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Editorial Columns

Read what current students are thinking in our new regular columns. 


Juridical overhaul: A wedge issue for religious Zionists
Electoral Politics in Israel 

March, 2023
By Joshua Bolchover

The judicial overhaul’s hold over the headlines in Israeli media remains unfaltering. The new coalition, composed of Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, the Religious Zionist Party, and the Ultra-Orthodox parties, plans to bring Israel’s Supreme court under greater government control. The expected move sparked popular protests, often numbering over 100,000 people (a staggering number given Israel’s population of 9 million), in characteristically left-wing cities such as Tel Aviv[1]


This much is to be expected—those on the left protesting against a right-wing government will not normally cause Netanyahu to lose sleep. But the growing support among some religious Zionists for the protests may.


Too often, religious Zionists in Israel are homogenized in popular media. They are painted as illiberal, hawkish on foreign policy, and zealous on settlement expansion in the West Bank. That image of Religious Zionists appears to be the backbone of Israel’s current government. But this does not fully represent preferences of Religious Zionists, who come from an array of cultural and political backgrounds.


Admittedly, few religious Zionists identify with the left in Israel—2 percent of religious Zionists, to be exact. However, what is notable is that 41 percent of religious Zionists view themselves as centrist[2]


As such, buses from cities with high proportions of religious Zionists, such as Raanana and Modi’in, have been driving in to join in the protests over the overhaul. They are met with applause from their left-wing counterparts when they arrive at the protests. 


This significant chunk presents a problem to the current coalition. Here are religious Zionists, who comprise a large percentage of the coalition’s support base, who look sceptically at radical policies such as juridical overhaul. Why?


For one, the greatest benefactor of the juridical overhaul is Benjamin Netanyahu, who wishes to curb the autonomy of the Supreme Court, the body that is leading the criminal investigations against him. Yet there is no certainty that the religious Zionist bloc in Israel feel complete loyalty to Netanyahu: they did not vote for him directly, but rather for other parties in the wider coalition. 


Moreover, if Netanyahu does secure the reform he so desires, the religious Zionist representatives in Knesset lose their leverage. As I understand it, the quid pro quo in the current coalition is as follows: Netanyahu agrees to various proposals of settlement expansion in exchange for religious Zionist support for the juridical upheaval in the Israeli Parliament. However, once the reform is legislated, who is to say that Netanyahu will keep his promises? Religious Zionists may want to see their reforms enacted before any overhaul. 


This may be the first actual sign that the apparently unified coalition has some cracks. Netanyahu and his partners should be wary of pigeon-holing their voters and pushing their luck too far, or they could be left with nothing.




The fall of the Left: A simple story of statistics 
Electoral Politics in Israel 
5 December, 2022
By Joshua Bolchover

Sticking to the election theme from the last column, I wanted to turn our attention quickly away from the triumphant Right to the despondent Left. As we have seen, the center-left bloc garnered a meager 51 seats as a coalition block, whereas in the previous elections it emerged marginally victorious. Yet what really happened behind the scenes? Has there actually been a large swing in the country from Left to Right?


In fact, little has changed in regard to voting patterns; more to blame for the Left’s collapse are political errors. Israel’s parliament is based on proportional representation: if 20% of the country vote for Benjamin Netanyahu’s party Likud, then his party will receive 20% of 120 seats – 24 seats. However, per a modification to election laws introduced in 2014, a party has to receive 3.25% of the vote to sit in parliament. 


Two parties crucial to the left bloc – progressive-Zionist Meretz and Palestinian-nationalist Balad – just about failed to reach the 3.25 percent vote minimum required to sit in parliament. Meretz was around 6,000 ballots off reaching the threshold. Balad, although it wasn’t expected to participate in a future coalition, would have acted as a crucial buffer preventing the Netanyahu bloc from achieving the necessary majority to form a coalition. Were both parties to pass the electoral threshold—Netanyahu wouldn’t have had his majority. 


To blame for all these wasted votes on the left is simply political dysfunction. Many called for a coalition between Meretz and their close political ally Labor to coalesce to ensure that there would be no wasted votes. However, Labor refused and that decision cost them four seats in Parliament. A similar thing happened with Balad—they refused to run together with the other Arab-majority political factions, such as Ta’al and Raam, and are now left to shout from the sidelines.


Netanyahu was sure to not make the same mistake as his rivals. His largest coalition partner, the Religious Zionist Party, is in fact a combination of three political parties—two of which may not have crossed the threshold if they had run alone. However, he brokered a power-sharing deal between the three, and the newly formed religious Zionist party now holds 14 seats in Parliament.


Rather than a popular flocking to the Right, political mistakes are the culprit behind the Left’s defeat. Netanyahu’s four seat majority is a product of the Left’s lost seats from Meretz and Balad. With their extra votes, we would most likely have a deadlocked parliament, or even a wide coalition of left, center, and center-right parties in government, with Netanyahu sitting in the opposition benches once again. 

Joshua Bolchover is a sophomore in Saybrook College majoring in History. He spent a gap year in Israel before college that sparked his interest in Israeli/Palestinian current affairs. Please get in touch if you have any questions/comments about his article at

Infighting in the right
Electoral 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 his interest in Israeli/Palestinian current affairs. Please get in touch if you have any questions/comments about his article at


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. 



From NIMBY to WAMBY (What about my backyard?): The Disingenuous exclusion of the Occupied Territories when discussing Israeli politics
Brain Droppings: Palestinian Domestic Affairs
3 December, 2022

By Ismael Jamai Ait Hmitti​

“You cannot say there is apartheid in mainland Israel” is an argument you’ve heard if you are at all interested in the conflict. And regardless of where you stand on the issue, you have to admit, the word mainland does a lot of heavy lifting. It lifting is the weight off of its proponent to discuss the very visible, legalized and enforced apartheid of the Occupied Territories. To put it simply, the phrase implies that we can isolate Israeli actions within the “67 borders” from those outside of it. 


If the argument's proponent comes across an especially confrontational interlocutor, the latter may choose to reply to the first sentence precisely by bringing up the Occupied Territories. And it is at this point that we see the convenience, and the cruelty behind the separation of those two areas. One of two things generally occurs. Primo: The proponent will say “Well the OPT must be administered differently than mainland Israel. We need tight military rule because of the threat the people in these territories  present to mainland Israel’s security.” Secondo: There a brief apologetic note on the horrors that occur in the OPT followed by a quick denial that those same horrors have anything to do with the Israel’s structure and that the whole issue of the OPT can be solved through reform and not a radical rethinking of Israel’s functioning.


Let’s start with the implications of the first. If anyone believes that apartheid is enforced in the OPT because there is the security threat from the Arabs of the region, then they must rest their logic on an ahistoric and a, quite frankly classist, reasoning. It is ahistoric because the settlements were never intended as a “buffer zone.” The settlements started immediately after the 67 war, and the first waves of settlers were generally motivated by religious motives. The IDF only came later, to protect these settlers and to peddle the false narrative that the settlements were merely military outposts. 


The reasoning is classist because it fails to see the economic incentives that Israel gives Jews to settle the lands in the West Bank. The economic dynamics of the colonial enterprise haven’t changed, the metropole sends out its poorest to occupy the settler-colony. If we choose to believe that the OPT’s apartheid is a solution to suppress the endemic and pathological violence of Arabs in the West Bank, we also have to believe Israel is incentivizing its poorest to serve as the frontline of this dangerous “buffer zone.”


The second answer, and this is where things get complicated, is disingenuous in a totally different way: It tries to play off the OPT as an unfortunate and unnecessary part of Israel’s policies since 1967. It chooses not to see the importance of the occupation for Israel’s good functioning. Israel pillages water from the Jordan, it uses the whole OPT  as its dumpster and it steals its land to benefit from exports. Not only that, but the Occupation emboldens the right by turning the middle and lower classes of Israeli society into the spearheads of this ultranationalist endeavour. The material prosperity of Israel, as well as the discourse of its politics, is based on the cruelty of the occupation. It is a cruelty that cannot be done away with reforms because of its centrality to the good working of the Israeli state. 


I am critical of the alledged Israeli “democracy”because I do not believe that a true democracy can rest on an apartheid-fuelled prosperity. I am as critical of the separation of OPT from mainland Israel as I am of separating mainland France from French Algeria before 1962. Both of these cases are empirical examples of what Achille Mbembe calls the nocturnal side of democracy. An expression by which Mbembe meant to highlight the bloody price democracies have made the colonies pay for their solar material and political prosperity. We cannot conveniently separate the apartheid of the occupation from the democracy of Israel more than we can clean the Algerian blood stains from the French Republic’s tricoloured flag.

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.

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.

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