Book review: Ethnic relations in Israel - Nira Yuval-Davis

Book review by Nira Yuval-Davis of 'Ethnic relations in Israel'.

Y. Peres, Ethnic Relations in Israel, Sifriat Po'alim, 1976 (Hebrew)

Within the limitations inherent in his ideological and theoretical approach, the author attempts to give a comprehensive picture of ethnic relations in Israel. By this he means mainly the positive and negative feelings that Ashkenazi and Oriental Jews in Israel have towards each other, as reflected by their mutual social distance. The Palestinian community in Israel is also included in this examination of attitudes, but is omitted from the chapter that considers inter­community social distance as it is expressed in the rate of mixed marriages. A reader looking for other aspects of ethnic relations, whether material (eg mixed economic ventures) or ideological (eg as expressed in school curricula) will search through this book in vain.

However, useful information about some of these aspects is supplied in the chapter, written jointly with S. Samoha, on ethnic gaps. What is described here is not the ethnic relations as such, but the growing differentiation in the relative power of Ashkenazi and Oriental Jews in the economic, educational and political spheres. Again, the Palestinian community is omitted from this analysis.

Altogether, the place which the Palestinians occupy in this book is very strange – typifying, it seems, some of the immanent confusion of liberal zionists about the place of Arabs in Israeli society. When the ethnic composition of Israel is described, the Palestinians are in­cluded – but as religious minorities rather than as a national group. In the analysis of ethnic identities and inter-community social distance they are perceived as a national minority. In the discussion of the growth of inter-community gaps, and especially when future prospects are considered, the Palestinians disappear from the scene altogether.

One chapter, written jointly with D. Bernstein, describes the rise of the Israeli Black Panthers; it contains some interesting details, but makes no systematic attempt to explain the emergence of this group against the background of the structure of Israeli society.

The same criticism applies to the book as a whole. It contains some relevant information about the Israelis' ethnic identities and attitudes, and describes in a somewhat isolated, random manner some of the factors that have affected the formation of these attitudes; but its basic weakness is that it does not put forward any theory which can systematically explain the historical formation of these attitudes and relate them to the fundamental social, economic and political facts of the zionist enterprise.

Nira Yuval-Davis