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Israeli Democracy Under Stress

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Bing Overseas Program
Stanford University

June 18-July 7, 2016
Jerusalem, Israel


  • Larry Diamond, Ph.D
  • Arye Carmon, Ph.D
  • Seminar Assistant  Doron Dorfman, JSD Candidate

Course Description

After nearly seven decades of modern statehood, half a century of occupation, repeated wars and waves of immigration, breathtaking economic development, stunning technological and cultural achievements, and deepening societal divisions, Israeli democracy is at a turning point.  The only continuous democracy in the Middle East—yet one that still lacks a written constitution—it now faces sobering challenges from both within and without, including the irreconcilable tensions between being a Jewish state, a democratic state, and “Greater Israel.”

This seminar will explore Israel’s complex political, social and religious landscape.  It will take stock of Israel’s extraordinary achievements—including the very fact of its survival against great odds—and its contemporary dilemmas and divisions. Through readings, lectures, site visits, and interactions with a wide range of Israelis in politics, government, academia, and civil society, we will explore the past and present of Israel’s political structure and its relationship with the state’s diverse population. We will also engage the very questions about the country’s future that Israelis themselves are now debating with respect to constitutional structure, politics, the economy, the society, and national security. 

Learning Objectives

The principal goal of this class is for students to learn about the historical origins and contemporary challenges of democracy in Israel from multiple different analytic, social and political perspectives.  Specifically, we expect students will, through this course:

  •  Gain an understanding of the varied achievements and challenges of Israeli democracy;
  • Appreciate the wide spectrum of perspectives and opinions about Israel’s politics, social and religious cleavages, and posture toward the Palestinians;
  • Think critically about the competing claims and positions of different actors in Israeli politics and civil society;
  • Develop a broader awareness of the conditions for and obstacles to liberal democracy in a deeply divided society.

Prerequisites and Expectations

There will be required meetings in the Spring Quarter, as well as required readings in preparation for the seminar.  The seminar will deal with contentious issues involving the history of the modern state of Israel and its contemporary challenges.  The most important requirement for the course is a willingness to learn and engage different perspectives and cultures with an open mind and respect for differing points of view.

Grading Basis

Students will be required to produce a short term paper based on a research project during the seminar.

Grades will be Satisfactory/No credit.

June 19, Sunday

Arrive to Tel Aviv and travel to Jerusalem

Students are expected to have read:

• Itzhak Galnoor, “Israel: Interrupted Democratic Development,” Turkish Policy Quarterly, Spring 2015.

• Arye Carmon, Reinventing Israeli Democracy  (Jersualsem: Israel Democracy Institute, 2009), ch. 1, pp. 17-36.

1:00 pm – Lunch – meet Doron in Beit Shmuel’s lobby (for those who have arrived)

7:30 pm – Welcome dinner – meet in Beit Shmuel’s lobby

June 20, Monday

8:00 am: Orientation/Safety Meeting

Historical Origins: Zionism and the Birth of Israel

9:00 am Beit Shmuel

Lecturer: Arye Carmon

Required Reading:

• Gregory S Mahler. Politics and Government in Israel. Second Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, 1-55.

• Shlomo Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism (London: Basic Books, 1981 New York: Basic Books, 1984), pp. 3-13; 217-227; 198-216.

• Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak. Origins of the Israeli Polity. (U, 1978), ch 8, “The State of Israel and the Political Heritage of the Yishuv,” pp. 186-212.

• Aviezer Ravitzky. Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism, (University of Chicago Press, 1996).‏ [sep. ch. 1, 3].

Recommended reading:

• Amnon Rubinstein. From Herzl to Rabin: The Changing Image of Zionism Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc.; First Edition edition (July 1, 2000).

• Sammy Smooha. “Ethnic Democracy: Israel as an Archetype.” Israel Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 1997, pp. 198-241.

• Alan Dowty. “Is Israel Democratic? Substance and Semantics in the ‘Ethnic Democracy’ Debate,” Israel Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 1999, pp. 1-15.

3:00 pm: Tour of the Old City - “Footsteps of Christianity”

9:30 pm: Tower of David light show

June 21, Tuesday

Who are the Israelis? Social Cleavages in Israeli Society

9:30-11:00 am: Beit Shmuel

Lecture: Dr. Tamar Hermann, Professor of Political Science, Open University, and Director, Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, IDI

Required Reading:

• Kimmerling, Baruch. 2005. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society and the Military, pp. 1-55 (Introduction and Ch 1)

• Yifat Bitton, Finally, Our Own Brown? 45 Israel Law School (2012), pp. 267-289.

Recommended Reading:

• Dan Horowitz and Moshe Lissak. Trouble in Utopia: The Overburdened Polity of Israel. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989, Chapter 2, “Israel as a Multi-Cleavage Society,” pp. 32-97.

• Almog, Oz. (2000). The Sabra: the creation of the new Jew. Berkeley University Press, pp. 1-22, 255-266.

• Smooha, Sammy (2008). “The Mass Immigrations to Israel: A Comparison of the Failure of the Mizrahi Immigrants of the 1950s with the Success of the Russian Immigrants of the 1990s”. The Journal of Israeli History, Vol. 27 (1), pp. 1-27.

• Ya’ar, Ephraim. (2005)." Continuity and Change in Israeli Society: The Test of The Melting Pot.” Israel Studies, 10(2), 91- 128.

• Nissim Mizrachi & Adane Zawdu (2012). “Between global racial and bounded identity: choice of destigmatization strategies among Ethiopian Jews in Israel.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35(3), 436-452. 

• Mor, Sagit (2007). “’Tell My Sister to Come and Get Me Out of Here’: A Reading of Ableism and Orientalism in Israel's Immigration Policy (The First Decade)”. Disability Studies Quarterly, Volume 27(4),

1:00 pm: Depart for Yad Vashem

Guide: Arye Carmon

8:30 pm: Israeli Movie Screening 1 – Beit Shmuel’s meeting room

June 22, Wednesday

Religion, Religious Cleavage and the State

9:30-12:00 pm Beit Shmuel

Lecturers:  Arye Carmon and Yair Sheleg, Research Fellow, IDI

Required Reading:

• Arye Carmon, Building Democracy on Sand, the Quest for a Constitution in the Jewish State (manuscript), 88-119, 125-144.

• Walzer, Michael, “The Paradox Illustrated:  Zionism Vs. Judaism,” Ch. 2 Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation, Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolution (Yale University Press 2015), pp.34-67.

• Stern, Yedidia Z. "Living with Normative Duality: The Values at the End of the Tunnel." Jewish Political Studies Review (2000): 95-112.‏

Recommended Reading:

• Gadi Taub, The Settlers and the Struggle over the Meaning of Zionism, Yale University Press (2010).

• Shafir, Gershon, and Yoav Peled, 2002, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

• Asher Cohen. “Changes in the Orthodox Camp and their Influence on the Deepening Religious-Secular Schism at the outset of the Twenty First Century,” in Alan Dowty (ed), Critical Issues in Israeli Society. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004, pp. 71-94.

1:30 pm:  Depart for a Visit to a Haredi Community

6:30-8:30 pm:  Seminar in Beit Shmuel

Lecturer:  Khalil Shikaki, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research

Required Reading

• Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No. 59, Summary report, March 21, 2016,…;

• Khalil, Shikaki, “Changing the Status Quo: What directions for Palestinians? Final Report,” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, May 2016.…

8:30 pm:  Dinner in Beit Shmuel

June 23, Thursday

Israeli Arabs

7:30 am – Depart to Haifa

10:30-12:00 pm, Haifa University

Lecturer:  Prof. Rassem Hamaisi

12:30-2:00 pm Mossawa Center, The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel

Lecturer:  Jafar Farah, Director, Mossawa Center

2 pm, Leave for Nazareth, lunch on the bus

3-4:30 Tour of Nazareth

8:30 pm: Dinner at Acre

Spend the night in Haifa

Required Reading:

• Arye Carmon, Building Democracy on Sand, the Quest for a Constitution in the Jewish State, 144-181.

June 24, Friday

Israeli Arabs and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Part 1)

9:15 am: Depart Haifa for Osafia (Druze town near Haifa)

10:00 am: Meeting with Wagia Kayof (the mayor of Osafia) and his wife

Noon: Lunch on bus

Afternoon:  Trip to Tel Aviv

3 pm: Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, Caesaria Room

Lecturer:  Yossi Beilin, former Deputy Foreign Minister and Minister of Justice

Required Reading:

Matti Steinberg, “The One-State Paradigm: It’s Perception and Reception among the Palestinians” (Essay plus powerpoint)

Recommended Reading:

• Smooha, Sammy (2004). "Arab-Jewish relation in Israel: A deeply divided society." In: Shapira, Anita (ed.) Israeli Identity in Transition. Praeger, pp. 31- 67.

• Reiter, Yitzhak. “Israel and its Arab Minority.” Israel Studies: An Anthology (Mitchell G. Bard and David Nachmias (Eds). Jewish Virtual Library Publications.

• Mahler Gregory S. and Alden R.W. Mahler (2010). The Arab-Israeli conflict: an introduction and documentary reader. London: Routledge, 2010, pp. 3-33.

• Khashan, Hilal (2003). "Collective Palestinian Frustration and Suicide Bombings." Third World Quarterly, 24 (6), pp. 1049-1067

• Eran Halperin, Daniel Bar-Tal, Keren Sharvit, Nimrod Rosler and Amiram Raviv (2010). "Socio-psychological implications for an occupying society: The case of Israel", Journal of Peace Research, 47 (1), 59-70.

8:30 pm: Group Shabbat Dinner at the Guest House in Jerusalem

June 25, Saturday

7:00 am – Depart for day-long tour of the Dead Sea and Masada, return 5 p.m.

7:00 pm – Dinner at Abu Gosh

June 26, Sunday

The Social Bases, Origins and Evolution of Political Parties, and Elections

9:30 – 11:30, Beit Shmuel

Lecturers: Gidi Rahat, Professor of Political Science, Hebrew U, and Arye Carmon

Required Reading:

• Arye Carmon, Reinventing Israeli Democracy  (Jersualsem: Israel Democracy Institute, 2009), ch. 1, pp. 19-36.

• Gregory S. Mahler, Politics and Government in Israel. Second Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, 141-155.

Recommended Reading:

• Gideon Rahat and Reuven Y. Hazan. “Israel: The Politics of an Extreme Electoral System,” in Michael Gallagher and Paul Mitchell (eds.), The Politics of Electoral Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, pp. 333-351.

• Itzhak Galnoor. Steering the Polity. London: Sage, 1982, chapter 5, “Channels: The Political Parties,” pp. 159-188.

• Reuven Hazan, “Party System Change in Israel, 1948-1998: A Conceptual and Theoretical Border-Stretching of Europe?”  In Paul Pennings and Jan-Erik Lane (eds.), Comparing Party System Change. London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 151-166.

• Arye Carmon, Building Democracy on Sand, the Quest for a Constitution in the Jewish State, 59-73.

• Brocker, Manfred, and Mirjam Künkler, 2013. "Religious Parties: Revisiting the Inclusion-Moderation Hypothesis – Introduction," Party Politics 19(2): 171-186.

The Executive Branch

1:30 or 2 PM – Beit Shmuel

Lecturers:  Ofer Kenig, Research Fellow, IDI

   “The Cabinet and Cabinet Formation”

Mr. Ehud Praver, Deputy Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office

   “The Role of the Prime Minister’s Office in a diversified government”

Required Reading:

• Ofer Kenig & Shlomit Barnea. “The Selection of Ministers in Israel: Is the Prime Minister 'A Master of His Domain'?” Israel Affairs, 15, no. 3, 2009, pp. 261-278.

• David Nachmias, Public Policy in Israel (Routledge, 2002) pp. 3-20.

     Recommended Reading:

• Gregory S. Mahler, Politics and Government in Israel. Second Edition. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011, 114-121, 131-139, 185-194. 200-203.

• Yitzhak Navon. “Presidency in Israel: Formal Authority and Personal Experience,” Israel Affairs, vol.11, no.2, 2005, pp. 359–375.

8:30 pm: Israeli Movie Screening 2 – Beit Shmuel’s meeting room

June 27, Monday

The Knesset – the Israeli Parliament

9:15  Depart Beit Shmuel

Session at Israel Democracy Institute (IDI)

10-11:30 Yohannan Plessner, President, IDI “The Knesset: Unique Features of Israel’s Parliament” 

11:30-13:00 Arye Carmon, former president, IDI – “A Think-Do Tank”

Required Reading:

• Gutmann, Emanuel. "Israel: Democracy Without a Constitution," in Vernon Bogdanor (ed.), Constitutions in Democratic Politics. (Gower, 1988), pp. 290-308.

• Mahler, Gregory S. Politics and Government in Israel, 97-114.

• Arye Carmon, Building Democracy on Sand, the Quest for a Constitution in the Jewish State, 14-35.

• The Existing Basic Laws: Summary

• Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty

• Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation

1:00-2:00pm: Lunch at IDI

2:00 pm: Visit to the Knesset –


June 28, Tuesday

The Judicial System and the Supreme Court

Depart 9:15 am

10:00-11:00 am – guided tour, the Supreme Court

11:00-12:30, the Supreme Court

Lecturer: Deputy Chief Justice Elyakim Rubinstein

Required Reading:

• Aharon Barak, “The Role of the [Israeli] Supreme Court in a Democracy,” Israel Studies; vol. 3, no. 2, 1998, pp. 6-28. 

• Dan Avnon, “The Israeli Basic Laws' (Potentially) Fatal Flaw,” Israel Law Review, vol. 32, no. 4, 1998, pp. 535-566.

• Basic Law: The Judiciary

Recommended Reading:

• Menachem Hofnung, “The Unintended Consequences of Unplanned Constitutional Reform: Constitutional Politics in Israel, The American Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 44, 1996, pp, 585-604.

• Oren Soffer. “Judicial Review of Legislation in Israel: Problems and Implications of Possible Reform,” Israel Affairs, Vol.12, No.2, 2006, pp.307–329.

• Yair Sagi, The Missing Link: Legal Historical Institutionalism & the Israeli High Court of Justice, 31 Arizona Journal of International & Comparative Law 703-733 (2014).

12:30-1:30 Lunch

3:15pm – Depart for the Israel Museum, Tour begins at 4 p.m.

June 29, Wednesday

Civil Society, Civic Mobilization, and Conflict

9:00-10:30 Lecturer: Yuval Elbashan, Lawyer and social activist, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Ono Academic College

10:45-12:15 Lecturer: Tamar Rechnitz, Education coordinator at Tag Meir (Light Tag), a grass-roots organization working against racism in Israel

Required Reading:

• Yuval Elbashan, “Teaching Justice, Creating Law – The Legal Clinic as a Laboratory” (unpublished).

Recommended Reading:

• Yael Yishai. “Civil Society in Transition: Interest Politics in Israel,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 555, 1998, pp. 147-162.

• Zalmanovitch, Yair. "Transitions in Israel's Policymaking Network," The Annals of the American Academy, vol. 555, 1998, pp. 193-208.

• Hila Rimon-Greenspan. 2007. Disability Politics in Israel: Civil Society, Advocacy, and Contentious Politics, Disability Studies Quarterly 27 (4),

12:30 pm: Depart for Kibbutz Shefaim (lunch boxes on bus

2:00-4:00 pm (at Shefaim) – Fentahun Assefa-Dawit, CEO, Tabeka - Justice & Equality for Ethiopian Israelis.

4:30-6:00 pm – Tour of Kibbutz Shefaim

June 30, Thursday

The Military and National Security

Depart 8:45 am

10:30-12:30pm Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv


Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, Director, Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Tel Aviv University (former Chief of Military Intelligence, IDF)

Col.  (res.) Pnina Baruch, Senior Research Associate, INSS (former Head, Department of International Law, Israeli Defense Forces)

Required Reading:

• Yagil Levy. "The Theocratization of the Israeli Military: A Structural Analysis." Armed Forces & Society (2013).

• Cohen, Stuart A “Israel,” in Ron Hassner, Religion in the Military Worldwide (NY: Cambridge University Press), pp. 114-142. 

Recommended Reading

• Arye Carmon, Building Democracy on Sand, the Quest for a Constitution in the Jewish State, 181-208.

• Gross, Emanuel. (2004) "The struggle of a democracy against the terror of suicide bombers: ideological and legal aspects." Wisconsin International Law Journal, 22, 597-710,

• Sheera Frankel, “Meet Israel’s First Out Transgender Military Officer,” (Feb. 3, 2015)…

PM Visit to Tel Aviv NGOs

2:00-3:30 pm: Kav LaOved (NGO for Workers’ Rights) – lecture by Ala Hhatib, CEO

4:00-5:30 pm: The Aguda – The Israeli National LGBT Task Force - lecture by Chen Arieli and Imri Kalmann, Co-chairpersons.

8:30 pm: Dinner in Jaffa

July 1, Friday

The Israeli Economy

9:30 – 11:00 Beit Shmuel

Lecture:  Prof. Michel Stravichinsky, Hebrew U. and the Van Leer Institute

Required Reading:

• Dan Senor and Saul Singer, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle (2011), pp. xi-xiv, 1-20, 67-83, 215-236.

• Map of Israeli Startups:

• Ari Shavit. 2013. My Promised Land.  “Occupying Rothschild in My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” 339-64.

Students work on presentations

4:45 pm: Depart for Shabbat Dinners in family homes in Raanana

6 pm, Arrive for Shabat dinners

July 2, Saturday

The Israeli-Palestine Conflict (part 2)

10:00-noon, Beit Shmuel

Lecturer: Walid Salem, Lecturer at Al Quds University on democracy, human rights, and conflict resolution, Director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development in Jerusalem

Required Reading:

• Walid Salem, “The Arab Peace Initiative Significance and Roles after 13 Years of its Initiation,” Talk given at the TASAM Conference 70 Years of the UN (December 2015).

Students work on presentations

July 3, Sunday

8:30-12:00pm: Departure for tour of Mount Zion, Mount Scopus and Mount Olives

Beit Shmuel:

Lecturer:  Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog, founder of Aleh Negev, a village for children and adults with special needs

13:00-14:00 – “The Duty and Responsibility of Society toward those with Special Needs”

14:00-15:00 – “The Bedouins' Settlements  - an Unresolved Issue”

Students work on presentations

8:00 pm : Group Dinner at a Local Restaurant

July 4, Monday

Prospects for Institutional Reform and

Challenges confronting the new (20th) Israeli Government

Beit Shmuel

9:30 am: Lecturer: Arye Carmon

Required Reading:

• Arye Carmon, Reinventing Israeli Democracy  (Jersualsem: Israel Democracy Institute, 2009), ch. 1, pp. 37.71.

Students work on presentations

8:30 pm: Israeli Movie Screening 3 – Beit Shmuel’s TV room

July 5, Tuesday

Group Presentations (Part 1)

3:00 pm: Depart for Tour of Tunnels of the Western wall

8:30 pm: Israeli Movie Screening 4 – Beit Shmuel’s TV room

July 6, Wednesday

Group Presentations (part 2) + Final reflections and discussion

Afternoon Tour

July 7, Thursday