Near Eastern Society
Near Eastern Society
The chief social characteristics of the Near East in the twentieth century have been the result of the accelerated tempo of modern technological advance. This effort to increase national power and improve living standards began long before the present century in some parts of this area but is only now beginning in others. At first, such changes came about largely through European or American intervention or example; more recently the initiative has been taken by indigenous rulers and governments. The resulting social structure is a web of traditional and new institutions and associations in which the old sometimes provide the foundation for the new, are sometimes simply bypassed and allowed to disappear, or persist significantly alongside the new patterns and even help to shape them.
The cultural-geographical area under discussion has been variously called the Near East, the Middle East, southwest Asia, and the Islamic world; these names arose in different times and from different points of view. For our purposes, the Near East comprises the region from Egypt east to Afghanistan and from Turkey south to the Sudan, that is, the following countries: Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the remainder of the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. (Israel, which shares many of the features of this region, is not included in this article.)
Although these countries share a common history and even today preserve a degree of cultural unity, they are far from being socially or geographically homogeneous. They contain a mixture of human physical types and colors—tall and short statures, broad and slender builds, dark and light skins. Their three main languages—Arabic, Persian, and Turkish—belong to different linguistic families. Their economy is largely agricultural, but there are great differences in the extent and importance of industrialization and of pastoralism. Their communities are chiefly rural, but there are, again, great differences in the intensity of urbanization. Income and education are low when compared to industrial regions, yet the range within the Near East is broad. Lebanon and Turkey thus have a per capita annual income of several hundred dollars and a literacy rate of about 50 per cent; there are some sections of the Arabian peninsula that have perhaps a fifth that income and a tenth that literacy rate. In this widely disparate region, the single most common cultural characteristic is religion, for despite even sizable minorities here and there, Islam is the religion of ninetenths of the people in the Near East and is by far the predominant faith in every country except Lebanon, where Christians are almost as numerous as Muslims.
The Near East has a population of 130 million to 140 million and an area of nearly 4 million square miles. Most of this area is steppe and desert. Despite a general proximity to the sea, coastal mountain ranges prevent rainfall from reaching the interior, which remains arid, whereas the coasts receive a large amount of precipitation. Water is derived, in some areas, from the two large river complexes, the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates. Known mineral resources are inadequate for heavy industry. Oil is abundant, but in vastly differing amounts; it is found mostly in the countries around the Persian Gulf. This uneven distribution of resources has resulted in uneven population density; wide areas are virtually uninhabited, while a small amount of land sustains most village and city life.
Three types of community
The social pattern of tribal, village, and urban communities corresponds to the geographical-economic division of the region.
The nomads and seminomads of desert and steppe have been important historically in the spread of Islam; in the development of idealized personal traits, such as bravery, pride, generosity, and cunning; and in certain economic functions, such as stockbreeding and the policing of routes of trade and travel. Their mode of existence has required an adaptation to an environment so severe that few have been able to survive it.
In social organization, nomadic communities (whose wanderings are not random, but regular) have shown considerable reliance upon clan and tribe to carry out the diverse functions that in settled societies are assigned to specialized agencies. Nomadic communities have traditionally evaded control by external governmental authority. However, since technology has enabled the regimes in the capital cities to overcome distance and terrain, the nomads retain only a vestige of this independence.
Sedentarization of nomads has been occurring for a long time, as a result both of their declining economy and of deliberate governmental policy. Some nomads settle on the land, others enter the army or special police forces, and still others have become workers in modern industry (especially Arab bedouins, who have gone to work in the oil fields and refineries). The percentage of nomads is thus smaller than ever in the Near East; probably no more than a few million live in wandering communities.
The vast majority (probably two-thirds to three-quarters) of people in the Near East live in villages that, in socioeconomic organization, lie somewhere between nomadic and urban communities. The village has some division of labor even within agriculture, the chief distinction being between owners and nonowners, and it has a few crafts and services that do not reach beyond the locality. The physical structure of the villages varies, ranging from those that are closely strung along the Nile to those that are widely scattered in the near-steppe and mountainous regions.
Social structure is not greatly differentiated, although the village does have formal and steady contact with distant governmental agencies. Rural life has remained autonomous except for the economic and military demands placed upon it by central authorities. Land is the chief value and its tilling the chief occupation; village loyalties are traditional and local: to religion, family, and individuals rather than to nation, state, and broad associations based on political or economic interests. These have thus far hardly been altered by the growth of national power and the technological changes that have swept the area in the last half century.
The social transformation of the village is only beginning, although economically it is increasingly dependent upon world markets. Changes in transport and communication bring new ideas to the village, and land reform in some countries induces fundamental changes by transferring land and income to peasants while the social power formerly exercised by the landlords is replaced by national political authority.
Islamic towns and cities owe their character to considerations of religion and protection. Muslim values owe much to urban society, which has always dominated the countryside and the desert-steppe areas, even when the latter provided the human force that carried Islam eastward and westward from its Arabian starting point. Although today the Near Eastern city still displays an extraordinary concentration of all forms of power, it is itself dependent on the national government. Near Eastern cities, unlike those in much of Europe, did not go through a period of autonomy on the way to incorporation within the advancing national states.
Despite the predominance of agriculture and village life, about 20 per cent of the population lives in cities of 100,000 or more, a proportion found more often in technologically advanced societies than in less developed agrarian ones. As industry and communications develop, the larger cities grow at a faster rate than the smaller ones. Egyptian cities of 100,000 or more people have been growing twice as rapidly as those with 30,000 to 100,000 people. Teheran, the capital of Iran, now has over 2 million people, more than double the population of only twenty years ago.
A large percentage of the people in these urban centers lives at or below a subsistence level, and many others scratch out a livelihood in services and trades that seem to absorb additional hands more in accordance with the supply of workers than with the demand of consumers. Recent migrants fill the ranks of these urban underemployed and unemployed. They also congregate in shantytowns on the outskirts of major cities, such as Baghdad and Teheran. There are few governmental agencies that help in this vast transition from rural to urban life, but a large variety of voluntary associations and less formal groups, composed of migrants whose place in urban life is already somewhat definite and satisfactory, ease the way for the thousands who come after them.
Centuries of foreign influence and more recent modernization have altered the traditional physical structure of Near Eastern cities. New cities have been built alongside the old, and often original towns remain as bazaar or rundown residential districts. Comprehensive urban planning has only recently been adopted in some cities. In the past, planning meant the creation of impressive monuments and vistas to flatter rulers rather than to meet popular needs. City planning has tended to be lost in the rush of interest in national economic planning, with the result that housing, among other things, has been a serious problem everywhere.
Despite the high degree of urbanization, the varied influence of large metropolitan areas, and recent efforts at industrialization, agriculture remains the chief element in the Near East’s economic life. It is, however, an agriculture that is far from the domestically oriented subsistence type that prevailed until around the middle of the nineteenth century, when most of the Near East became tied to world markets.
Agriculture absorbs one-half to two-thirds of the labor force and contributes one-fifth to threequarters of national income. Industry absorbs an almost negligible number of workers, employing less than 5 per cent of the labor force in some areas and about 15 per cent in some others, contributing proportionately little to the national income (omitting the profits derived from oil). Most Near Eastern countries, despite the low percentage of cultivated land and the undeveloped state of industry, do not yet stand in great danger of population outrunning resources. Compared to world patterns, population growth in the whole area is moderate, except in Egypt, which faces a serious problem in achieving a rate of economic growth commensurate with population increase.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century agriculture has gone through a number of important changes in land tenure, crops, and techniques. Around the middle of the present century another wave of change began, especially in land ownership. Agrarian reform in several countries (Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran) was carried out with varying degrees of vigor. The usual plan follows three steps: (1) The government sells small plots of land to peasants, on easy terms. These are taken from state-held lands or from lands expropriated, with compensation, from private owners. (2) The government organizes the new owners into cooperatives that handle all aspects of farming, from seed purchase to marketing. (3) The government establishes some safeguards (usually insufficient) for landless workers and tenants. These reforms have had the effect of raising income among the relatively few peasants able to become owners. The political effect has been greater, for these measures have greatly weakened the power of large landholders, especially in Egypt, where that class has been eliminated and its social power transferred to the government.
Although oil is found in significant deposits only in those countries around the Persian Gulf, the industry that has grown up in this century to extract and refine it has had very important consequences throughout the region. The leading producers (Bahrein, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia) received over $9,000 million in direct payments from the oil companies between 1948 and 1960, and since then such payments have been well over $1,000 million each year (for these and most of the following oil statistics, see Issawi & Yeganeh 1963, passim). Several countries without substantial oil resources receive large payments for the movement of oil through their waters or over their territory. Oil affects relations between the world powers, among Near Eastern countries, and between the Near East and the Western oil companies and governments.
The Near East’s oil supply is being used up at a relatively slow rate, for in 1960 it accounted for only a quarter of world production. Production costs are low, less than 20 cents per barrel, compared with 80 cents in Venezuela and $1.75 in the United States. One of the reasons is sheer abundance, reflected in the fact that production per well in the Near East is one hundred to five hundred times that in the Americas. As its production increases, Near Eastern oil constitutes a growing proportion of world trade in oil, having reached 60 per cent in 1959. Most of this trade is with Europe, which obtains about three-quarters of its oil from the Near East.
Such huge operations imply commensurately large capital investment and returns. The governments of the area have been able to do little other than to permit foreign investors and operators to find, develop, and market this important resource. The gross investment amounted to about $1,000 million soon after World War II and to over $4,000 million in 1960. Nearly all of this investment was made by Western private and government corporations, most of it by private corporations in the United States.
Investment in Near Eastern oil has been especially profitable to the foreign companies and the Near Eastern governments. Dividends to shareholders have constituted a much larger proportion of gross receipts than has been the case with other international operations. To the Near East itself, oil has greatly contributed to gross national product, foreign exchange, and government revenue. Direct payments to governments approach $2,000 million dollars annually. Revenue derived from oil makes up two-fifths to nine-tenths of the budgets and provides upwards of two-thirds of the foreign exchange. Near Eastern governments, seeking a larger portion of the profits, have nationalized oil resources and joined with each other to strengthen their positions. They have also responded to changing patterns of world demand.
Despite the vast sums of money involved, the oil industry has not had the direct economic impact upon the lower socioeconomic groups that might be expected. Wages and working conditions in the industry are better than in others, but the number of persons employed in the whole region is only about 100,000, and it has not been increasing. In the smaller places, such as Bahrein and Kuwait, oil workers constitute a fifth or more of the total employed population and much higher percentages of those generally employed in industry. In Iraq and Iran, however, they constitute only 1 per cent of the labor force and, respectively, 14 and 7 per cent of all industrial workers. Native Near Easterners constitute two-thirds to threequarters of the labor force in oil; they are a very small but growing part of those in the supervisory posts.
Labor conditions in industries such as textiles, food processing, building, and mining are much less favorable because native Near Eastern employers are not accustomed to the more generous policies of Western employers. Near Eastern governments have found it easier to persuade or require foreign employers to raise wages and improve working conditions than to impose such practices on native industries. Although some countries have legal minimums that are higher, the average weekly industrial wage in the more populous countries (excluding the oil industry) is about ten U.S. dollars. Productivity of labor is correspondingly low. Labor unrest is not widely manifested in traditional Western forms. For a long time after the rise of modern industry the governments regarded labor unions as subversive. Although they previously forbade the unions’ existence, most regimes now permit or encourage them but at the same time exercise close control. Governments have also adopted some social legislation, although much of it has not been efficiently executed.
Even where unions are tolerated, governments have prohibited strikes, so that labor protest is registered largely by rapid turnover, absenteeism, and individual complaints to conciliation boards. Generalized dissatisfaction by workers is often displayed through political acts, such as open demonstrations or clandestine organization and propaganda. Unions include (as a very rough estimate) about 750,000 workers, a very small portion of all industrial workers; moreover, many unions are poorly led and virtually inactive. Near Eastern unions have few and weak ties to the international trade-union movement. Many in the Arab countries are affiliated with the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, whose main role has been in regional political action.
An important feature of Near Eastern economic life has been a division of labor along ethnic, national, and religious lines, especially in banking, commerce, and the crafts. This has been especially true where there was an early variety of groups augmented by hundreds of thousands of Europeans who came during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Early in the twentieth century, with the growth of nationalism and independence, this pattern began to break up.
The trend toward national homogeneity within most Near Eastern countries has far from overshadowed group distinctions.
Probably because religious loyalty has been the main unifying element among the followers of one creed, it has also been the main dividing force between creeds. Until this century Near Easterners knew one another chiefly by religious persuasion, crossing even national, racial, and linguistic boundaries. Physical type and skin color are relatively unimportant in status differentiation, yet in recent decades a light skin has come to be regarded, in some places, as somehow more desirable. This may be the result of Western influence, although there are indications in early Islamic literature that a fair complexion was considered to be an element of beauty. In the early Islamic world differences arose between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, but these differences receded under centralized political authority.
Since Islam did not absorb all the other religions as it expanded, there is a web of religious minority groups that cuts across national boundaries throughout the Near East. Islam is the dominant religion, but Islam itself is divided into two large and important segments. Of the approximately 120 million Muslims in the region, more than three-quarters are Sunnites, who emphasize their adherence to the path (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad, whereas the remainder are Shiites, or adherents of the party (Shia) of the Prophet’s son-in-law, Ali. Of the Shiites, the vast majority live in Iran, where the Sunnites are a small minority.
Christian and Jewish minorities have decreased since World War II. There are perhaps 5 million Christians of many sects in the Arab world, especially in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. There are probably no more than 25,000 Jews, representing a rapid and considerable decline in numbers and influence. In the southern Sudan there are several million pagans, many of whom are being absorbed into Islam and Christianity.
National and linguistic differences cut across the religious boundaries. There is thus a great sense of difference between Turks and Egyptians, although both nations are largely Sunnite Muslim. Moreover, participation in a common language community does not always overcome national barriers. On the other hand, within certain countries, like Iran and Turkey, religion, nationality, and language produce a relatively homogeneous culture within the respective political borders that is distinguishable from the rest of the population in the Near East. In this resulting complex of crisscrossing affiliations and loyalties, Turkey is the most homogeneous, for about 95 per cent of the nation are Sunnite Muslims, speak Turkish, and are of roughly similar physical type; the least homogeneous is Lebanon, where a population of around two million is so variously divided that it is difficult to identify a “majority” group.
Traditionally, the Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the Near East from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, allowed the non-Muslim religious-national communities (or millets) a certain amount of autonomy. This separatist arrangement permitted a degree of cooperation across religious lines through formal and informal mechanisms, but the dominant spirit was one of accommodation through avoidance. The growth of nationalism in the nineteenth century among Ottomans and European Christians and later among Arabs changed this pattern significantly. As the Ottoman rulers of the Near East saw their power decline in relation to that of Europe, their defensiveness increased, and they tried various means to close the gap. One was the attempt, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to eradicate religious distinctions and create an Ottoman patriotism that would override those and other differences.
Not only did Turks find it difficult in practice to accept such legal reforms, but the European Christian minorities themselves wanted political separation from the empire rather than equality within it. When, toward the end of the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth, the Arab provinces of the Ottoman realm began to stir, nationalist leaders held out for independence rather than autonomy within the empire. Christian Arabs, however, unlike Christian Europeans, could not combine religious with national loyalty because they lived among a vast majority of Muslim Arabs; hence, they stressed a secular nationalism removed from religious loyalties. Turkish nationalist despair and hope reached their most intense levels around World War I when the empire was further dismembered. Atatürk was then able to forge a new revolutionary movement that led to the expulsion of the foreign enemies and the suppression of the enemies of “progress” at home.
The breakup of the old empire was now complete, with national states in Christian Europe, Arab states in the former Islamic Ottoman domain, and a secular national state in the very heart of the empire itself. The old millet system was gone, as each nation-state insisted upon one loyalty even if homogeneity of population was not yet achieved. A vast and complicated shuffling of religious, national, and language groups (a process that antedated World War i) reached its height during and after the war. Ultimately about two million Turkish and other Muslims went from the Balkans to Turkey, and roughly the same number of Christian Europeans, Christian Arabs, and Jews left the Near East for Europe and America.
The growth of nationalism shattered religious unity. The new Balkan states that emerged from the Ottoman Empire were Christian, but that loyalty did not bring them closer to one another. The new Arab states felt no special kinship with Turkey or Iran on the basis of common Islamic loyalty. “But,” as Hourani has remarked (1955, p. 129), “by what might seem almost a paradox, while the religious link between one nation and another vanished, the relationship, within each national community, between religion and nation still persisted.”
This was true in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran; the identification of religion and nationality was clear also in the establishment of Israel. Within each nation, however, there was no longer a form of millet system to accommodate the various groups to one another. Since the national (and nationalist) state was supposed to be homogeneous, fundamental distinctions in the population could no longer be admitted. The result has been that hostility and resentment are given no peaceful outlet. Thus, the dissatisfaction of Coptic Christians in Egypt may not be expressed for fear that it would be interpreted as disloyalty to the nation, and in Iraq the Kurds, who are Muslims speaking an Indo-European language, are in intermittent revolt for autonomy or for the creation of a national state of their own to include also the Kurds of Syria, Iran, and Turkey.
Arab nationalism and unity
The most virulent and as yet unfulfilled nationalism in the Near East is Arab nationalism. The sense of unity among the Arabic-speaking peoples overrides the still powerful nationalism in individual countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and so on. Thus far the broader form of Arab nationalism has led to several unsuccessful efforts to unify two or more Arab states. It has, however, enabled most of the Arab states to maintain a fairly unified policy on Israel and on many important international issues raised in the United Nations.
Moreover, Arab nationalism, based on a sense of a common culture and history as well as of a common destiny, has awakened many Arabs to the possibilities of modern life. Although often shrill, vague, and authoritarian, it has yet encouraged a sense of decent pride in the past and has pointed to the need for resolution to improve the lives of ordinary people in the future. Arab nationalism, however, like other nationalisms, has been unable to make a clear choice between two paths; (1) the emphasis upon mere sentiment, upon unity for the sake of power, and upon progress in technology mainly to increase military strength, and (2) the use of common sentiment to improve the material conditions of life and to promote the sense of justice and the rule of law.
There are a secular and a religious side to Arab nationalism, a fact that, taken in conjunction with other kinds of loyalty (to family and village, for example), has made it difficult for the Arab to arrange his affiliations and sentiments in some sort of reasonably stable order. The secular character of nationalism is clearly shown in its accommodation of Arab Christendom as well as Arab Islam. In international politics it has been displayed with special force in the fact that several Arab Muslim countries, notably Egypt, have been inspired by and have supported India rather than Pakistan, the largest Muslim state in the world. The religious element in Arab nationalism appears in the continuing evocation of Islamic loyalties as part of some nationalist appeals.
The interweaving of both secular and religious elements makes Arab nationalism a more complex sentiment than it would be if religion were not an issue. The reason it becomes an issue is simple: historically the Islamic religion and the Arabic language and culture have been almost inseparable, yet not all Arabs are Muslims. Christian Arabs have had to reconcile their Arab national-linguistic heritage with its predominantly Islamic nature, whereas Muslims have had to decide on the place of traditional religion in the establishment of a strong national state.
When, before World War i, Arab nationalism was directed against Ottoman control, the religious issue was simple because the Ottomans were Muslims. Both Muslim and Christian Arabs could respond to Arab nationalist appeals against a non-Arab and non-Christian power whom they regarded as the oppressor. In fact, Syrian Christian Arabs were among the leading nationalists. In Egypt, where Britain was the ruler, nationalism was more exclusively Muslim, for the Christian population did not view the British as quite so alien and oppressive. After World War I, however, Turkey was no longer a power in the Arab world, and Britain and France reached the height of their sway over it. For Muslim Arabs the issue was now quite plain: The Christian foreigners had to be ejected. For Christian Arabs, however, whose own nationalism had come in part from Western sources and who looked to the West for help, the issue was less clear.
Two developments between World War I and World War n convinced the Christian Arabs that they must join the Muslims in secular Arab nationalism. First, the decline of European power made it clear that the Christian minorities could no longer rely on it for protection. Second, the growth of Zionism in Palestine quickened Arab nationalist feelings, and on this issue the Christian Arabs did not need to feel any ambivalence whatever; their religious, national, and economic interests coincided. The accommodation of both Muslims and Christians to Arab nationalism was facilitated by the growing secularism both of Arab society and of nationalist ideology itself.
Secular Arab nationalism has not, however, satisfied certain Islamic supranational religious loyalties. To many Muslim thinkers, Arab nationalism is deplored on two counts. First, as an Arab sentiment it divides the Islamic world, most of which is in fact not Arab. Second, as a secular ideology it weakens the Islamic loyalties of Muslim Arabs. It also weakens the influence of religious leaders upon the people and regimes, an influence that long characterized Islamic society. Which principle of association is the broader depends upon the point of view. Secular nationalists argue that Arab nationalism is broader because it unites Muslims with non-Muslims, whereas the advocates of Islamic unity insist that their conception is broader because it encompasses Arabs and non-Arabs.
To some extent these two conceptions have been expressed in the ideologies and social movements known as Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islam. Certainly the former is the stronger influence and has been embodied in the Arab national states, in the Arab League, and in several attempts, since 1958, to create a unitary state out of several Arab states.
Although secularism has been steadily gaining in the Near East for a century or more, religion remains an influential force among the people. Religious leaders, it is true, have little power in most of the region’s governments and are forbidden to play an independent political role in carrying out their religious functions. Yet these leaders affect political affairs by conserving popular attachment to traditional Islam; to the extent that such leaders are successful, the “modernizing” secular authorities find a considerable portion of the population insensitive to their exhortations. Turkey, for example, found it expedient in the 1950s to mitigate earlier official hostility to popular religion and to yield to rising demands, both in the cities and in rural areas, to facilitate religious teaching and practice. In Egypt the presence of Al-Azhar has been an additional force to make the revolutionary regime take account of religious feeling, which it has done in two ways: by injecting a heavy element of Islamic loyalty into its nationalist and other appeals to the masses, and by seeking to control religious teaching not only in Egypt but also, through Al-Azhar, elsewhere in the Islamic world (especially in Negro Africa). The decline of Pan-Islam as a social movement and its loss of a firm basis in some supranational (though admittedly weak) agency like the caliphate has left religious leaders and followers with little direction. Religious influence thus tends to flow into unconnected channels wherever it is not blocked; secular leaders, holding a monopoly of increasingly effective power in most states, try to control this flow.
Islam and nationalism
In Iran and Turkey the revolutionary changes introduced in the 1920s, by Riza Shah and Atatürk, soon brought them into direct conflict with clerical power. They subdued it ruthlessly. Clerical power in Egypt had earlier been weakened in affairs of state, but a major bid for political power was made in 1954 by the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist, “cleansing” movement, only two years after the military regime had come to power. The government suppressed the brotherhood but then instituted a deliberate policy designed (1) to show the masses that this suppression of the brotherhood was not to be interpreted as hostility to religion, (2) to substitute the government-sponsored religious agencies for other, more independent ones as the teachers and guides in religious affairs, and (3) to discourage similar bids for power on the part of traditional or new religious leaders.
Egypt’s use of the theme of Islamic unity in its nationalist appeals has had implications outside that country for several reasons. First, Egypt’s policy on Al-Azhar affects the entire Muslim world, which has a special relation to the center of religious learning. Second, Egypt uses Islamic themes in Negro Africa, where this approach has been welcomed by some leaders but has been viewed as intrusive by others. Finally, appeals to Islam have disturbed secular Arab nationalists in other countries, including not only those where Christians are numerous and influential in the movement for Arab unity but also some that do not adhere to the form of Islam prevailing in Egypt.
The Islamic appeal has been used in Egypt as an adjunct of both foreign and domestic policy. In late 1958 and early 1959, for example, President Gamal Abdel Nasser found it expedient to withdraw from his position of great dependence on the U.S.S.R. One of the reasons was that it appeared to him that the U.S.S.R. was aiming to turn the recent revolution in Iraq into the first real “people’s democracy,” or Soviet satellite, in the Arab world. To this challenge Nasser responded by calling the attention of Egyptians and the entire Arab Muslim world to the incompatibility of Islam with the atheism fostered under communism. At the same time he attacked his Arab rivals in Iraq as tools of a foreign, atheist ideology, bent upon destroying the traditional unity of Islam; this charge was especially significant in some parts of the Arab Muslim world because a majority of Iraqi Muslims are Shiites, a minority wing of Islam.
For those Arab Muslim countries that could not be accused of supporting atheism but whose regimes he opposed because they resisted Egypt’s efforts to set the terms of Arab unity, President Nasser reserved a different approach. The ‘’reactionary” monarchies, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, were criticized for being corrupt and exploitative, in violation of Islamic precepts requiring justice and equality in economic life. When Egypt turned more directly, in 1961, to what it called “Arab socialism” in the “second revolution,” the attacks on the monarchies (now including Morocco) specifically identified socialism with Islam.
This identification of socialism with Islam reflected domestic policy in Egypt. Beginning in the mid-1950s, President Nasser stressed that Egypt was aiming to become a “socialist, cooperative, democratic” society. There was much talk and writing about socialism. In the summer of 1961 the regime took decisive steps toward the elimination of private property and its transfer to the state. When Syria, a few months later, broke away from its union with Egypt (established in 1958 as the United Arab Republic), President Nasser went further in the same direction. All along the regime had tried to mobilize religious sentiment for its secular goals, but with these steps toward state socialism it intensified its efforts to identify Islam with the regime’s own social and economic policies.
The expression of socialist goals in Islamic terms was pointed not only toward the masses of Egyptians but also toward the religious leaders in Alazhar. They accepted the identification, although there were misgivings among some who apparently felt that this was the final step in the separation of religious from secular authority and in the complete subjection of the former to the latter.
The religious leaders who accepted the regime’s definition of their place in the propagation of Islamic socialism also participated in a reorganization of Al-Azhar that was consonant with the government’s supremacy. In doing so, however, they seemed to act upon a traditional principle of the learned men of Islam: that it does not matter so much what secular power does so long as religious authority survives and preserves its role as teacher to the faithful. Religion, embodied in the influence of its adepts, must bend in order not to be broken. If the secular regime needs Islam, according to this point of view, the religious leaders must lend their help and thus continue to have access to the masses for religious purposes, whatever the regime’s purposes might be. This position is likewise a traditional one in Islam: that political rulers and religious thinkers together can provide good government. The disagreement among the religious leaders in the early 1960s was thus not over principles but over whether the regime was not simply using them and Islam for its own secular, narrow purposes instead of using them to promote the religious and broader purposes of Islam.
Alternating rivalry and limited cooperation between political and religious elites continue to occur in the Near East because religious feeling continues to run high among the masses despite growing secularism in government and in other domains of life. Among the most powerful manifestations of popular Islam have been the mystical orders; they have provided color and drama where conventional Islam has discouraged it. Through prayer accompanied by dance, music, and strict concentration, these groups have led people to a sense of union with God. They have also performed educational, cultural, and welfare services. Their leaders, who usually exercise absolute control, are often believed to have hidden, supernatural powers, and this belief has led to saint worship. These orders, or brotherhoods, often viewed with suspicion by political and religious leaders alike, have declined somewhat in recent years; yet the impulse behind them leads to a revival now and then and to other forms of lay religious association among the masses.
After World War n a large number of Near Eastern countries became independent or, if already nominally so, were able to act independently to an increasing extent. At the same time, many of them also removed the superstructure of political forms previously imposed by or borrowed from the West, that is, parliaments, elections, and political parties. In its place these countries established military republics with organizations (sometimes called parties) having exclusive access to the population and seeking not so much approval of the masses as their mobilization to achieve the “modernization” so earnestly sought by the military rulers and their followers in the upper civilian bureaucracy. Near Eastern military leaders have found free political organization a threat to their programs of economic and social change. They fear a resurgence of influence of the propertied classes if open competition for power were allowed. Older forms of absolutism were suspicious of political parties but permitted them a certain amount of freedom to compete against one another so long as they did not seriously challenge the locus of sovereign power. The newer absolutism has regarded all political parties as divisive and without any social rationale, since the nation is presumed to be homogeneous and united behind whatever national regime happens to hold power.
Aspects of modern political ideology and practice in the Near East derive from and still reflect the influence of certain time-honored institutions and attitudes regarding the nature of government.
In early Islamic concept, the purpose of government was not merely to ensure public order and to promote welfare but to protect and advance the religion of Allah. Secular and religious authority were not separated in either ideal or practice. When, after the expansion of Islam in the seventh and eighth centuries, the two kinds of authority separated, religious leaders began to adopt a view of government that still pervades the Near East. This view held that government, no longer based upon religion, was evil and to be avoided by the pious. Oppressive regimes also alienated the populace. The result has been a profound suspicion of government, leading to the desire to control it or to avoid it but not to exercise established, regular responsibility toward it.
Governments, in their turn, made large jurisdictional claims but were unable to exercise pervasive powers because of internal weakness, public indifference, and the creation of intermediary agencies between ruled and rulers, such as the religious organizations, the guilds, and the millets. A concomitant of this popular sense of hostility or indifference toward government has been the attitude that political authority is something at once so remote that the ordinary man has no access to it and so close that it is constantly making demands upon him. The popular response alternates between avoiding government and making demands upon it. Moreover, it is still widely felt in the Near East that government should be responsible for many of the things accomplished elsewhere by voluntary associations. The implicit attitude seems to be that if a government makes so many demands upon the people, the people have the right to expect the government to do anything that needs to be done.
Hostility and indifference to government are traditional means of protection against its sway. In recent decades, regimes seeking to raise the material level of living have had to struggle against this powerful legacy. The reciprocal response to mass apathy has been extremism among the articulate, educated elite in and out of power. This elite has sought to bring the masses into political action. Leaders exhort the masses to work, learn, and perform military service and to protect the new regimes against the “reactionary forces” lurking about or foreign enemies close by. Still suspicious of government and not fully comprehending the new goals, the masses do not respond easily to these appeals, and the leaders are driven to greater and greater efforts to produce an effect. In addition, the masses have been made important by the fact that leaders in and out of power seek their support.
But the recognized importance of public opinion is growing faster than the public’s knowledge and experience of politics. This gap makes the masses easy to manipulate. They swing from apathy to momentary involvement in politics in response to extremist appeals that lead to demonstrations and flashes of violence rather than to sustained, informed political activity. As long as many Near Eastern regimes retain an authoritarian character they cannot allow the peaceful political contests and fundamental ideological discussion that would produce steady political participation. The result is often that support for a regime means intolerance of the slightest criticism; meanwhile, opposition is secret, and when it is open it becomes violent. Thus government and opposition alike do not grant each other the right to play an established role peacefully, or even the right to exist at all.
Political extremism in the Near East is obviously not a racial trait but the consequence of certain social conditions: poverty and lack of education, lack of democracy, and resentment against Western domination in the past. Such conditions encourage political hyperbole to arouse people while enabling leaders also to act without obtaining the approval of powerful social classes or organized, articulate groups. Resentment against Europe, in certain Near Eastern countries, enables those in power (and those who aspire to it) to appeal to nationalism without having to offer much to supplement it or to supplant it when its force is spent.
Recent social change
Social change in the Near East has been introduced by a combination of Western and domestic influences in which the latter have now become more pervasive and more radical. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the West induced change directly by introducing modern machinery, systems of finance, administration of public and private enterprise, public health measures, agricultural techniques, and methods of education. In response to Western power, Near Eastern leaders acted in various ways. They embraced some of the innovations in a wholehearted belief in material progress. While adopting foreign techniques, they also tried to fortify themselves against Western control by affirming their own values.
Such change is not necessarily the direct result of acculturation. In Turkey, during the 1920s, men and groups came to power seeking to impose directly upon their people changes far more profound than any the Westerners had dared to suggest. Such changes have touched the very core of people’s habits of thought—their way of working, their religious behavior, relations between the generations and the sexes, even their clothing. Change, whatever the mixture of foreign and domestic influences, is of course uneven throughout the region. The main impact has been in the growth of modern industry and agriculture and in the advance of secularization. Such changes have gone farthest in Israel, Turkey, and Lebanon, have been considerable in the United Arab Republic, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have had important effects in the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Jordan, and have only recently begun in Saudi Arabia and on the rest of the peninsula.
Irrespective of the source of change, foreign or local, the state apparatus has given it direction. This has been especially true in recent years, when native Near Eastern leaders began to assume control over the national economies. The first state to achieve this position fully was Turkey. In 1923 it recovered full sovereignty with the Treaty of Lausanne and the end of the Capitulations, under which Europeans enjoyed extraterritorial rights. It was more than a quarter century later that the Capitulations were abolished in Egypt. As they gained or regained control from the West, Near Eastern regimes nationalized property in two ways. They encouraged and forced the transfer of private capital from foreigners to natives, and they expropriated private capital for the state, usually with compensation. In the desire to raise the level of living and to increase national power, as well as to establish prestige in the international community, they adopted several programs of development.
One was educational. Foreign schools were put under national control. All curricula were adjusted to the national goals and in some cases to dominant religious or secular values. Expenditure on education was vastly increased, at first disproportionately for higher education, but beginning in the 1950s there was a better appreciation of the importance of primary and adult education in the elimination of illiteracy.
A second emphasis was upon economic development through planning. This usually took the form of the encouragement of industrialization or the actual creation of new industries in the effort to provide employment for a labor surplus in agriculture, to reduce the expenditure of foreign exchange except for needed capital goods, and to produce for export. Turkey, Iran, and Egypt built imposing planning apparatuses; the practical results, although considerable in some respects, have usually fallen far short of the plans or hopes.
A third emphasis in the national resurgence in the Near East has been upon military power. Virtually all of the states have, with or without reason, been apprehensive of their neighbors as well as of the great powers in both the Atlantic and the Soviet blocs. They sought, therefore, first to nationalize their armed forces and then to modernize them in equipment and organization. This route of modernization, through a military elite or out of military considerations, has often been taken in the Near East, notably by Turkey in the late eighteenth century and by Egypt in the early nineteenth.
After World War I the Near East resorted increasingly to military regimes. After Atatürk’s death in 1938 civilian regimes gradually assumed power in Turkey until officers took control again in 1960. Riza Shah established military rule in Iran in the early 1920s and then established a dynasty, in which his heir has ruled with the close collaboration of the leaders of the armed forces. Iraq became independent in 1932; soon afterward, officers became very powerful, and in 1958 the military took full power. Syria, which became independent in World War n, was ruled by army officers in 1949. Egypt assumed effective independence after World War II and was taken over by the military in 1952. The Sudan became independent in 1955 and three years later was under military rule.
There have been important differences between these regimes, chiefly in their types of nationalism, attitudes toward private property, conceptions of “modernism,” and policies toward the great powers. It must be emphasized that although military regimes have promoted social change, they have not been the only innovators. Change has also been introduced by parliamentary regimes and even by the monarchies that the military elites often revile.
Two of the most potent types of change in the Near East are secular education and the spread of modern media of communication and transport. Much of this education and communication has been sheer indoctrination, yet they have brought new ideas and tastes to large numbers of people whose only vision, beyond the immediate need to sustain life, is a traditionally religious one. These developments have already helped to loosen custom, stimulate discussion, and call into question institutions and authorities whose bases were previously ignored or simply revered.
The new horizons, together with economic changes, have shaken traditional family life. Domination by the male head, extreme respect for age, great parental authority, close linear and collateral kinship relations—all these remain strong in the Near East as compared with the West, but they are beginning to weaken, especially in the urban areas. One of the most important developments is the increase of secular education of girls and the employment of women outside the home and field. Although parents may not welcome changes in their family relations, they want for their daughters a kind of education and employment that arouses not only a desire for greater freedom and equality but also the expectation—and even the experience—of these conditions.
New economic relations
Economic changes of considerable importance began in the early nineteenth century, as the power of the industrial West made itself felt in the introduction of new products, new methods of production in both manufacture and agriculture, and international trade. Older occupations declined or were transformed; newer pursuits advanced. New relationships between social classes emerged; in this century such changes have been even more significant. In Turkey and Iran they have included the elimination of the ulema, or clergy, from political control. Egypt has experienced the virtual demise of the landed class holding vast political power. A small number of military leaders have come to power in several countries. Based not only on the armed forces but also on the upper levels of the civil service, they have tried to activate the relatively inert rural masses and the volatile but inexperienced urban masses. Through these changes religion and kinship have become less important in the determination of the individual’s social class, whereas education and occupation, especially in the modern sector of urban life, have assumed increasing influence.
Politically, the most significant change has been the emergence of Near Eastern states into independence under the impetus of a strong nationalism, which has made a bid to replace religion as the most effective emotional bond among people. Through economic development, social legislation, and agrarian reform or through sheer nationalist exhortation by means of controlled elections, plebiscites, and mass organizations bearing some resemblance to political parties, national leaders have sought the support of the urban and rural masses. For this they have used all the modern media of communication denied, except in a few countries, to those not sharing the regime’s outlook.
Political “development” has been given a special interpretation by authoritarian governments. They have not attempted to cultivate individual thought and to encourage critical evaluation of alternatives. Nor have they encouraged the establishment of independent groups of varying interests and viewpoints that would contribute to the political education of their members while exercising some influence upon government. Rather, political “development” has meant the silencing of “divisive” political parties and the harnessing of interest groups to a regime’s immediate goals or their confinement to nonpolitical functions.
Although the authoritarian regimes dominating most of the Near East have not directly encouraged democracy, some of their innovations have promoted the very conditions that may later produce the demand that political power be shared. The expansion of education and the effort to overcome learning by rote, the greater freedom of women and their emergence from seclusion, the introduction of higher standards of public administration, the growing freedom of the individual within family life and the development of liberal ideas on child rearing, and the encouragement of new and freer forms of artistic and literary expression will all serve this function. Most Near Eastern governments coordinate these developments as carefully as they can with their own political aims. But the attitudes, expectations, and interests created by these efforts at modernization can elude control and lead to direct expression in political life.
“Modernization” in the Near East, extensive as it is, can nevertheless be easily exaggerated or prematurely noted. Much of it is still confined to the cities, and everywhere it is still manifested more in external, material culture (automobiles, roads, and transistor radios) than in the less penetrable and less noticeable individual attitudes, family structure, interpersonal relations, and religious conceptions and behavior. Moreover, some changes regarded as firm have often been revealed as only superficial. Thus the power of kinship and religion is reasserted from time to time in political and economic life even in Turkey and Egypt, two countries that have undergone more fundamental change than any others in the region. In Turkey, especially, the influence of Islam as a religion continues to surprise not only foreign observers but the secular, modern rulers as well. The gulf thus revealed between elite and masses may be even wider in those countries whose modernization began later and has proceeded at a slower pace.
The traditional integration of different groups within the Islamic social and religious system has been shattered; the groups, themselves changing in nature and goals, are reforming. Nationalism and political independence give the quick impression of a new kind of civic integration, but it is very likely that its extent has been exaggerated everywhere in the Near East. Social differences seem still to be growing; the way to coordinate them into a workable, enduring system of relations within the framework of the modern state has not yet been found.
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Israel is a new society as well as a new state. Its population, more than 2,500,000 in 1965, is overwhelmingly composed of immigrants from some one hundred countries and their immediate descendants. The organization of the new society still manifests the commitments and systems of action of those who founded it. Zionism has included a range of ideologies. The new society came into existence and took shape as like-minded individuals banded into groups, before or after immigration, formed organizations and coalitions, and added to their numbers and resources through recruitment of new members and allies among potential immigrants and supporters abroad. Differences in orientation among successive waves of immigrants and their supporters gave rise to partisan systems of action. These contributed in large measure to the formation of the nascent society and structured much of its prestatehood organization.
The social system created in Jewish Palestine prior to Israel’s independence persisted after statehood. It channeled much of the development of the new society, particularly during Israel’s first postindependence decade. However, the society has been transformed by changes effected since statehood, and its social system has undergone modification. This article traces the distinctive development of a new society and a new state that were successfully created on the basis of an ancient national identity.
Origins of the new society
Three systems of beliefs and values underlie the actions which gave rise to Israel. These are Judaism as religion and tradition, Zionism, and socialism.
Judaism maintained the orientation of Jews to Palestine as their one-time and future homeland through the millennia of dispersion. The Bible and the Talmud describe in detail the ancient way of life, while religious law preserves and transmits its essentials. The yearly cycle of prayers and ceremonies constantly anticipates the return to the Holy Land or to the holy city of Jerusalem; the Talmud states that the duty of Jews to live in the land of Israel is greater than the rest of the law; throughout the centuries it was considered a holy duty for Jews to contribute to the support of those who had succeeded in remaining in or returning to Palestine. Small groups from all over the Diaspora had so succeeded, and most orthodox Jews sought to have buried with them a bit of earth from Palestine.
Traditional Judaism, with its orientation of return to Zion, was the force that had motivated the settlement in Palestine of the perhaps 24,000 Jews living there in the latter part of the nineteenth century, on the eve of the emergence of modern Zionism as an organized movement. Supported largely by the contributions of Diaspora Jewry, they were concentrated in the four holy cities of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron and were dedicated mainly to the study of religious law. They represented both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions of Judaism, that is, respectively, the tradition that had emerged among the Jews of Europe and the tradition that centered in Spain prior to the expulsion of its Jews and their dispersion mainly to Muslim lands.
These two traditions differ in liturgy, custom, ritual surrounding the prescribed forms of worship, to some extent in points of observance, and in daily behavior around the prescribed observances. They have become associated with much else in culture and have become an index of differentiation among Jews in general and in Jewish Palestine and Israel. In Israel, for example, the Sephardim and Ashkenazim each have their own chief rabbi and their own congregations. Immigrants from ancient Jewish communities in the Muslim lands also have their own traditions, although they are generally classed as Sephardim. While Sephardim outnumbered Ashkenazim in Palestine prior to the Zionist-inspired immigrations beginning in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, this numerical preponderance was reversed during the development of Jewish Palestine prior to the establishment of the state. In modern Israel the sociological concomitants of the distinction between Ashkenazim and Sephardim involve a more overriding distinction between European and Oriental, which is further discussed below.
Although traditional Judaism was not a major factor in the immigration of the predominantly European-derived settlers who built up prestate Jewish Palestine, known as the Yishuv, much of the poststate mass immigration from the non-European countries had a strong Messianic element. By many of the immigrants from Yemen, Turkey, Libya, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and Cochin (India), tidings of a new state of Israel were received as the long-awaited “redemption from exile,” to which of course they had to respond. Also, a religious bloc has existed within the Zionist movement almost since its inception, and some of the Zionist-motivated immigrants have been affiliated with it.
Religious commitment, therefore, has been a factor in the creation of the new society, and its influence extends to the institutions of the society. It is one of the focuses around which political parties crystallized in the Yishuv as well as in the Zionist movement, and the religious political parties have continued under statehood to work toward bringing public law and institutions into conformity with religious law. The politics of coalition government operate to their advantage. They have been successful in keeping matters of personal status, such as marriage and divorce, under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts. The Chief Rabbinate, which includes the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis and a Supreme Rabbinical Council, is supported by the state. State educational provisions include a system of religious as well as nonreligious schools. Most public transportation does not operate on Saturdays or on some Jewish holidays. Religious girls are exempt from military conscription. Public organizations observe the Jewish dietary laws. Religious minorities have their rights guaranteed, and matters of their personal status are under the jurisdiction of their clergy;the Muslim clergy are also paid by the state.
Thus, while Israel is very far from constituting a state in which religious law is the basis of public law, which is the goal of the religious political parties, it cannot be considered a wholly secular state, much to the chagrin of a portion of its present population. Differences in extent of religious commitment make for cleavages within the Jewish population; they not only separate the most devout from confirmed unbelievers, between whom there may be no voluntary interaction, but also provide the basis for politically divisive issues involving the national life. Conflict around such issues probably will remain a characteristic of the internal politics of Israel for some time to come.
While the power of Zionism to evoke a response from large numbers of people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds cannot be understood apart from the significance of the “land of Israel” in Judaism as religion, tradition, or both, the emergence of modern Zionism is associated less with a religious Jewish identity than with its breakdown. The Age of Enlightenment both effected the political emancipation of Jews in the countries of western Europe and introduced new currents of thought and aspirations into the Jewish communities of these countries. Relative secularization and assimilation into the cultures of their countries of residence occurred among increasing numbers of Jews. However, anti-Semitism continued, even while secularization and assimilation created the new problem of the meaning of a Jewish identity.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the idea of return to Palestine was advanced both as a solution to anti-Semitism in Europe and as a way of maintaining and normalizing Jewish identity and culture. The earlier public proponents were from western Europe and Germany. Simultaneously and independently, the same ideas began to emerge in eastern Europe, where the mass of European Jewry was concentrated, still legally disadvantaged and largely carrying on the traditional ways of their ancestors. In 1881, when a wave of pogroms began in Russia, vast groups of Jews began to emigrate to western Europe and the Americas; others joined revolutionary movements; another response was the initiation of organized Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Between 1882 and 1903 from 20,000 to 30,000 immigrants, mostly from Russia and Rumania, some of them former students, some families with moderate means, arrived in Palestine to double its Jewish population. Purchasing land, they set up more than twenty agricultural settlements, most of which are now substantial towns. Their difficulties in making a success of farming under the arduous local conditions were somewhat ameliorated by aid extended by Baron Edmund de Rothschild. Almost from its inception, the new society enlisted the involvement of many people who were sympathetic to its goals but who were not committed to joining it. This involvement, which can be seen as a repatterning of traditional orientations in regard both to Palestine as homeland and to community responsibility, has been a major factor in financing the growth of the new society and its development into a modern nation.
Both the establishment of the World Zionist Organization in 1897 and the immigration of labororiented young people, mostly from eastern Europe, that started in 1904 gave rise, in different ways, to the institutions through which the society and the new nation were formed. The World Zionist Organization brought together religious, reform, and secular Jews from most of the European countries and the Ottoman Empire in a wide-flung political movement dedicated to the creation of an independent Jewish nation in Palestine. The young immigrants who arrived between 1904 and World War i, known as the second aliyah, or wave of immigration, fused socialist ideals and Zionist aspirations into an ideology stressing redemption of the land, most of it submarginal, through their own “nonexploitative” physical labor and their stoical endurance and transcendence of the hardships involved.
Linking its dispersed membership with settlers in Palestine, the World Zionist Organization created agencies to acquire and administer the resources necessary for development of the new society. One of the earliest agencies was the Jewish National Fund. It was established in 1901 to purchase land in Palestine with the contributions of sympathizers, retain title to it in the name of the Jewish people, and lease it to those who would occupy it personally and work it themselves. The principle of national ownership of the land of Palestine remained in effect after the founding of the state, which now has title to almost 95 per cent of Israel’s territory. Settlers could lease land at almost no cost, and its rehabilitation has been financed by the fund and now by the state. Therefore, the unoccupied land resources of Israel have remained freely available to all immigrants, subject to priorities of national development and the principles of settlement stressing cooperative endeavor that were introduced by the labor-oriented settlers.
Other organizations, principally the Jewish Agency for Palestine, were created later in the history of the Zionist movement in conjunction with the development of the Yishuv and other changes relevant to it, particularly the shift from Turkish to British mandatory government over Palestine. These organizations served as instruments of voluntary self-government, linked to, yet independent of, the British administration and responsible to the constituency of the World Zionist Organization, including members of the Yishuv.
While the governmental apparatus of Jewish Palestine, a good part of which was transferred into that of the state, developed largely during the mandate period, the internal politics of the Zionist movement, expressing ideological and cultural differences among its members, were factors shaping the nascent society almost from its inception. Jews of eastern European origin dominated the movement and became dominant in the Yishuv, suffusing both with a style of action characteristic of their background. This style involved concern with principle as a basis for or rationalization of action, the formulation of principles into systems or ideologies, and intensity of commitment in the defense of ideology and ideologically based action. For in the beleaguered Jewish communities of eastern Europe (see Zborowski & Herzog 1952), intensity of emotion was both generated and culturally sanctioned in many areas of life, conspicuously in the life of the intellect, and passion was legitimately associated with differences of opinion and value. A recurrent feature of the internal politics of Zionism was the development of factions over a variety of principles and issues, the crystallization of such factions into political parties or movements within the Zionist Organization or even, in certain cases, outside the organization, and orientation and commitment to ideology and party almost equal to or even superseding orientation and commitment to the common goals.
The issue of the secular versus religious character of the institutions being created in Palestine, such as the schools, was an early issue around which factions crystallized and has remained an enduring one. Other issues followed: some of these involved economic policies; a later major issue was the degree of militancy of the movement in defending the Yishuv against attack. These remained fundamental areas of controversy well into the years after the establishment of the state. The predominance of the Labor party in Israel expresses the dominant role in building the new society of immigrants committed to an ideological synthesis of socialism and Zionism, beginning with the second aliyah.
The young immigrants of the second aliyah developed their specific ideology in rejecting other alternatives: conformity with the traditional life in which they had been raised, assimilation, revolutionary activity within Russia, or immigration to elsewhere than Palestine—all of which had been chosen by far greater numbers of peers. They made their way to Palestine without help; and, motivated by both ideology and subsistence needs, they turned to types of work requiring hitherto alien manual skills, such as agriculture and the building trades. Both necessity and ideology led them to pool resources and develop cooperative organizations, including kitchens and laundries in the established villages in which they worked as hired laborers, employment offices, mutual aid funds, committees to receive similarly committed new immigrants and tide them over until they could find work, a consumers’ cooperative, and sick funds. As land was made available to them by the Jewish National Fund, various groups began to experiment with forms of social organization through which agricultural settlement could be effected under very difficult conditions (see Bein 1952).
The wholly communal settlement, widely known today as the kibbutz, was the first new community type to emerge (see Baratz 1954). Other, abortive community types for agricultural settlement also were tried out; and the next successful one to develop, after World War i, was the moshav ovdim, the cooperative smallholders’ settlement. While in the kibbutz all property is owned in common, food is prepared in a community kitchen and eaten in a community dining hall, and children are reared together in a series of age-graded children’s houses, the moshav is organized around family farms and cooperative village economics (see Dayan 1961).
Of the perhaps forty thousand immigrants who constituted the second aliyah, some became urban workers rather than farmers; but they shared a common commitment to the ideology of labor, to cooperative endeavor, to Hebrew as the language of Jewish Palestine, and to self-abnegating fortitude in implementing their values. The norms and attitudes they developed and the activities in which they engaged coalesced into the role of the pioneer. This role became a model for successive waves of labor-Zionist-oriented immigrants after World War i, a standard of value and emulation for most members of the Yishuv, including many not engaged in agricultural settlement, manual labor, or other “pioneering” activities; and it still is a potent symbol in the Israel of today. Moreover, for more than a decade after the state was established, surviving members of the second aliyah played a significant role in the building of the nation. National leadership was drawn from their ranks, including David Ben-Gurion (who was the country’s prime minister almost continually until 1963), the country’s second and third presidents, the first speaker of the Israeli parliament (the Knesset), and many members of the parliament.
As for the cooperative institutions created by the second aliyah, the agricultural settlements they initiated, particularly the kibbutz, multiplied and became the bastion of Jewish Palestine in many activities central to its existence during the period it was under attack, before and after World War II. Together with the other cooperative endeavors, the labor-Zionist settlements were the nucleus of the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor established in 1920, which came to dominate the economy of Jewish Palestine and whose power has been second only to that of the national government since the establishment of the state.
The prestate social system
The immigrants and their background
Only a minority of the world’s Jews became Zionists, at least until the establishment of the state, and a much smaller minority went to Palestine. During the period after World War i, the majority of the immigrants were from eastern Europe, and they were motivated by essentially the same orientations and commitments that had resulted in the preceding two waves of immigration. On the one hand, neither the Russian Revolution nor the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into independent countries had resulted in a diminution of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe; if anything, its manifestations in some of the newly independent countries increased, abetted by the open support given it by their governments. On the other hand, neither traditional Judaism, local revolutionary activity, nor migration to elsewhere than Palestine offered a solution to the immigrants’ quest for a Jewish identity not bound to religious observance.
During World War I the Jewish population of Palestine was reduced to some 56,000 through deportations and depredations by the Turkish government. This population was augmented by about 25,000 to 35,000 immigrants from eastern Europe, primarily from Russia, between 1918 and 1923, when the Soviet Union ended emigration of its Jews. This immigration, known as the third aliyah, was composed of labor-Zionist-oriented young people with essentially the same goals as their predecessors of the second aliyah. Poland replaced the Soviet Union as the principal source of the some 82,000 immigrants who arrived between 1924 and 1931. Known as the fourth aliyah, these immigrants included labor-Zionist-oriented young people, but the majority had a middle-class orientation. While some members of the latter segment of immigrants founded non-labor—Zionist villages, most of them settled in the growing cities and engaged in small-scale commerce, industry, and crafts. Some 9,200 immigrants also arrived from Middle Eastern countries, and about 2,000 from the Americas; about 23,000 Jews emigrated from Palestine during a period of economic depression in the 1920s.
Between 1932 and 1938 more than 217,000 newcomers, known as the fifth aliyah, arrived in Palestine. The majority were from eastern Europe;but about 40,000 were from Germany and Austria, driven from these countries after Hitler’s rise to power, and 11,000 were from Rumania, including areas of it that had been in the orbit of Austrian culture. Some 7,000 arrived from Yemen and Aden; and noteworthy numbers of immigrants came from Greece, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Americas. Although the British mandate government attempted to limit Jewish immigration from 1929 onward, its policies exempted certain special categories of immigrants, such as those bringing capital to Palestine.
The immigrants from central Europe included people with capital to invest and with experience in finance and administration, scholars and scientists, and highly trained professionals, such as physicians, lawyers, and engineers. They promoted the development of industry and commerce on a much larger scale than previously had existed; they contributed to the arts, sciences and humanities; and they added to the reservoir of skills necessary for the development of a modern society. Between 1933 and 1939, 2,700 industrial enterprises were created by the new immigrants, giving employment to some 22,500, as compared to 1,625 enterprises, with less than 14,000 employees, developed up to 1932 (see Zweig 1959). However, many highly trained newcomers could not find professional employment in the economy of Jewish Palestine, which still was geared to the primary tasks of agricultural settlement and the creation of sources of urban livelihood. During the 1930s many immigrants with advanced degrees worked as manual laborers in the pioneer tradition.
From 1939 to 1948 some 76,000 immigrants from Europe, mostly from central and eastern Europe, entered the country legally, and about 58,000 were brought in despite restrictive measures of the mandatory government. A sizable proportion of newcomers after 1945 were young survivors of the Nazi extermination policy. Some 17,000 immigrants from non-European lands also arrived during the years of World War II.
Country of origin was one index of identity and differentiation among members of the nascent society, and it was associated in popular stereotypy with differences in behavior. Thus, the manners of the German immigrants generally were stiff and formal in comparison to the relative absence of social and personal distance in the style of interaction prevalent among Jewry of eastern Europe, and this gave rise to many jokes at the expense of the former. Country, region, or city of origin was the basis for the formation of traditional community organizations and religious congregations, while immigrants from the same country or culture area also created secular associations. However, ethnic identity associated with geographical origin and preimmigration way of life did not constitute the principal basis of grouping and differentiation among the majority of the Jewish population of Palestine. Of the voluntary organizations which structured the emerging society, those most significant for its development were created in the framework of the Zionist movement and its politics.
Institutions and systems of relations
The politics of Zionism offers the most comprehensive framework for describing the institutions, groupings, and systems of relations that developed in Jewish Palestine. This is so because partisan systems of action and the ideologies on which they were based largely effected the Jewish settlement and development of Palestine. The political parties of Zionism expressed the spectrum of orientations and commitments which motivated the immigration and nationbuilding activities of most members of the nascent society, and new factions formed as changing conditions brought new issues to the fore. The factions created organizations to serve the needs of their members; they competed within the Zionist movement for the allocation of resources; and they developed organizations of potential immigrants and sympathizers abroad. Newcomers and veteran inhabitants with different orientations from those of the major partisan factions created their own organizations, which acted as political pressure groups; and some of the associations of people from the same country of origin or ethnic tradition organized as political parties in the Yishuv.
The adherents of labor-Zionism established a ramifying network of institutions through which much of the development of Jewish Palestine was accomplished. The principal agencies of this development were the most distinctive creations of the nascent society: the communal and cooperative rural communities through which much of land settlement was effected; and the Histadrut, which organized a comprehensive economy of interdependent cooperative enterprises in which both rural settlements and urban workers participated.
However, the adherents of labor-Zionism by no means constituted an ideologically or politically united body. Two factions, based on different ideological syntheses of socialism and Zionism, existed as early as 1906, from almost the beginning of the second aliyah. They joined forces in founding the Histadrut in 1920 and in expanding the scope of its activities and power, while competing politically within it. They remained in existence as political factions, with different views on a range of policies, and the crystallization of other ideological syntheses of socialism and Zionism contributed to the formation of additional labor-Zionist factions.
The creation of new farming villages was a paramount goal of all the labor-Zionist factions; and, during the 1920s, three federations of communal settlements came into being. Each of them was linked to Zionist youth movements in the Diaspora which recruited young people for immigration and trained them as agricultural pioneers; and each of the kibbutz federations was part of a larger political faction within the Yishuv. Despite various reorganizations and realignments, the three kibbutz federations still are in existence, and two of them constitute the enduring nuclei of the factions whose mergers and splits underlie the formation of the secular labor-Zionist political parties of Israel.
For while members of all the secular laborZionist factions supported Mapai, the Labor party created in 1930, this alliance did not endure for much more than a decade. It enabled the Labor party to win control of the most politically significant offices within the Zionist movement. However, secessions from Mapai and realignments resulted in the existence of two labor-Zionist political parties by 1944 and three by 1954. Mapai has remained the largest and most powerful of these. To its left is Achdut ha-Avodah. Its origins go back to the more revolutionary of the two original laborZionist factions; and its base is a kibbutz federation which initially differed from the others over issues of village organization as well as over more general aspects of Zionist ideology and policy. To the left of Achdut ha-Avodah is Mapam, which has a revolutionary socialist ideology. Its base is a Marxistoriented kibbutz movement, which developed from a youth movement founded in Poland in 1917.
Although the total population of the kibbutzim never reached even 10 per cent of the population of Jewish Palestine, and the percentage has been far lower since Israel’s independence, the communal settlements played a major role in the formation and organization of the nascent society. They constituted the majority of new villages which expanded the rural base of the Yishuv and populated and restored to fertility previously barren land. Moreover, they served as way station and introduction into the society for many more people than those who became permanent kibbutz members. Among immigrants recruited for settlement in the kibbutzim, those who became disaffected with communal life moved into other sectors of the society, while usually retaining allegiance to laborZionist values and goals. Indeed, the first moshav ovdim, the cooperative type of village embodying labor-Zionist principles, was founded by such disaffected former kibbutz members, and the kibbutzim continued as a source of settlers for the moshavim, whose federations did not recruit abroad until after statehood. From the 1930s on, the kibbutzim were in the fore in providing homes for groups of youngsters rescued from Nazi Europe, and kibbutz organization facilitated their absorption in communal units within the collective settlements. Moreover, refugees who had evaded the mandatory government’s restrictions on immigration to Palestine could disappear into the kibbutzim and go elsewhere, if they so desired, when conditions permitted.
Land settlement was not limited to adherents of secular labor-Zionist ideology or to the founding of kibbutzim, but these furnished the point of reference for other developments. Thus, founders of the mosh’vei ovdim formulated their type of cooperative community partly in reaction against collective life. As the number of such settlements increased, they too banded into a federation, affiliated with the Histadrut and with the Labor party, and competed with the kibbutz federations for the land funds for settlement channeled through agencies of the World Zionist Organization.
Moreover, segments of the Zionist movement committed to orientations other than secular laborZionism had to come to terms with the latter’s appeal and goals in order to maintain their own position. The religious party in the Zionist movement, Mizrachi, developed a labor wing, ha-Poel ha-Mizrachi, in 1922. While retaining links with Mizrachi, ha-Poel ha-Mizrachi became an independent political party and established its own settlement movements, first a kibbutz federation and then a moshav federation, and its own labor organization. Even Agudat Israel, an organization of ultraorthodox Jews opposed to political Zionism, decided in the 1920s to support immigration to Palestine on a purely religious basis. It, too, founded a labor wing, Poalei Agudat Israel, which engaged in land settlement, founded a labor organization, and became a separate political party.
Innovations in land settlement initiated by some of the immigrants from Germany followed the by then established pattern of action. While many of these immigrants who went on the land joined or founded villages within the existing spectrum of federations, those with a liberal rather than labor orientation created their own village federation. Other immigrants with capital created a partly cooperative type of village. These settlements and the private farmers formed their own organizational networks. However, the organizations and associations established by settlers with a liberal or capitalist orientation were not established primarily to advance or defend an ideology but rather to provide their members with some of the services which the Histadrut offered its members.
The Histadrut’s development involved the same processes which characterized land settlement in the nascent society and which also can be noted in the development of the Zionist movement: the evolution of the innovations initiated by relatively small groups into networks of interrelated organizations and systems of action which, under radically changed conditions, have persisted as systems. The nucleus of cooperative organizations brought together when the Histadrut was founded grew into the federations of kibbutzim and moshavim already noted; an agricultural marketing cooperative, which purchases all their agricultural products for resale and which developed industrial enterprises for processing many of them; a wholesale society, from which the villages buy their supplies, which engages in retail trade throughout the country, and which developed its own enterprises for manufacturing many of the goods it sells; dozens of industrial and craft unions organized into a central federation of unions; transport cooperatives, which dominate public transportation by road in Israel;housing societies; financial organizations, including one of Israel’s major banks, its largest insurance company, and provident and pension funds;a water company; industrial corporations, including much of Israel’s heavy industry; and service organizations.
These service organizations include restaurants, hostels, hotels, and a sick fund, which provides all Histadrut members with full medical coverage. Prior to the creation of the state school system in 1953, the Histadrut maintained a network of educational institutions whose curricula stressed laborZionist values. It still maintains a youth movement, which is the largest in Israel, and a sports organization; it offers vocational and evening classes and sponsors cultural activities. As early as 1925, the Histadrut published its own daily newspaper, and it established a publishing house in 1942. By the close of the mandate period, the Histadrut linked perhaps 40 per cent of the Jewish population of Palestine and possibly 75 per cent of its wage and salaried workers.
As the Histadrut expanded, adherents of ideologies other than secular labor-Zionism developed their own competitive organizations in the spheres of activity relevant to their interests. The two religious labor federations have focused primarily on agricultural settlement and education. Thus, their members have been represented in the Histadrut’s trade union section and have been insured with its sick fund. Their agricultural villages market their produce through the Histadrut’s marketing society and purchase supplies from its wholesale society. In contrast, the settlers affiliated to the Zionist faction with a liberal orientation set up their own marketing cooperative and central purchasing organization and have their own agricultural credit associations. Their members belong to an independent sick fund, which has urban subscribers.
Both the labor federation of ha-Poel ha-Mizrachi and the nonlabor factions also created their own housing societies to serve their members in the towns. All the Zionist factions organized youth movements and sports organizations and have published daily newspapers. School systems maintained by the Zionist religious faction and by the General Zionists antedated the formation of the Histadrutsupported school system, while the ultraorthodox faction has had its own schools.
The General Zionists emerged as an amalgamation of members of the Zionist movement who lacked a concomitant labor or religious commitment and were not involved in the factions created by partisans of these commitments. Although the General Zionists constituted the majority in the Zionist movement on the international level, they did not organize as a party until after the formation of Mapai. Created to promote middle-class interests in the development of Palestine, the party had two factions: one oriented to the Histadrut, the other opposed to it and committed to private enterprise. In 1948 the more liberal faction, which included the liberal land-settlement movement, seceded from the General Zionist party and united with a Yishuv political party representing immigrants from central Europe to form the liberal Progressive party.
Of the major Zionist factions, the Revisionist movement was the most dissociated from the others. It was organized in 1925 to give organizational expression to the belief that Zionism had to be a militant political movement committed to the rapid creation of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River. The Revisionists also favored mass immigration, largely middle-class, and the investment of private capital to create the basis for such a state. After the Nazi rise to power, the Revisionists rejected the official Zionist policy of selfrestraint in dealing with Arab attacks and restrictive mandatory government policy in regard to Zionist goals and Jewish immigration. The network of organizations created by the Revisionist movement included its own labor federation, founded in 1934, a health-insurance fund, a housing organization, mutual-aid funds, an organization for working youth, and a youth movement. Between 1935 and World War II, the Revisionists seceded from the World Zionist Organization to form their own such organization. A Revisionist faction, Irgun Zvai Leumi, also organized an underground military organization that was independent of the Haganah, the illegal defense army that had developed under Jewish Agency control. The Irgun armed forces were integrated into the Israeli army only after the founding of Israel as a state.
During most of the mandate period, the Jewish Agency was the quasi-governmental organization linking the Yishuv to the larger Zionist movement. The mandatory government controlled the lawmaking and law-enforcement agencies of Palestine and administered the country as a whole; but it accepted the Jewish Agency (see Halpern 1961) as the official body for handling Jewish immigration and the development of Palestine as a Jewish homeland, although these objectives were progressively blocked by changes in mandatory policy. The Jewish Agency had a political department, which was in effect a foreign ministry and became this when the state was established, departments of labor, and trade and industry, which also became government ministries, and departments of immigration, absorption, land settlement, youth and pioneering, education and culture, and those concerned with its own administration. The strength of the Zionist parties in elections to the World Zionist Organization determined the allocation of portfolios in the Jewish Agency Executive.
The Elected Assembly was the self-governing body of the Yishuv recognized by the mandatory government as the official representative of Palestine’s Jewish population. Its executive body, the National Council, levied taxes, maintained a socialwelfare program, and in the 1930s assumed responsibility from the Jewish Agency for administering the three Zionist-supported Jewish school systems in the country. More than twenty political parties generally competed in elections to the Assembly. In addition to the Zionist factions, these included minority parties constituted on an ethnic basis, such as a Sephardi and Yemenite party.
By the end of the 1930s, a stable social organization had developed in the Yishuv, and its groupings and systems of relations expressed both the orientations that had made for immigration to Palestine and the background of those who had immigrated. The majority of the descendants of the pre-Zionist Ashkenazi and Sephardi populations seem to have been relatively uninvolved in the Zionist systems of action, remaining oriented to religious observance and traditional community groupings. Of the Zionist immigrants and their offspring, the adherents of labor-Zionism by then had given to Jewish Palestine its dominant orientation and organizational networks. Adherents of other ideologies, to the extent that their numbers and resources permitted or interests seemed to demand, set up equivalent kinds of organizations to provide parallel services, to uphold their adherents’ interests both within the country and in the Zionist movement, and to draw support from Diaspora Jewry.
The long history in eastern Europe of voluntary Jewish community organization within a hostile society gives perspective to the eastern European immigrants’ readiness to organize, their skill at doing so, and the vitality and democracy of their organizations. The scope and intensity of factional action can also be related to the background of the majority of these immigrants. For both orthodox Judaism and the revolutionary movements of eastern Europe represent, in very different ways, total systems. Judaism provides regulations for practically every detail of life and a dialectic that brings these regulations within the sphere of systematic debate and analysis. The revolutionary movements, which were a point of reference for the laborZionists who rebelled against religious orthodoxy, left no area of behavior immune from discussion, reformulation, and incorporation within the scope of ideology. Both the divergent labor-Zionist ideologies and the organizations created to implement them had the ramifying character of total systems, within which internal debate and dispute could be constant but to which primary commitment was expected. The comprehensiveness of party activity and the acrimony of factional dissent and split can be seen as expressions of cultural continuity with eastern Europe.
Continuity with preimmigration values also contributed to the liberal political orientation of many of the immigrants from Germany. Moreover, many of the immigrants from the Middle Eastern lands had little involvement in the organized systems of action of the Zionist factions; and ethnic identity was a basis of grouping in both traditional community organizations and in associations which acted politically. However, the constituency of the Zionist political factions and of the ultraorthodox Agudat Israel cut across ethnic origin and tradition of worship. Cultural background was subordinate to other bases of orientation and differentiation in the social organization of Jewish Palestine.
The transition to statehood
As we have seen, the prestate systems of groupings and relations involved both the institutionalization of innovations initiated in the development of Jewish Palestine and the repatterning, in a new setting, of elements of behavior expressing the preimmigration orientations of members of the nascent society.These systems of grouping and relationship were maintained without major alteration in the transition to nationhood. Government ministries were formed from departments of the National Council administration, the mandatory administration, and the Jewish Agency, although the last has remained in existence and has continued to exercise much-augmented functions in such spheres as immigration, absorption of new immigrants, and land settlement. The body of law in force during the mandate period remained the basis of the law of Israel, with the exception of restrictions on Jewish immigration and land purchase.
Crucially, Zionist traditions were followed in provisions for the nation’s government. A unicameral legislature, the Knesset, was established, elected by universal adult suffrage on the basis of proportional representation, with the country constituting a single constituency. The voters cast ballots for party lists rather than for individual candidates, and the proportion of votes given a party determines the number of its victorious candidates, counting from the head of the list. The president of Israel, elected by majority vote of the Knesset, exercises his principal nonsymbolic function in asking a Knesset leader to form a cabinet and government. In practice, Mapai has been the party with the largest number of votes since the establishment of the state and, lacking an absolute majority, has governed in coalition with varying combinations of the other political parties, excluding Herut, the successor to the Revisionist movement. On the level of local government, elections also are based on proportional representation according to party lists. The politics of Israel were cast in the tradition of the factional politics of Zionism.
While the transition to nationhood was being effected, a mass immigration was underway. Israel’s population, some 650,000 in May 1948, when the state was founded, was more than doubled by the end of the year. By 1952, when a temporary slackening of immigration occurred, the population had reached approximately 1,629,500; by 1956 it had climbed to 1,872,400; in 1958 it passed the 2 million mark. The new wave of immigrants from countries of European culture consisted of the survivors of Nazism from eastern Europe, who constituted the majority, including almost the entire Jewish population of Bulgaria, large segments of Yugoslavian Jewry, and smaller numbers from the countries of western Europe and the Americas. However, the majority of immigrants during the 1950s were from non-European countries, ranging from Morocco to India; and this flow continues to the present, its extent and source partly varying, as with immigration from Europe, with events on the international scene and their implications for Jews of the countries involved.
Provisions for accommodating this influx, integrating the immigrants into the nation, and, concomitantly, promoting the country’s development have been the focus of organized action in Israel since the founding of the state, with only provisions for national security taking greater priority. However, while activities related to security were removed from the arena of factional politics as part of the initial establishment of the machinery of government, this was not the case in regard to immigrant absorption and the various spheres of national development. Indeed, much of the socioeconomic organization of the new nation was contained within the politically affiliated, ramifying networks of institutions developed during the prestate decades; and it was largely through these networks that the resources of the nation, substantially augmented by sympathizers’ contributions and other sources of aid, were mobilized and channeled for development of the new society. Therefore, the prestate systems of relations and action not only represented the means through which the Zionist goal was achieved, but also constituted the organizational basis of the new society existing after the establishment of the state.
Development of the new society
Absorption of immigrants
The mass immigration that accompanied Israel’s achievement of independence brought cultural differences to the fore as a basis of cleavage and grouping within the society being constituted. These differences can be referred to two overlapping sets of indexes for distinguishing the majority of the poststate immigrants from the majority of their predecessors. One set applies to the factors motivating immigration and the orientations involved, including commitment to the ideologies expressed in the various factional systems of action and relations through which the Yishuv had been developed. The other set of indexes, which is by far the more consequential for behavior and stereotypy in the new society, represents cultural background in the broadest sense, including the ways of life the immigrants had previously followed and the possibilities known to them to which values were assigned.
A considerable proportion of the poststate immigrants from Europe differed from their ideologically committed predecessors in that they looked to Israel as the homeland in which to reconstitute their lives and had little zeal for reconstituting themselves for the mission of realizing an ideology. To the majority of newcomers from non-European countries, immigration meant their return as Jews to the ancient homeland, diffuse expectations of a better life among their brethren, and, for some from the Arab lands, escape from traditional inferior status under Islam or from increased hostility bred of nationalism and enmity toward Israel. The preimmigration universe of many of these non-European immigrants had no point of contact with that of the European-derived population, apart from common identity as Jews and whatever knowledge of, and commitment to, religious tradition they shared.
Furthermore, provisions for receiving the mass influx, especially between 1949 and 1953, demanded of most immigrants fortitude in the face of hardship and willingness to accept and build on whatever opportunities were offered, as in the prestate pioneering tradition. However, these provisions differed from conditions obtaining during the mandate period, in that the mass influx swamped both organizational channels for the creation of primary ties between established settlers and new arrivals and the informal spirit of comradeship and helpfulness that previously had bridged casual contacts between strangers, particularly those manifesting the egalitarian influence of pioneer values. The country’s resources, depleted by war and the continuing demands of security, were initially insufficient, despite aid from abroad, to offer newcomers more than minimal conditions for maintenance and essential services. Quartered indiscriminately together in scores of temporary camps, the majority of new immigrant adults had few outside contacts, and for months or in some cases even years, they were the subordinate clients of a harassed representative of one of the many agencies on which they were dependent.
The common goal of these agencies, whatever their specific function, was to procure the immigrants’ acceptance of the roles and underlying ethos of the settlers of the Yishuv, particularly those associated with the model of the pioneer, and to effect the immigrants’ adaptation to behavior and customary relations associated with these roles. This goal was achieved among only a limited minority of the newcomers. Other responses to conditions of reception ranged from anomie to pragmatic adaptation to, and exploitation of, the possibilities increasingly available as Israel’s development progressed. Many variables entered into the differential responses of the newcomers to largely similar conditions of reception and provisions for absorption during 1949 and the early 1950s (see Eisenstadt 1954; Shuval 1963); one such variable was the maintenance of a solidary immigrant primary group above the level of the nuclear family. However, cultural distance from the majority of the established population, focused in terms of European versus Oriental provenience, has been the most enduring basis of differentiation in the new society effected by the mass immigration.
The immigrants from the European countries shared a common cultural baseline with their ideologically committed predecessors, and differences in goal and orientation could be reciprocally communicated and partially accommodated within the universe of shared understandings. Integration of such newcomers into the established population generally involved little more than their adaptation to the kinds of work available and either their acceptance of relocation in developing areas of the country, with a period of hardship until permanent housing and other services could be established, or their resistance to such adaptation and relocation until more congenial possibilities emerged in the course of the country’s development. Indeed, not a few such immigrants, after brief specialized training courses and the acquisition of Hebrew if necessary, found employment in the burgeoning governmental or quasi-governmental bureaucracies; their affiliations with particular political parties were not always irrelevant to such employment, especially in the early years of statehood prior to the establishment of the government civil service. Such employees, in turn, became representatives of the established order and its values in relation to less easily integrated members of the mass influx, particularly those from non-European lands.
The background of these non-European immigrants included both the distinctive traditions and ways of life of ancient preindustrial Jewish communities practically untouched by European influence (such as those from Yemen, Kurdistan, the island of Djerba off southern Tunisia, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and other rural areas of French north Africa and Libya) and the spectrum of cultural influences experienced by the previously urban populations whose provenience extended from Morocco to India (see Patai 1953). In some of these countries Jews had experienced an expansion of economic, vocational, and educational opportunities and aspirations as a result of European penetration. Westernized businessmen and professionals could and did emerge within two generations or less from families of semiliterate traders and craftsmen previously settled in the crowded Jewish quarters of Eastern cities, and most of the Islamic countries included in their Jewish population a traditional wealthy and educated elite.
However, the majority of migrants to Israel have not been members of either the traditional or the more recent elites in their countries of origin, and many of those exposed to European influences were more familiar with new consumption goods and aspirations than with skills directly transferable to the Israeli context. Moreover, those with a few years of European-style schooling and at some stage in the process of transition from a traditional way of life to one oriented to accessible European models often found their vocational claims and aspirations as well as their desired style of life disdained by proponents of labor-Zionist values;at the same time, such immigrants were included in the stereotype of backward or primitive people that was often indiscriminately associated with non-European origin.
Immigration from Yemen had been actively encouraged by Zionist emissaries in the prestate period in order to add to the number of Jews in Palestine prepared to engage in manual labor; and such encouragement also had been given to possessors of special skills, such as dock workers from Turkey. Nonetheless, not until the poststate mass immigration was a concerted effort made to mobilize the population of non-European provenience into the systems of action and relations that had resulted in the creation of Israel. The goal of this concerted effort, which has engaged most of the governmental and voluntary organizations, has been the cultural transformation of the immigrants and their children. Partial goals have involved not only the specific concerns of functionally differentiated agencies, in regard to such areas as health, education, and vocational training, but also attempts at factional ideological indoctrination and recruitment of the immigrants into the nation’s political parties.
The poststate land-settlement program saliently illustrates both (1) strategies commonly followed in the mobilization of new immigrants to implement national and partisan goals within the framework of established institutions and systems of relations, and (2) the modification of these institutions and systems as a consequence of such recruitment and the new context of national development. Land settlement retained its high priority among nation-building activities for almost a decade following statehood. Israel’s food shortage, which lasted until the mid-1950s and entailed stringent nationwide rationing, made urgent the rapid expansion of agriculture, while national se curity demanded the promptest possible settlement of strategic vacant areas along its extended frontiers. Although young immigrants of the classic pioneer tradition and young Israelis established kibbutzim and some moshavim at the most crucial and dangerous locations and although the army instituted a special corps to aid in founding frontier villages, the new immigrant influx constituted the main reservoir of manpower for land settlement.
Improvisation of new approaches to land settlement within the institutionalized patterns of action began with the decision by the vested land-settlement authorities to recruit the newcomers, despite the majority’s noncommitment to the traditional pioneer ideologies, the relative maturity and family status of many of them in contrast to the youthfulness of the classic pioneer settlers, and their lack of training for the classic pioneer roles. A concession to these attributes was made in giving primacy to the cooperative moshav rather than the communal kibbutz as the village type for the settlement of such immigrants, but the traditional politicization of land settlement was maintained. Thus, village sites were assigned to the various moshav federations according to a formula involving relative strength of the political parties involved; and representatives of these federations competitively recruited in the immigrant camps and later extended their recruitment activities to immigrants in transit to Israel and potential immigrants abroad.
Once brought as settlers to the nascent villages, the recruits were committed to observing the full range of cooperative provisions involved in moshav organization and to using the services provided through the federation’s network. As immigrants, particularly from the non-Western lands, rebelled against the demands of the roles assigned them and against partly fortuitous and partly deliberate destruction of their own systems of relations and patterns of action, successive improvisations and some accommodations were devised by the landsettlement authorities to cope with settler nonacquiescence in the behavior demanded of them. For example, extended family groupings among traditional immigrants from non-Western lands frequently had been disrupted by the assignment of the component nuclear families to different villages. This occurred partly as a result of bureaucratic and political factors in recruitment of new settlers and partly as a deliberate expression of the national policy of “fusion of exiles.” Similarly, people of common cultural background were often dispersed, while those of diverse background and provenience frequently were settled together, with ethnic difference then becoming a focus of village factionalism. By the mid-1950s the advantages—for settler solidarity, cooperation, and morale—of preserving extended family ties and relative homogeneity of background in the peopling of new villages were acknowledged by the land-settlement authorities, and this policy was incorporated in official planning, although often not implemented.
Several years earlier, classic moshav organization had been modified in the new villages by the assignment of interim instructors, recruited by the moshav federations. These instructors were to compensate for settler unpreparedness and dissidence by supervising village development and promoting role socialization, not excluding ideological indoctrination. While the interests of village development thereby were better served, crises with settlers continued. Many immigrants left the villages, to be replaced by more recent newcomers, who were in turn subjected to the pressures of role socialization and, depending on provenience, to the pressures of massive cultural transformation. In the new villages these pressures involved not only vocational retraining and civic education specifically directed to moshav institutions but also new patterns of child rearing, family relations, and other intimate areas of daily life. Outside the landsettlement framework such pressures, while more diffuse, were also exerted on new immigrants by representatives of governmental and voluntary agencies concerned with employment, housing, and health, educational, and welfare services. Indeed, most agency representatives seemed to consider it not only a right but a duty to exhort newcomers from the Oriental lands to abandon their “primitive” ways.
By the mid-1950s, however, the relative inefficacy of ideology and exhortation to effect rapid cultural transformation began to be recognized by planners and policy makers throughout the agencies. Concomitantly, national development had advanced to the point of introducing systematic and sophisticated planning into the further expansion of hitherto improvised programs, a process that is still underway. The practical benefits to be gained through adapting to existing institutions were increased and were stressed in programs directed both to new immigrants and to earlier arrivals who had been unable or unwilling to acquiesce in the plans directed at them.
Moreover, new immigrants are granted immediate citizenship and suffrage, and the competitive politics of Israel offer them a means of gaining attention for their own interests as they see them. In the land-settlement sector, villagers can and have threatened to transfer their villages’ political affiliations in order to wring concessions from the land-settlement authorities. Settlers in cities and those directed to new development towns, initially the objects of competitive party recruitment, increasingly are using the ballot and the possibility of bloc voting to gain representation at municipal and national policy-making levels. In this way they have contributed to the progressive obsolescence of ideology in the national ethos. Their incorporation into factional politics also has helped to integrate them into the national society.
Spheres of national development
The development of Israel also has involved a gradual assumption by the national government of functions previously vested in the factional networks. National defense was the first area over which unquestioned governmental control was brought to bear. For during the prestate period the underground defense force, the Haganah, under Jewish Agency direction, was not the only illegal military organization to be developed. During the country-wide Arab attacks of the late 1930s, members of the Revisionist movement, opposed to official Zionist policy of nonretaliation, formed the separate military force of Irgun Zvai Leumi. When, during World War n, both of these forces cooperated with the British (apart from their separate arrangements for promoting illegal immigration), a new guerrilla organization formed to fight the mandatory government; after the war the Irgun joined this fight.
The Haganah, the major and by far the largest of the three organizations, remained under civilian control and had the support of the Yishuv and of Zionist adherents and sympathizers abroad. The other two organizations challenged its legitimacy as Yishuv representative and also sought support abroad. In addition, during the final mandate years, an elite corps of shock troops was established within the Haganah but with a separate command and organization.
With the founding of the state of Israel, its leaders acted to disband the dissident military organizations, to bring their members within the Haganah, and to foreclose the possibility of separate armed factions within the state. This was successfully achieved, although not without a clash of arms, reiterating the principle of civilian governmental control over the military. Indeed, Ben-Gurion took the further step of disbanding the Haganah shock troops as a separate organization. Thus, the Israeli Defense Forces were removed from the sphere of political factionalism. Since then, they have largely retained their prestate character as a primarily civilian force. The Defense Forces’ permanent organization under arms is limited to its commissioned and noncommissioned regular officers and the men and women undergoing their period of military conscription. The reserve includes all men up to the age of 49 and childless women to the age of 34, and it can be mobilized in a matter of hours. All frontier villages are part of the army, and their male settlers, whether subject to conscription or not, undergo special military training, stand guard over their villages, and maintain the settlements in a state of preparedness against attack.
National pride in the Defense Forces and in the recently established tradition of the Jew who fights back is an integrative force in the nation. Moreover, the army serves more concrete integrative functions. It provides a basic education to all conscripts, thereby offering immigrant young men skills applicable to civilian life and to the autonomous exercise of their rights as citizens. The constant interaction between native Israeli and immigrant conscripts of whatever background works to break down prejudice while establishing personal ties and the ties of shared experience between members of all segments of the population. The army also supplements land-settlement activities. Although most young women of Oriental provenience have sought exemption from military conscription on grounds of religious orthodoxy, other women conscripts have had the option, after basic training, of serving as schoolteachers in the frontier immigrant villages; and the army supplements, through briefer programs, other educational provisions in these villages. Moreover, service in Nahal, the special army corps established to found or reinforce frontier settlements, is open to conscripts after basic training; some members of Nahal have chosen to remain as permanent village settlers after demobilization.
The Defense Forces and the Ministry of Education and Culture also have established a youth movement, Gadna, which enrolls young people between the ages of 14 and 18 (the age gap between free, compulsory schooling and military conscription) and offers them both preliminary quasi-military training and activities in the pioneer and scouting traditions. The establishment of such a youth movement is in the prestate Zionist tradition, maintained after statehood, of building youth organizations both in the Diaspora and the homeland. Indeed, immigrants in the pioneer tradition have been recruited largely through youth movements organized by the labor-Zionist factions; and the Histadrut as well as practically all the Zionist factions supports youth organizations in Israel. Their programs generally have combined scouting activities, indoctrination in the partisan expression of pioneer values, and training for agricultural settlement. The Histadrut program also includes vocational training and serves trade-union functions for employed young people. Since statehood, the activities of Youth Aliyah, the organization created for the rescue of youngsters from Nazi Europe, have included education in its special youth groups and in its day schools for young immigrants of primarily Oriental provenience.
While the partisan networks continue to channel many of the nonacademic programs directed to the 14- to 18-year-old age group, basic education was transferred from the jurisdiction of such networks to that of the state in 1953. In the preceding years, political factions had engaged in competitive recruitment among new immigrants for the assignment of their children to schools of the different trends, the greatest area of cleavage and competition being that between proponents of secular and religious education. The state school system established in 1953 substituted residence for political affiliation as the basis for school registration. However, two state school systems are allowed—one secular and the other religious—and both are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Thus, some competition between secular and religious factions still continues in the field of education.
Free and compulsory education in Israel includes kindergarten, eight years of elementary school, and schools for working youths above the age of 14 who have not completed elementary education. Academic secondary education is neither free nor compulsory, but the state provides extensive scholarship aid. Moreover, voluntary organizations, some of them politically affiliated, maintain a range of agricultural and vocational secondary schools for which many scholarships are available. Higher education in Israel is not under state jurisdiction, except for teachers’ colleges, nor are the religious academies.
National social security insurance, in effect by 1954, and the nationalization of employment offices, or labor exchanges, in 1959 also assigned to the state services that were previously within the province of politically oriented voluntary organizations, principally the Histadrut. However, health insurance remains within their domain, although national health insurance is a possibility favored by many labor-Zionist sympathizers as well as other factions in the country. Indeed, the total medical coverage provided by the Histadrut’s sick fund is the most obvious benefit of Histadrut membership today.
Although assuming some of the Histadrut’s prestate services, the government of Israel contributed to strengthening its role in the nation’s economy by the many partnerships into which the two entered, with or without the further partnership of private capital, in financing development projects and new industries. Indeed, by its control over the funds made available to Israel by United States and international aid, German reparations, and funds from sympathizers, the government has dominated economic development and capital investment. Its regulation of foreign exchange in a country economically dependent on its import surplus further contributed to this domination.
National economic policy during the first decade of the state was largely determined by labor-Zionist goals and values and the exigencies of national survival. As to the former, Mapai, the majority party in every government, has consistently retained control over the crucial ministries of defense and finance as well as education and culture, foreign affairs, and the police; and top national leadership has remained in the hands of the leadership of the Yishuv, primarily members of the second and third aliyot. Differences over economic policy between such leaders and the veteran leadership of the Histadrut, also members of Mapai and of the same aliyot, although they were known to exist, were not publicly expressed during most of this period. While the government contributed to the expansion of the Histadrut enterprises, the latter, in its trade-union capacity, maintained the wage and salary levels consistent with governmental policy for curbing inflation.
In the prestate period Histadrut wage and salary policy stressed egalitarianism. Highly educated professionals, their numbers in excess of demands for their skills, accepted a salary level little higher than that of manual laborers, doing so on grounds of ideology, lack of choice, or both. Moreover, apart from purely technical fields, the labor-Zionist pioneers had little use for professionalism. Having repeatedly confounded expert predictions in such matters as Palestine’s absorptive capacity and Israel’s capacity for survival, they regarded ideology, devotion, and common sense as adequate bases for problem solving. Although this attitude began to change in the mid-1950s, with economics one of the first fields to gain recognition, egalitarian policies in regard to salary scale were maintained.
However, differences in economic status were not averted in Israel. Some involved continuity with prestate conditions. On the one hand, since before the second aliyah some middle-class immigrants have achieved and bequeathed relative prosperity or consolidated resources they had brought with them;on the other hand, among those of Oriental provenience even veteran immigrants have experienced greater unemployment and, commonly, a continuously lower income level than other sectors of the population.
Since statehood the number of wealthy has increased. Indeed, governmental resources for investment and the government-controlled multiple rates for foreign exchange (see Rubner 1960) offered opportunities to the enterprising and knowledgeable for profiting from conditions of development. However, the mass immigration also vastly increased the number of immigrants from Asia and north Africa, usually with large families, whose lack of transferable skills limited their employment possibilities. Even the population within the traditional labor-Zionist sectors of the economy experienced differentiation. The settlers of veteran agricultural villages flourished; members of certain Histadrut-affiliated cooperatives, such as those in transport, profited from their near monopolies;high officials in the governmental and quasi-governmental agencies had their lot eased by nonmonetary perquisites of office.
From the mid-1950s on, professionals no longer could be restrained by Histadrut leadership from pressing claims for higher salary scales, and they won their point through going on strike. Some, such as sick-fund physicians, were employees of the Histadrut itself. Since then, groups of industrial workers have gone on strike, including employees in Histadrut enterprises. The clash of interests within the Histadrut, associated with its functions as both company holder and trade-union organization, illustrates the increased plurality of groupings and systems of relation and action within the new society which partly crosscut the older factional groupings.
In the stratification system of contemporary Israeli society, achievement criteria are the dominant but not exclusive basis for recruitment into the nation’s elites. Members of the oldest prestate pioneer generations still exercise top leadership. Their surviving comrades, even if no longer officeholders or active in public life, retain the prestige of their accomplishments and whatever informal influence that may derive from their personal access to those in authority.
The nation’s administrative elites and, increasingly, those holding high as well as middle-range office are largely recruited from the native Israelis who distinguished themselves in the underground forces, the war of independence, the poststate Defense Forces, and/or responsible posts in the national development programs. Associated with them are members of the same age groups with similar accomplishments who arrived in Palestine in childhood or early youth. Moreover, professional expertise has been increasingly valued since the mid-1950s. Israeli administrators, including those who had previously scorned higher education or whose education had been interrupted by the exigencies of the transition to nationhood, have sought further training both in the expanding national institutions of higher learning and abroad. Professionally trained immigrants have increasingly been recruited into posts demanding their skills, although the underutilization of professionals has remained a problem and has been a factor in the emigration of many of them. Outstanding scholarly, scientific, or artistic accomplishments confer unquestioned elite status and the possibility of easy assimilation into the informal networks of the high-ranking population.
These networks are not limited to those who currently hold high-ranking posts. Personal loyalties and the loyalties born of shared experience are long-lasting in Israel; such ties, as well as the older politicized systems of relations, continue to link individuals involved in different systems of action in the increasingly diversified occupational groupings. Agricultural and pioneering activities still confer some of the prestige of the prestate period, and the villages established in the prestate decades, particularly the moshavim, have successfully retained most of the generation born into them. Indeed, many young Israelis, including numbers from high-ranking urban families, still join new frontier settlements, although most may not remain for more than a limited period.
Stratification is notably visible in the still high correlation between non-European provenience and relatively low socioeconomic status. However, the range of national educational programs, including enriched curricula at the elementary-school level and special scholarships for secondary education, represents a determined effort to break this correlation. Moreover, the politics of Israel and its manpower needs favor the recruitment of qualified members of non-European ethnic groups into visible prestige positions and political candidacies, where such groups still are vastly underrepresented in proportion to their numbers in the population.
The systems of relations institutionalized in the prestate decades still operate in contemporary Israel, cutting across other bases of grouping and cleavage, including those involved in stratification. After the first decade of statehood there was a discernible trend toward minimization of traditional partisanship and the amalgamation of the established factions into fewer, larger, and politically more potent parties based on primary orientations toward current issues of national life. For example, in 1956 the major religious and religious-labor parties merged, although the ultraorthodox parties have retained their separate existence. Then in 1961 the two main middle-class parties, the General Zionists and the Progressives, merged, thus strengthening the claims of private enterprise in national economic policy. Finally, the successor to the Revisionist movement, hitherto excluded from all role in government, joined this coalition of liberal parties in 1965, adding antiestablishment dissidents to the constituency of middle-class interests. However, the amalgamation of factions was not accomplished without some further splintering. The opponents of the Revisionists, particularly members of the former Progressive party, seceded from the liberal coalition. Even more dramatic was the secession from Mapai; Ben-Gurion, who had retired as prime minister and resigned from the leadership of the party he helped to found, left Mapai and with a group of younger leaders founded a new political party. The embattled politics and fluid stratification system of contemporary Israel militate against crystallization of a closed ruling class.
The deepest cleavage in Israel is between Jews and the Arab population, which numbered 212,400 in 1965. Arabs have equality before the law, are represented in the Knesset, and receive free elementary education in Arabic as well as other national services and the services of the Histadrut. However, those in border areas have lived under military government, with their movements supervised to prevent passage back and forth across the frontier. While an increased Arab enrollment in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning is supported by the government, and qualified Arabs are recruited into civil service posts unrelated to security, the majority remain village farmers. They do not serve in the army; and their integration into Israeli society through more than formal organizational channels, market-place transactions, contacts between adjacent Jewish and Arab villages, and individual contacts still seems dependent on larger issues of Middle East relations.
The Druze, who sided with Israel in the war of independence and voluntarily serve in the army, are in a different situation. The respect given their traditional ways so far represents the major example of valued cultural pluralism in Israel.
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"Near Eastern Society." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/near-eastern-society
"Near Eastern Society." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/near-eastern-society
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