Running weekly during Term time, the Israel Studies Seminar is the primary setting for public discussions on a wide spectrum of issues relating to Israeli society, history, politics and culture in the University of Oxford. With an international list of speakers, it has been attracting much attention and a growing audience participation. The seminar is convened by Prof. Yaacov Yadgar, the Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies, based at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies and the Department of Politics and International Relation. The seminar is hosted by the Middle East Centre at St. Antony’s College. For more details, see the Seminar’s website here: https://www.mes.ox.ac.uk/#/
Anat Scolnicov: The Israel Supreme Court Religion and the Relationship of State and Religion in Israel
On judicial independence in Israel Israel was originally to have a Constitution, but it never did as the issue proved divisive on religious grounds, among others. An unwritten constitution developed in its place. This is the legal context of current constitutional debates, including on the constitutional status of religion in Israel. The solution was the adoption of chapters or Basic Laws, that together would form a constitution. What are the Basic Laws – an exercise of a constitutional authority of the Knesset, if such existed? An exercise of legislative authority?
The status of religion in the state is a constitutional matter which directly affects religious freedom, and the establishment of religious is a pivotal constitutional matter. Religious courts derive their legal powers from the statutes enacted by the Knesset and must abide by the laws of the Knesset as interpreted by the Supreme Court, even if it conflicts with their religious interpretation. The religious courts, however, view their authority as emanating from a religious normative system. Attempts to rectify inequalities in religious law through state law directed at religious courts, are destined for a clash of normative hierarchies.
The talk will draw on the speaker’s experience as a constitutional law barrister representing litigants in the Supreme Court, as well as on her academic research.
Amos Morris-Rich: The Fusion of Zionism and Science: The First Two Decades—And the Present Day?
On Zionism's relation to Science Focusing on the relationship between Zionism and science in the first two decades of the Zionist movement, the argument of this paper is threefold. First, that a relationship was established with the very inception of the Zionist movement. Second, it is characterized by a duality, a tension between a highly pragmatic scientific attitude, on the one hand, namely science conceived as ‘engineering,’ as the principal instrument of national construction, and simultaneously, on the other hand, science understood as working with the most fragile and inaccessible ‘materials’ or ‘building blocks.’ I will suggest that the Zionist movement was characterized by the quintessential place of programmatic and detailed planning and of striving towards pragmatically defined goals; at the same time, however, Zionism’s ultimate goal, idealistic, utopian, and always just out of reach, remained unstated. While focusing on the first two decades of the Zionist movement, I suggest, thirdly, that because this intellectual structure was embedded in the socialization processes of Zionism from its very earliest phase, it remains critically important, in spite of the many additional historical events that followed, for the understanding of key facets of Jewish, and later Israeli, society to this day.
Neta Schramm - Zionist Neutral? The Sardonic Zionism of Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Ovadia Yosef
Neta Schramm discusses the (non-ideological) "think Zionism" stances of two leading Israeli figures. Back in the days when the Israeli labour party enjoyed its dominance, two prominent agenda-setters in Israel shared an unpopular position: Zionism does not define nor embody Judaism. Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, two Orthodox Jews affiliated with different social and religious milieus, were unhappy about the theological overtones existing in most, or even all, streams of Zionism. They devoted their lifework to shaping and critiquing Israeli social and political policies because of religious sentiments. But Leibowitz and Yosef also refused to turn their “thin” Zionism into a strong ideology. In previous accounts of their positions, Leibowitz is hailed as the first post-Zionist, and Yosef is signaled as the architect of a Mizrahi, Haredi, and Zionist statism. However, turning to their sermons, lectures, and interviews and paying attention to the vocal registers of Leibowitz’s irony and Yosef’s parody shows both these assumptions seem inaccurate. The Iraqi-born Chief Rabbi and the Ostjuden science professor preferred to stick to sardonic statements and even used the same line of arguments (“we are fed up of being ruled by goyim,” as Lebowitz put it) to walk the tightrope between adamant Zionists and anti-Zionists. To sum up, their “pro-zionist” talk was closer to “Zionist neutral” than was previously supposed. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Maya Mark: Menachem Begin’s stand on the imposition of the Military Government, 1948- 1966
Maya Mark discusses Menachem Begin's commitment to Liberalism The Military Government over the Arab citizens of Israel was established several months after the founding of the state, and ended late in 1966. Although it was initially driven by security considerations and fears concerning the Arab citizens’ involvement in hostile activities, its political and economic usefulness to the government and particularly to the ruling party, Mapai, became increasingly apparent over time.
The talk will focus on the campaign waged by Herut, a right-wing National-Liberal party, to abolish the Military Government. Launched in 1959, this campaign was a major rallying cry of the party and its leader Menachem Begin. A critical analysis suggests that Herut derived certain political benefits by campaigning for the annulment of the Military Government, the most important of which was undermining its political rival, Mapai. However, it also establishes that Herut paid a price for its campaign, suffering criticism from within the right-wing political camp and wrestling with allegations from the left-wing political camp. Nevertheless, Begin pursued the cause of abolishing the Military Government while articulating an explicit commitment to democracy, liberty and full civic equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Hillel Cohen: Haters, Love Story: on the relations between Mizrahi Jews and Palestinian Arab’
Hillel Cohen discusses his new book on Mizrahim, Arabs, and Asheknazim in Israel The prominence of Mizrahi Jews as perpetrators of violent acts against Palestinians that have topped the headlines in recent years was the starting point of my recent study. The media coverage and public denunciation of these incidents are usually accompanied by reference to the attackers’ Mizrahi origins, frequently invoking controversy among the commentators: Does ‘Mizrahi culture’ generate excessive violence towards Palestinians? Are the Israeli media racist, denouncing Mizrahi Jews more than they do others? Or maybe this violence has to do with class and religious perceptions rather than ethnic origin?
In this talk I will start with suggesting a definition to Mizrahi acts, i.e., what makes a certain act or view (violent or otherwise) to be defined as ‘Mizrahi’; then move on to present Mizrahi views and acts regarding the ‘Palestinian Question’ from the outset of Zionism to present. The changes over time will be discussed in the light of the influence of the Ashkenazi-Zionist hegemony over Mizrahim and Arabs alike, as well as vis-à-vis Palestinian acts and ideas regarding ethnic relations within the Yishuv and the Jewish society in Israel. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Suzanne Schneider - The Divine People? Mapping the political-theological coordinates of post-liberalism
On the political theology of "illiberal democracy" The rise of right-wing ‘populist’ parties has generated considerable anxiety over the future of liberal democracy in countries ranging from India and Turkey to Israel, Hungary, Brazil, and the United States, among others. This talk will attend to the political-theological dimensions of what has variously been called post-liberalism, illiberal democracy, or populism (a usage the speaker will contest) by considering the ways in which champions of the post-liberal project understand the relationship between three fundamental political concepts: the law, the state, and the people. Looking in particular at the work of the American scholar Patrick Deneen and the Israeli thinker Yoram Hazony, it will outline the central attributes of the post-liberal vision: a natalist understanding of political community, the denigration of individual freedom, the displacement of ‘the law’ by ‘the people’ as the central legitimating concept, and the embrace of counter-majoritarian and authoritarian measures to enforce the desired moral order. The state, in this schema, is paradoxically required to support and sustain the supposedly organic and homogenous nation that precedes it and indeed justifies its existence. In this way post-liberals differ markedly from libertarian conservatives and represent a new chapter in relations between virtue and the state. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/