Read what current students are thinking in our new regular columns.
Infighting in the right
Orthodox Politics in Israel
26 November, 2022
By Joshua Bolchover
Headlines about the recent Israeli elections on November 1st declared the demise of the left and the rise of the right in Israeli politics. The left-wing coalition has collapsed, garnering a measly 51 out of 120 seats in the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) and is looking set to spend a good few years in the opposition. The big winner is, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition that will occupy 64 seats in the Knesset.
And yet, despite Netanyahu’s victory, the coalition would be characterized by many of the same old quid pro quos. Much like previous elections, Netanyahu must again go into bed with the ultra-orthodox Jewish religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Coaxing them into the coalition would entail inevitable deals about social welfare and independence for ultra-orthodox schools in exchange for political support.
It is the emergence of the Religious Zionist Party as the third largest party in the Knesset that most worries Benjamin Netanyahu. The Religious Zionist Party is led by Bezalel Smotrich and deputized by Itamar Ben Gvir. Bezalel Smotrich is extreme in his own right. He has stated that he is a “proud homophobe” and opposes mixed marriages between Jews and Arabs. His second-in-command, Itamar Ben-Gvir has attracted even more media attention. He has faced dozens of charges of hate speech, and is known to have had a portrait by the door to his house of Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron in 1994.
Though jubilant to return to the Prime Minister seat, Netanyahu, being the pragmatist he is, may fear the meteoric rise of Ben Gvir. Netanyahu may aim to dampen their ascent to the top of the greasy pole of politics for fear they may challenge his hegemony. Netanyahu has a knack of puncturing popular parties that he welcomes to his coalition. A prime example is Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz, who entered a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020 with 33 seats, only to be left with 8 in the following election.
The Ultra-Orthodox parties may feel similarly threatened by the rise of the Religious Zionist Party. It has been widely observed that Ben-Gvir is attracting young ultra-Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, Ultra-Orthodox communities are growing at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. Thanks to their high n-rates, they are estimated to grow by 33% by 2030. Children, too, make up half of the Haredi population.
The Ultra-Orthodox are certainly a part of the future for Israeli politics. Their continuously growing population buttresses the Ultra-Orthodox parties’ unfaltering electoral success. Shas either have retained or increased their seats for the past seven years running. Yet many of these younger Haredi voters are turning away from Shas, and are looking towards Ben Gvir. Due to the sectarian divide in Israel, certain towns are often composed of one or two dominant demographics, whether that be Arab-only districts or Jews from Middle Eastern descent. It is possible to observe demographic voting shifts based on these highly concentrated districts. This is certainly true for Haredi areas of Israel, where they often comprise 90% of the community in a town or city. In these cities, voting records indicate that since Ben-Gvir entered politics in 2019, his support has increased over the last four successive elections.
Right-wing supporters may look comfortable now in Israel. But it would be unwise to forget that all the parties in the coalition now vie for a similar support base, and that, whether it be the next election or far in the future, is bound to cause some infighting.
Joshua Bolchover is a sophomore in Saybrook College majoring in History. He spent a gap year in Israel before college that sparked hsi interest in Israeli/Palestinian current affairs. Please get in touch if you have any questions/comments about his article at email@example.com
Amid a dire economic criss, GRIT provides a beacon of hope
Women in Israel and Palestine
11 November, 2022
By Rachel Sragovicz
In Israel and Palestine, gender hierarchy is pervasive; yet women are finding ways to create their own spaces socially, politically, and economically.
Women make up the majority of university students in Palestine, while comprising merely 17 % of the workforce. This is partially explained by unequal pay and a lack of accessible childcare, which leaves many unable to participate in the labor market. Stigma against nonacademic occupations further stifle the vocational sector for both men and women. The majors offered in all-female universities limit potential career paths, and are primarily restricted to the humanities, compared to co-educational universities. In many ways, social stigma is feeding the region’s recession.
High school graduates enroll in universities at an overwhelming rate of 97.6%, while unemployment rates in the labor force (for the first quarter of 2022) stand at 25%; the International Labour Organization estimates the total underutilization of labor is around 33%. Women are disproportionately unemployed, and 91.1% of young women are unemployed.
GRIT, Gender-Responsive and Inclusive Technical and Vocational Education and Training in the West Bank, provides women with the skills needed to combat the labor shortage. The project aims to create paths to financial freedom for women in Palestine within male-dominated fields. GRIT, which strives to reach over 17,000 women, provides vocational training for women in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Amal Mohammad (name changed), had access to the necessary tools to start and successfully run her own candy company through the Episcopal Technical and Vocational Training Center in the Ramallah Governorate. Initially, she struggled to convince her husband to allow her to participate in the program. Her newfound economic independence has helped her redefine her relationship with her husband, now as a contributing partner. The project is sponsored by the Representative Office of Canada to the Palestinian Authority Canada’s International Development and Global Affairs Canada, Canadian Lutheran World Relief.
Researcher Hannen Al-Amassi, has been leading the research on the status and economic potential for women in the region, and calls for raising awareness of the potential of vocational training through educational programs and advertisements in Palestinian communities.
When studying and researching conflict in Palestine and Israel, we are often demoralized by endless, seemingly ineffective attempts to mitigate loss and discrimination in the region. GRIT offers a contrary case study; what can be found here is a path to further women’s liberty while addressing a dire economic need.
Rachel Sragovicz is a junior studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics and is interested in the role of women in religious spaces. She works with the Strategic Religious Engagement unit of the Department of State which focuses on amplifying the voices of religious actors. She enjoys spending time in nature, modern dance, and learning about new cultures and religions.
There are many definitions of Zionism. Palestinians encounter only one.
Brain Droppings: Palestinian Domestic Affairs
4 November, 2022
By Ismael Jamai Ait Hmitti
I’ve been honored with the possibility of writing my own op-ed column about anything and everything related to Israel and Palestine, a daring and plausibly dangerous opportunity for the readership of this journal and myself. Despite all the better judgment, I’ve decided to take it on because, quite frankly, I’m in no position to turn down a space where I can air out my frustrations, hopes and dreams on this particular topic. The first hope I wish to air out is that some of those reading may find something so outrageously wrong or right in these “brain droppings” that they may dare to seriously engage with its contents.
In this spirit, I want to talk about an issue that has caused me great concern and frustration over the past few months and that is how the difficult and plural definitions of the term “Zionism” are cherry-picked in conversations about Israel and Palestine.
Before that, though, the first question I am compelled to answer is: what does the Arab kid have to say about “Zionism” and why should any of you take him seriously? The first answer I can give is that Zionism, regardless of how it is used, is going to be received by Palestinians, Arabs and pro-Palestinians with a certain baggage. What I mean by that is that there is a prefigured emotional and experiential weight to the term.
Regardless of how that word is used, we really cannot extricate it from the ways in which the plural ideologies encapsulated by the term “Zionism,” have been restricted and weaponized to serve the colonial mission of Theodor Herzl and Franco-British Imperialism. Zionism rings first as the Zionism of the Basel program, the ideology which was used to displace, kill and ethnically cleanse the people living in historic Palestine. An ideology based on the creation of a nation state, more precisely an ethno-state, in the region of Eretz Israel at the expense of past and present Palestinian lives.
But, of course, this is not the only definition of Zionism. Traditions of Zionism are not necessarily linked to an Imperial and nationalistic project. Enough proof of this is the fact that the Jewish community has been talking about the ideas embodied by Zionism way before the concept of nation has been around. It would be quite amusing to imagine a scenario where Benjamin Netanyahu tried to explain the 2018 Basic Law to Yehuda Ha-Levi. The dissonance this image elicits is predicated on the fact that Ha-Levi’s longing for a return to Israel has nothing to do with the creation of a national democracy based on the Jewish character of its body.
Although no one can deny that the aspirations captured by Zionism have existed long before the terms “nation”, “self determination”, or “ethno-state” were in use, it would be in bad faith to suggest that the Zionism enshrined in the 2018 Basic Law can be ignored in discussions about the topic—especially if your interlocutors have in any way felt the violence of this ethno-nationalistic endeavor.
Too many conversations disavow the hegemony of this definition of Zionism and disregard its consequent weight for any person sensitive to the plight of the Palestinians. Yet we cannot avoid the very successful weaponization of the term Zionism by 20th and 21st century colonialists, just like we cannot avoid its legal codification in 2018. Neither can we in good faith ask anybody who has felt or is feeling the sheer violence of this enterprise to accept the term without the suffering that it accompanies and which it embodies. Palestinians do not get to choose the Zionism they encounter. Faced with its violent reality, they do not get to mull over the different definitions of Zionism.
Ismael Jamai Ait Hmitti is a super senior studying History and specializing in the Middle East. He’s interested in agrarian law, transitional justice and rural elite formation in the Middle East during the 20th Century. He enjoys loitering on cross campus, taking in the last days of sun and writing for this journal.