1977, when
Menachem Begin’s Likud-led coalition came to power. It was this hegemony of
the Labour Zionist movement, rather than any interests of the state itself, which
produced the largely secular conception of Jewish identity which prevailed
before 1967. Equally, the seeming decline in the ‘autonomy’ of the Israeli state
since then is but a product of the withering of Labour Zionist hegemony.
The third and root problem here is that Kimmerling is not critical enough either
of traditional Zionist narratives or of contemporary Israeli society. Kimmerling
has long been a strong critic of the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians and
has recently produced powerful indictments of Israel’s latest premiers, Ehud
Barak and Ariel Sharon.
worldview which veers between naivety and conservatism. Thus, on the one
hand, he depicts Israel as a liberal multicultural society in the making, in which
demographic change will ‘incrementally spill over into other spheres and
contribute to the rapid pluralization of the Israeli state’—this optimistic
assessment being one that flies in the face of deepening economic hierarchies
17 Moreover, like his one-time collaborator Joel Migdal,18 He views this strong state as19 And he argues that since 1967 ‘the autonomy of the state has20 Yet this is profoundly misleading for, in21 But he combines this political outrage with a sociological
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
Israel’s Labour-led monocultural regime and to bemoan Israel’s current ‘lack’
of a ‘finalized and consensual geopolitical and social identity’, it being ‘unfortunate’,
he says, that there is ‘no commonly agreed upon replacement for the
national identity’ of the 1950s.
went before him, Kimmerling overstates the consensual unity and completedness
of the young Israeli society; pays insufficient attention to the power relations
that lay behind its formation; and understands ‘Israeliness’—as his title suggests—
in essentialist and implicitly Ashkenazi terms. Moreover, like those neofunctionalist
writers who interpreted Israel in the wake of the 1967 war as facing a ‘crisis of
over-burden’ (with the basic premises that pre-1967 Israel was consensual,
and that the 1967 war marked the key watershed in the evolution of Israeli
society), so too Kimmerling traces the transformation of Israel from the ‘crosspressures’
produced by the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza.
Kimmerling claims to articulate a new approach to the study of Israeli society,
the influence of its nationalist sociologies clearly remains. All in all,
of post-Zionism as little more than ‘new wine in old bottles’.
22 Yet, on the other hand, he seems to regret the dissolution of23 Like the neofunctionalist sociologists who24 Thus, whileInventionunfortunately gives ample support to Nitzan and Bichler’s dismissal25
Nitzan and Bichler’s own account of Israeli society, by contrast, is highly
original and not in the least bit conservative. Unlike Kimmerling, whose
comments on transnational processes are limited to wars and immigration,
Nitzan and Bichler stress the extent to which Israel’s domestic political economy
is determined by, and has been integrated into, regional and global inter-capitalist
relations. Moreover, and equally unlike Kimmerling, Nitzan and Bichler view contemporary
Israel as characterised not by pluralism, but by a growing concentration
of power in the hands of a small and nepotistic ruling class. Drawing upon the neo-
Marxist monopoly capital tradition, as well as Thorstein Veblen’s discussion of the
ways in which modern businesses attempt to ‘sabotage’ production in order to
maximise profits, Nitzan and Bichler develop a novel financial (as against productionist)
theory of capital.
‘differential accumulation’, it being the aim of all capitalist enterprises not to maximise
profits in absolute terms but to beat the average rate of capital income within
an economy and thereby increase their overall share of economic and social
small number of very large capitalists’, it thus being the structures and strategies
of the ruling class—or what they call ‘dominant capital’—that determine patterns
of political, economic and social change.
that Israeli society has been dominated ever since its inception by a close-knit and
endogamous ruling class, an ‘octopus-like structure’ with arms that move freely
between government, business and the military.
contend, power has become more and more concentrated, such that from the
early 1970s Israel has become home to a ‘dual political economy’—comprising
an oligopolistic big business sector, dominated by just five major corporate
groups and controlling ‘almost every significant business activity’, and a competitive
small-business sector wholly subordinate to it.
26 The ‘compass of modern capitalism’, they argue, is27 Capitalism, they hold, is ‘not run by most people, but by a relatively28 On this basis, Nitzan and Bichler argue29 Ever since the Yishuv, they30
Nitzan and Bichler argue that, up until these years, the growing power of
Israel’s ‘dominant capital’ was premised on its enjoyment of a disproportionate
share of the benefits of rapid economic growth (between 1922 and 1973, Yishuv/
Israeli gross national product increased by an astounding factor of 250).
growth started to falter, dominant capital began to explore other avenues for
accumulation. The same was simultaneously happening, Nitzan and Bichler
contend, at a ‘global level’, the upshot—both globally and within Israel—being
the replacement of the previous ‘breadth regime’ of differential accumulation
through economic growth by a ‘depth regime’ of ‘accumulation through crisis’.
31 But, as32
This new regime was premised, they assert, on a high degree of international conflict
in the Middle East, with recurrent conflicts in 1973, 1979–88 and 1990–1 helping
to generate substantial oil price rises and profit windfalls, increased arms sales
and domestic inflation (the latter resulting primarily from increased oil and
arms prices). Nitzan and Bichler hold that during this period a ‘weapondollarpetrodollar
coalition’ predominated within the developed capitalist world and that
these conflict dynamics were so important during the 1970s and 1980s that the
US and Israeli governments tended to promote high oil prices, militarisation and
political instability across the Middle East, exactly the opposite of their publicly
of the Israeli political economy (domestic military procurement rose to an
average of 23 per cent of gross domestic product between the mid 1960s and mid
1980s); a growing dependence on US financial and military assistance; the rise of
right-wing religious nationalism and the concomitant decline of the Labour Party;
and the further consolidation of the power of Israel’s ruling class, which had
neatly shifted to take advantage of increased arms sales and domestic inflation.
33 They argue that the consequences within Israel were the militarisation34
Continuing their account, Nitzan and Bichler submit that, from the late 1980s,
things started to change. The demise of Third World import substitution, the
retreat of state ownership in the West, and the liberalisation and subsequent collapse
of the Eastern bloc all provided fertile soil for a renewed global breadth
waned, to be replaced at the helm of dominant capital by the new information
technology and communication (ITC) industries. Differential accumulation was
now achieved not through crisis but through green-field expansion in emerging
markets, as well as an increase in mergers and acquisitions. Israel in the process
became a high-tech ‘tiger economy’, buoyed by the global return to breadth as
well as by Russian immigration and mafia money. Israel’s major corporate
groups were transnationalised, such that a distinct ‘Israeli dominant capital’ no
the Israeli ruling class’s new strategy of attracting foreign investment and
further integrating Israel into the global economy. For Nitzan and Bichler, the
Arab–Israeli peace processes of the 1990s were essentially this ruling class’s
response to the 1990s high-tech globalisation boom.
35 The profits and relative power of the global oil and armaments sectors36 Peace now became the preferred economic option, crucial to37
Nitzan and Bichler argue further that, since the collapse of the 1990s boom and
bubble, many of these developments have gone into reverse. The differential
profitability of the global ITC sector has waned, creating new opportunities for
accumulation through crisis. And, sure enough, renewed conflict has been the
result both in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and in the Gulf. Oil prices
have soared, and the oil and military sectors have recorded record absolute
profits as well as a much-increased share of global profits. For Nitzan and
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
Bichler, it is the global political economy of differential accumulation which is the
major determinant of war and peace in the Middle East, and of transformations in
Israeli society. As they say of the current situation in Israel–Palestine, this ‘will
not be settled in the streets of Nablus or the shacks of the Jenin refugee camps.
The real war lays elsewhere, in the boardrooms of the multinationals where the
vanguard of the arms and oil industries are leading a resurgence against the
forces of the new global capital’.
The Global Political Economy of Israel
well as a surprisingly accessible and playful read. It operates on many levels, simultaneously
providing a novel theory of capital accumulation and inter-capitalist
competition, a fresh take on US imperial adventures in the Middle East and a
history of the Israeli political economy. Its insistences on the centrality of big
business within Israeli society, and on Israel’s integration into global circuits of
capital, are an important antidote to the culturalism and statism that so dominate
discussions of the country; and it is full of challenging theses on subjects as varied
as the roots of inflation and the incidence of corporate mergers, as well as wonderfully
gossipy insights on the machinations of Israel’s elites. Inevitably, though, a
book of this ambition raises almost as many questions as it answers. Two issues
warrant particular discussion here.
First, Nitzan and Bichler overstate the impacts of regional and global intercapitalist
relations on Israel’s political economy. They insist that changes in
Israel’s political economy—whether the expansion of its military sector and
growth of religious nationalism during the 1970s or the onset of the high-tech
boom and peace processes during the 1990s—have been ‘largely dependent on
the Middle East, its ‘domestic depth regime of militarized stagflation’ being
‘intimately linked to the regional cycle of energy conflicts’.
verdicts on the strength of claimed statistical correlations between the Israeli,
regional and global political economies. However, not only are these correlations
themselves based on a questionable theory of accumulation, but, more importantly,
the causal evidence, including that which they themselves marshall, does
not provide sufficient grounds for these conclusions.
Bichler argue that the Israeli economy has followed closely in step since the
early 1970s with a ‘global’ pattern of alternating ‘breadth’ and ‘depth’ regimes,
it is clear that this putatively global pattern is modelled firmly on the US
economy and diverges significantly from the patterns followed, for instance, by
Germany and Japan.
linked’ into the regional energy conflicts of the 1970s onwards, there is scant evidence
for this: of the ‘energy conflicts’ during this period Israel was only centrally
involved in one (the 1973 war); and, furthermore, most of the major geopolitical
incidents in which Israel was directly involved had negligible impacts on oil prices
(most notably the 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon, the 1978 Camp David
Accords with Egypt, and the Palestinian
receive much attention from Nitzan and Bichler).
Rather than being integrated into a regional dynamic of energy conflicts, the
more conspicuous fact about the Israeli economy is its relative non-integration
into the Middle Eastern regional economy (the Arab Boycott, which lies behind
is a brilliant and disturbing book, as39 They also contend that Israel has long been integrated into40 They reach these41 Thus while Nitzan and42 Equally, while they claim that Israel was ‘intimatelyintifada from 1987 – none of which
this, being something that Nitzan and Bichler also largely ignore). What seems
clear, even from Nitzan and Bichler’s own account, is that Israel’s political
economy bears the imprint less of general processes of regionalisation and globalisation,
than of the historically specific relationship with the US that developed in
the late 1960s. Moreover, what also seems clear is that geopolitical developments,
like the invasions of Lebanon, were primarily driven not by regional political dictates,
or even by Israel’s close relationship with the US, but by uniquely domestic
into a transnational network of capital, but the political economic relations that
have made Israel what it is today are perhaps best thought of neither as global,
regional or transnational, but as a complex mix of domestic and international
A further and even more fundamental problem with Nitzan and Bichler’s
account is its almost exclusive focus on dominant capital. At its core, Nitzan
and Bichler’s theoretical world seems to be inhabited purely by capitalists:
‘capitalists’, writes Nitzan, ‘exert their power over society as a whole, so one
whose profit amounts to one-hundredth of the total can be said to control 1
percent of the entire capitalist process’.
corporations dominate the scene, while all else is relegated to the background
context within which accumulation struggles take place. Nitzan and Bichler do
recognise that dominant capital is ‘never entirely synonymous’ with the ruling
class, and that Israel has not always been a capitalist society; and they also
admit, for instance, that there are important country-specific labour relations
which can have important repercussions for capital accumulation.
in by their ahistorical theoretical model with its sole focus on dominant capital
and differential accumulation, Nitzan and Bichler end up saying very little
either about the complex relations between the capitalist and non-capitalist interests
of the Israeli ruling class, about what predated the ‘progressive emergence’ of
Israeli capitalism, or even about conflicts and compromises between Israeli elites
and the larger Israeli population.
43 Israel’s leading corporations may recently have become integrated44 The struggles and strategies of major45 But, boxed46 Instead, their analysis moves between a priori
theorisations of the various means of differential accumulation, on the one hand,
and micro-scale snippets of Israel’s ruling class in action, on the other—without
there being an awful lot in between. Their political economy includes not much
by way of political sociology—and the consequence of this is that no great
sense emerges of the structural specificity of Israeli society.
This weakness is especially apparent in Nitzan and Bichler’s comments on the
roots of Israeli statism. Nitzan and Bichler argue that centralised pre-state institutions
emerged in the Yishuv so as to tackle labour shortages and create the
social infrastructure necessary for profit-making, while Zionist ideals, with their
characteristic me´lange of nationalist, socialist and religious rhetoric, were
invoked in order to legitimate and consolidate a capital-friendly social order.
As their revealingly instrumentalist metaphor has it, ‘the Israeli state, while on
the surface subjugating capital to its own ends, was in fact the initial “cacoon”
within which capitalist institutions and organisations were allowed to develop’.
Yet this is misleading, for the problem, so far as Jewish capitalists were concerned,
was not that accumulation was impeded by a labour shortfall—since the local Arab
population constituted a large pool of cheap labour—but that profit maximisation,
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
left to its own accord, would have impeded the Zionist project of settling Palestine.
Initially, as Gershon Shafir emphasises in his groundbreaking account of the formative
period of Zionist colonialism, Jewish capitalists largely employed cheap Arab
Arab workers, Jewish workers thus started campaigning for the exclusion of Arabs
from the Jewish labour market. Eventually, this led to an accommodation between
Zionist landowners and workers—what Michael Shalev has called a ‘marriage of
convenience between a settlementmovement with settlers and a workers’movement
withoutwork’—which sawthe creation of a ‘split labourmarket’, the emergence of a
distinct Jewish economic sector and the formation of powerful central institutions
like the Histadrut, which functioned to maintain and oversee this political economic
state, in other words, developed not because they were functional ‘cacoons’ for
capital, but out of the sociologically specific character of the Zionist colonial encounter
with the Palestinians: namely, the lateness of the colonial encounter in Palestine,
the presence there of a mostly settled population and large rival workforce, and the
Zionists’ commitment—in contrast to most of the late colonial projects in Africa
and the Middle East—to physical settlement. If capital accumulation really had
been as fully in charge as Nitzan and Bichler contend, the Israeli state would never
have come into existence.
The pertinence of this in the present context is that the distinctive political
economic and institutional forms that were first negotiated in the early twentieth
century came to structure Israeli society right up to the 1970s, and in certain
respects still do. Shafir and Peled’s
from the pre-state days to the present. The political economy of colonisation,
they argue, resulted not only in the formation of separate Jewish land and labour
markets, as well as a powerful institutional nexus centred on the Histadrut, but also
in a republican—communitarian conception of citizenship that emphasised the
moral value of pioneering, physical labour, agricultural settlement and military
and Bichler’s account would imply), but were part and parcel of the ‘historical
bloc’ constructed by the Labour Settlement Movement. Though never fully
hegemonic, this Ashkenazi-led movement nonetheless managed to incorporate
most Zionist groups and orientations under its sway: in Gramscian terms, it was
a highly successful ‘hegemonic project’.
its exclusions and patterns of differential incorporation: of Mizrahim, who were
economically and culturally segregated as second-class citizens; of women, who
experienced the distinctive gender burdens of living in a colonial frontier
society; of Israeli Palestinians, who were dispossessed of their land, proletarianised
as a poor and undereducated labour force, and granted only third class
civil and political rights; and of Orthodox Jews, who played a vital role in legitimating
the Zionist project and were thus accorded a fair degree of latitude
from Labour Zionist norms (exemption from military service, for instance). As
Shafir and Peled emphasise, these patterns of exclusion and incorporation were
premised not on some monocultural value consensus, but on the hegemony of a
specifically Labour Zionist colonial project, which dominated Israeli society
until the 1970s.
49 Unwilling to lower their wage demands and thus compete directly with50 The distinctive features of pre-state Zionist society and the young IsraeliBeing Israeli traces these structural continuities51 These values were not merely rhetorical or superstructural (as Nitzan52 But it also, they recognise, contained
Shafir and Peled claim that, since then, however, the Labour Settlement
Movement and its republican ethos have largely dissolved, bifurcated into two
rival conceptions of citizenship and identity. On the one hand, as Kimmerling
also stresses, there has been an expansion in ethnonationalism, with movements
like Gush Enumin inheriting much of the pioneering colonial ethos of Labour
Zionism, but now dressing it up in explicitly religious garb. Yet, on the other
hand, there has been a liberalisation of Israeli society in economic, social and political
terms: a waning of Labour Zionist institutions like the Histadrut, including
through the privatisation of state- and Histadrut-held companies; a waxing, by
contrast, of liberal institutions like the Bank of Israel, the Israeli stock market
and the judiciary; and an increase both in liberal individualism and income
inequalities. This liberalisation, argue Shafir and Peled, has been led by an
Ashkenazi elite which has ‘now outgrown the confines of its colonial phase of
that the authors broadly welcome, they recognise too that economic liberalisation
and the emergence of a Lockean civil society have not proven to be a panacea for
form of democratic multiculturalism that is simultaneously cognisant of both ‘recognition’
and ‘redistribution’ questions—this carrying for them the promise not
only of addressing tensions and inequalities within Israeli society, but also of
resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.
. . . and seeks to venture out into the world’.53 While this is something54 They thus conclude by arguing, in Nancy Fraser’s terms, for a55
There is a great deal to be said for these arguments, and indeed for Shafir and
Peled’s overall theoretical perspective. While Kimmerling, on the one hand,
largely neglects international and global contexts, and Nitzan and Bichler, on
the other, convey little sense of the structural specificity of Israeli society,
Shafir and Peled tread a midway course that analyses Israel as a colonial
frontier society evolving in the face of global processes of liberalisation. While
Kimmerling and Nitzan and Bichler both see elites as ‘designers’ and ‘creators’
of Israeli society, Shafir and Peled emphasise the extent to which political projects
and agency are constrained by broader social forces and contradictions.
while the former say very little about the impact of the colonial encounter
with the Palestinians on the shaping of Israel—operating with what Kimmerling
has elsewhere termed a ‘Jewish bubble’ model of Israeli society—Shafir and
Peled’s account is as much about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict as it is about
ethnonationalist but fails to discuss processes of liberalisation (aside, that is,
from his stress on the emergence of cultural pluralism), Shafir and Peled insist
that Israel has concurrently undergone both of these processes. All of this, and
much else besides, is extremely cogent.
Having said that, Shafir and Peled do seem to overstate the extent of Israel’s
liberalisation and to understate, in particular, the continuing ascendancy of the
military and security establishment within Israeli politics and society. Shafir
and Peled argue, for instance, that, ‘as the forces that shape Israeli society are
becoming more global’, so the prospect that the liberals will prevail ‘seems to
be improving’. They argue further that it will prove ‘very difficult to square’ a
‘liberal economic vision’ with the ‘repressive military practices required for
maintaining the occupation and defending Jewish settlers on the West Bank and
56 Moreover,57 Finally, while Kimmerling views Israeli society as increasingly
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
58 Peacemaking, for them, has to a large degree been a product of liberalisation.
showing that Israeli business leaders, within the context of the domestic liberalisation
of the Israeli capital market, were among the key advocates of peace with
the Palestinians: they thus provide persuasive causal evidence that parallels and
substantiates Nitzan and Bichler’s statistical correlations. What they fail to
acknowledge, however, is the shallowness of the Israeli business community’s
commitment to peace. Israel’s major corporate actors have been largely uninterested
in expanding trade or opening up new markets in the Occupied Territories
and Middle East; on the contrary, their primary interest during the early 1990s
lay in ending the secondary Arab Boycott, which penalised third parties doing
business with Israel and was consequently seen as a major obstacle to attracting
too concerned about its precise content. The upshot of this was that the peace
terms imposed on the Palestinians were largely dictated not by powerful Israeli
economic actors but by the Israeli military, and those terms were thus much
more limited than would otherwise have been the case—amounting, in many
areas, to little more than a cosmetic ‘dressing up’ of the Israeli occupation
under the banner of ‘cooperation’.
in the end provide little sense of the structural power of the military within
Israeli society—evidenced, most obviously, in the military backgrounds of so
many of the country’s political leaders—or of the enormous impact the military
continues to have on Israeli society and Israeli–Palestinian relations. This is a
double shame, since there is no necessary reason why the power of the Israeli
military could not be acknowledged and analysed within a Gramscian
framework. The subject of Israeli militarism should not be overlooked simply
through an aversion to statism.
For this latter claim, Shafir and Peled adduce powerful evidence60 Israeli dominant capital, as a result, wanted peace but was not61 Like Nitzan and Bichler, Shafir and Peled62
Shafir and Peled do admit that ‘the victory’ of Israeli liberalism is ‘by no means
guaranteed’, but even this seems unjustifiably sanguine given the events of the past
been killed in renewed Israeli–Palestinian violence.
its place at the centre of Israeli society, and the previously disgraced Ariel Sharon
has been rehabilitated as trustworthy guardian of the Israeli national interest. This
has happened side by side with the launch of a new privatisation programme overseen
by Binyamin Netanyahu—with little sign of it being in contradiction with
repression in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile in the academy, the bestknown
of the New Historians, Benny Morris, seems to have become an advocate
of ethnic cleansing and has given credence to Ehud Barak’s frankly racist view
that the Palestinians, being not of Judeo-Christian culture, do not understand the
concept of truth.
themselves ostracised within their universities and even threatened with dismissal.
The study of Israeli society may have become more heterogeneous and contested,
but a postcolonial liberal Israel seems almost as far away as ever.
63 Since summer 2000, around 3,000 Palestinians and 900 Israelis have64 The military has reassumed65 More critical voices, like that of Ilan Pappe, have found
1. The best known of the functionalist sociologies are S.N. Eisenstadt,
Israeli Society (Basic Books, 1967); S.N.The Transformation of Israeli Society: An Essay in Interpretation (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson,
1985); and Dan Horowitz & Moshe Lissak,
Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel
(State University of New York Press, 1989). The conventional Zionist histories were largely not written
by professional historians, but by politicians, soldiers, hagiographers and so on: see Avi Shlaim, ‘The
Debate about 1948’,
reproduced in Ilan Pappe´ (ed.),
2. Leading works by Israel’s ‘New Historians’ include Benny Morris,
and the Partition of Palestine
of these; for arguments that he does not go nearly far enough in his ‘revisionism’, see Nur Masalha, ‘A
Critique of Benny Morris’,
International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1995), pp. 287–304,The Israel/Palestine Question (Routledge, 1999), pp. 171–92.The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee(Cambridge University Press, 1987); Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and(Croom Helm, 1987); and Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the ZionistMovement,(Clarendon, 1988).Morris’s arguments are the best known (and most contested)Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1991), pp. 90–7; and Norman Finkelstein,
Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
of the New Historians, see Pappe´
(Verso, 1995), ch. 3. For useful overviews of the writingsThe Israel/Palestine Question; and Eugene Rogan & Avi Shlaim (eds),
The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948
3. Lawrence Silberstein,
and Ephraim Nimni (ed.),
(Cambridge University Press, 2001).The Postzionism Debate: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (Routledge, 1998);The Challenge of Post-Zionism: Alternatives to Israeli Fundamentalist Politics
4. Zeev Sternhell,
The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State
(Princeton University Press, 1998).
5. Baruch Kimmerling,
California Press, 2001); and Gershon Shafir & Yoav Peled,
Zionism’ (p. 7), his work can nonetheless be usefully situated within this context.
6. Jonathan Nitzan & Shimshon Bichler,
‘Israeli Society and Jewish-Palestinian Reconciliation: “Ethnocracy” and its Territorial Contradictions’,
The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society and the Military (University ofBeing Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple(Cambridge University Press, 2002). While Kimmerling prefers not to use the term ‘post-The Global Political Economy of Israel (Pluto, 2002).Invention and Decline, p. 2.Ibid., pp. 137, 170.Ibid., p. 109.Ibid., p. 111.Ibid., pp. 128, 169, 147.Ibid., p. 173.Ibid., pp. 180, 182, 209, 212. The notion of ‘ethnocracy’ was developed by Oren Yiftachel, especially in
Middle East Journal
17. Peter Evans, Dietrich Rueschermeyer & Theda Skocpol (eds),
California Press, 1985).
account of the Israeli state in
The Making of a People
21. Baruch Kimmerling, ‘The power-oriented settlement: bargaining between Israelis and Palestinians’, in:
M. Ma’oz & A. Sela (eds),
, Vol. 51, No. 4 (1997), pp. 505–19.Ibid., p. 67.Ibid., pp. 76–7.Ibid., pp. l71, 2.Bringing the State Back In (University ofInvention and Decline, p. 3. Migdal develops his theory of state–society relations and hisStrong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations in the Third(Princeton University Press, 1985); and Through the Lens of Israel: Explorations in State and(State University of New York Press, 2001). Kimmerling and Migdal are co-authors of Palestinians:(Free Press, 1993).Ibid., pp. 72, 66, 68, 170.Ibid., p. 87. The idea of ‘stateness’ is derived from J.P. Nettl, ‘The State as a Conceptual Variable’, World, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1968), pp. 559–92.The PLO and Israel: From the Road to the Oslo Agreement and Back?
(St. Martin’s Press, 1997), pp. 223–51; Baruch Kimmerling, ‘From Barak to the Road Map’,
Against the Palestinians
24. Horowitz & Lissak,
25. Nitzan & Bichler,
here, namely, Sammy Smooha,
New Left, Series 2, No. 23 (2003), pp. 134–44; and Baruch Kimmerling, Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War(Verso, 2003).Invention and Decline, p. 169.Ibid., pp. 3, 89.Trouble in Utopia; and Kimmerling, Invention and Decline, p. 84.Global Political Economy, p. 8. One further debt of Kimmerling’s also deserves mentionIsrael: Pluralism and Conflict (University of California Press, 1978). Smooha
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
was the first leading sociologist to analyse Israeli society through a liberal pluralist lens rather than to bemoan
its cultural disintegration, and Smooha’s influence on Kimmerling is clear.
26. Nitzan & Bichler,
framework, see Jonathan Nitzan, ‘Differential Accumulation: Towards a New Political Economy of
Nitzan & Shimshon Bichler, ‘Capital accumulation: breaking the dualism of “economics” and “politics’”,
in: Ronen Palan (ed.),
Nitzan and Bichler draw especially upon Thorstein Veblen,
1904); Thorstein Veblen,
Global Political Economy, pp. 31–7; and for extended discussions of their theoreticalReview of International Political Economy, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1998), pp. 169–216; and JonathanGlobal Political Economy: Contemporary Theories (Routledge, 2000), pp. 67–88.The Theory of Business Enterprise (Scribner,Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of(B.W. Huebsch, 1923); and Michal Kalecki, The Last Phase in the Transformation of Capitalism
(Monthly Review Press, 1972). Whereas classical Marxism theorises capitalism as a mode of production
and views production and labour relations as the primary source and embodiment of unequal power relations,
Nitzan & Bichler argue that ‘modern capital is finance, and
inequalities are primarily rooted in institutional control over the social process, including the power to
sabotage and limit production.
27. Nitzan & Bichler,
Economy: The Dynamics of American Industry Structure
in a Dual Economy
31. Michael Bruno,
32. Nitzan & Bichler,
38. Shimshon Bichler & Jonathan Nitzan, ‘War Profits, Peace Dividends and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’,
only finance’ (p. 36) and that power andGlobal Political Economy, pp. 74, 36–8.Ibid., pp. 20, 40–1.Ibid., p. 108.Ibid., pp. 104, 117, 118. The ‘dual economy’ notion is developed for instance by Robert Averitt, The Dual(W.W. Norton, 1968); and Joseph Bowring, Competition(Princeton University Press, 1986). Nitzan and Bichler prefer to speak, though, ofpolitical economy’.Crisis, Stabilization, and Economic Reform: Therapy by Consensus (Clarendon, 1993),Global Political Economy, pp. 74, 20.Ibid., pp. 24–7.Ibid., pp. 128, 24.Ibid., p. 266.Ibid., p. 297.Ibid., p. 268.
News From Within
and Bichler are equivocal about whether the 1990s breadth regime has given way to a new depth regime,
or has merely stalled for the time being (pp. 353–7). But in more recent work they argue rather more
firmly that the year 2000 seems to mark the beginning of another transition into depth: Shimshon Bichler
& Jonathan Nitzan, ‘Dominant Capital and the New Wars’,
No. 2 (2004), p. 257. Without such a change in the outlook of dominant capital, they claim, ‘September
11 probably would not have become America’s “new Pearl Harbor’” (
39. Nitzan & Bichler,
41. There are many aspects of Nitzan and Bichler’s theory of differential accumulation that one might want to
question, but let me raise just one key issue. Nitzan and Bichler hold that the main aim of individual corporations
is to beat the average rate of capital income of an economy as a whole (
assumption which underlies their depiction of global capitalism as consisting of competing corporate
coalitions. For instance, in Nitzan and Bichler’s model, the ‘Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition’ consists
of the major oil and arms corporations, whose common interests in instability are motivated by the desire
to beat the average rate of income across the economy as a whole (as well as within dominant capital as a
whole). Yet evidence would surely suggest that the averages which individual corporations are so determined
to beat are not economy-wide, but are to the contrary
RoyalDutch Shell are more interested in maintaining (or if possible expanding) their share of the oil industry
in particular, than in maintaining (or expanding) their share of dominant capital as a whole—for it is this
intra-industrial competition which is surely the central axis of differential accumulation. If this is indeed
the case, then the oil majors would have no common interest in instability, and the very idea of corporate
coalitions would be untenable–and Nitzan and Bichler’s entire theoretical edifice would, in turn, come
, Vol. 18, No. 4 (2002), pp. 14–18. In The Global Political Economy of Israel, NitzanJournal of World-Systems Research, Vol. 10,ibid., p. 320).Global Political Economy, p. 81.Ibid., pp. 9, 267.ibid., pp. 37–8). It is thisindustry benchmarks. For instance, oil majors likeIbid., pp. 74–5.
43. On the questions of the origins of the US-Israeli special relationship and the reasons for Israel’s invasions of
Lebanon, see for instance Noam Chomsky’s excellent accounts in
and the Palestinians
relationship, but his analysis is nonetheless instructive.
44. Jonathan Nitzan, ‘Regimes of Differential Accumulation: Mergers, Stagflation and the Logic of
45. Bichler & Nitzan, ‘Dominant Capital and the New Wars’, pp. 15, 23.
46. Nitzan & Bichler,
49. Gershon Shafir,
University Press, 1989). Kimmerling’s early work also analysed the formative period of Zionist colonisation
and its impact on Israeli state and society in
counter to Shafir’s materialist analysis. For an excellent comparative summary of these theses, see Uri
Ram, ‘The Colonization Perspective in Israeli Sociology’,
(1993), pp. 327–50, reproduced in Pappe´,
it should be said, were not the first to write of Israel in these terms. The colonisation perspective is a
commonplace of Palestinian accounts—see, for instance, Elia Zureik,
in Internal Colonialism
introduce such perspectives into mainstream Israeli sociology.
50. Michael Shalev, ‘Jewish organised labour and the Palestinians: a study of state/society relations in Israel’, in:
Baruch Kimmerling (ed.),
New York Press, 1989), p. 95. The notion of the ‘split labour market’ is developed by Edna Bonacich, ‘A
Theory of Ethnic Antagonism: The Split Labour Market’,
(1972), pp. 547–59, and applied to Israel by Shafir,
51. Shafir & Peled,
57. Baruch Kimmerling, ‘Boundaries and frontiers of the Israeli control system’, in: Kimmerling,
State and Society
59. This thesis is explored in Shafir & Peled,
Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel(Pluto, 1983), chs. 2, 5. Chomsky arguably overstates the unity of the US-IsraeliReview of International Political Economy, Vol. 5, No. 2 (2001), pp. 226–74.Global Political Economy, p. 2.Ibid., p. 92.Ibid., p. 17.Land, Labour and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914 (CambridgeZionism and Territory: The Socio-Territorial Dimension of(University of California Press, 1983), his Weberian account providing an interestingJournal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 6, No. 3The Israel/Palestine Question, pp. 56–80. Shafir and Kimmerling,The Palestinians in Israel: A Study(Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978)—and was also famously formulated by MaximeIsrael: A Colonial-Settler State? (Monad, 1973). But Shafir and Kimmerling were the first toThe Israeli State and Society: Boundaries and Frontiers (State University ofAmerican Sociological Review, Vol. 37, No. 5Land, Labour and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian, pp. 15–16, 55–60.Being Israeli, p. 17.Ibid., p. 66; and Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Lawrence & Wishart, 1977).Ibid., p. 339.Ibid., p. 342.Ibid., p. 343; and Nancy Fraser, ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in aNew Left Review, No. 212 (1995), pp. 68–93.Invention and Decline, pp. 6, 229.The Israeli, p. 270.Ibid., p. 342.Being Israeli, ch. 9, but also in Gershon Shafir & Yoav Peled (eds),
The New Israel: Peacemaking and Liberalization
Roots of Peacemaking: The Dynamic of Citizenship in Israel’,
60. Shafir and Peled recognise this (
See also on Israeli business interests Markus Bouillon,
61. I develop these points more fully in
The Case of Israeli-Palestinian Water Relations’,
62. On this subject, see in particular Uri Ben-Eliezer,
63. Shafir & Peled,
64. Figures from B’Tselem at http://www.btselem.org/ for the period 29 September 2000 to 30 September 2004.
65. ‘A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it
was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population
omelette without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands’ (Morris in interview with Ari Shavit,
(Westview, 2000); and Yoav Peled & Gershon Shafir, ‘TheInternational Journal of Middle Eastern, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1996), pp. 391–413.Being Israeli, p. 258), but do not sufficiently consider its implications.The Peace Business: Money and Power in the(IB Tauris, 2004), especially pp. 51–9.Water, Power and Politics in the Middle East: The Other Israeli-(IB Tauris, 2003), chs. 4 and 6; and ‘Dressing up Domination as “Cooperation”:Review of International Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2003),The Making of Israeli Militarism (Indiana University Press,Being Israeli, p. 259.. . . You can’t make an
Post-Zionist Perspectives on Contemporary Israel
‘Survival of the Fittest’,
Benny Morris and the Road Back from Liberal Zionism’,
pp. 38–47. The Palestinians, Barak claims, ‘are the products of a culture in which to tell a lie
no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture.
Truth is seen as an irrelevant category’ (in Benny Morris, ‘Camp David and After: An Interview with
Ha’aretz, 9 January 2004). For discussion, see Joel Beinin, ‘No More Tears:Middle East Report, Vol. 34, No. 1 (2004),. . . createsNew York Review of Books, 13 June 2002).