Chosen People, Promised Land and Prophetic Tradition
Israeli politics and policymaking reflect themes long imbedded in Jewish culture. The concepts of Chosen People and Promised Land, and their meaning in Christian as well as Jewish religious traditions, assure that Israel is perpetually in the international spotlight. They also impose a sense of distinctiveness on the Israeli population. Some Israelis trumpet their country's accomplishments with unrestrained superlatives. Social critics accuse Israel of having the worst of the world's conditions. In this they reflect another trait that seems to have been inherited from the ancients: the prophetic tradition of extreme self-criticism. In reality, much of what occurs in Israel is similar to what occurs in countries that share its characteristics: democracy, western culture, and an advanced level of economic development. Such an idea may seem bizarre alongside headlines about suicide bombings and the country's aggressive defensive posture. This misses what is normal about Israel. In Israel policymakers weigh benefits and costs of various options, and generally choose something moderate, just as they do elsewhere. But this reality does not dim the rhetoric of politics, where hyperbole frequently seems more evident than rational discourse. Sharkansky discusses three central issues in Israeli public affairs: religion, national security, and social policy. He describes how policymakers relate to these issue and themes. Major problems may not be solved, but they are managed in a way that is tolerable. It is in this trait that Israel resembles other western democracies. In sum, biblical themes affect Israel's political rhetoric more than they affect the way officials actually work out their problems. Pragmatic coping with worldly realities generally overcomes emotional expressions that convey ingredients of spirituality. Ira Sharkansky, born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts, has been professor of political science and public administration at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem since 1975. He is author of several works, including Coping with Terror: An Israeli Perspective, Politics and Policymaking: In Search of Simplicity, and The Political Economy of Israel, the latter available from Transaction.
Editorial Reviews"Professor Sharkansky brings alive the vibrant cacophony of what life is like in Israel. Rather than a dry textbook about a country or a government, he vividly conveys the reality of living in a unique society and unique environment. He unblushingly addresses the highs and lows of Israel, the country's unusual profile in relation to rest of the world, its citizens' vigorous style of argumentation and contentiousness in public discussions, Israel's own brand of parochialism, and the many problems it faces. The book's contents are oriented to a broad range of readers, whether by age, religious affiliation, or educational level. If anyone is seeking a readable yet scholarly introduction to Israel, this book is it. "-Mordecai Lee, associate professor of governmental affairs and coordinator, govtraining.org, University of Wisconsin
"Ira Sharkansky has written an important book that provides insights into the public policy making process in Israel. Always an astute observer of Israeli politics, the author explains how the Hebrew Bible influences contemporary Israeli political culture and discourse. He provides a refreshing analysis of the impact of many Biblical concepts on political phenomena in Israel and the modern world. This book is essential reading for those interested in understanding the complexity of politics and public policy in contemporary Israel."¡-Fred Lazin, Lynn & Lloyd Hurst Family Professor of Local Government, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Israel
"Sharkansky has long argued that Israeli politics can be illuminated by drawing on the experience of the ancient Israelites as recounted in the Hebrew Bible. Governing Israel looks at the consequence of the prophetic tradition on political discourse in contemporary Israel. As he demonstrates convincingly, the voice of latter-day Jeremiahs is loud and vociferous in the Promised Land, with hyperbole the dominant motif in national discussions about Israeli life. Nonetheless, he finds that rhetorical excesses do not prevent Israel from dealing as best it can with a staggering array of policy choices. In prose that is bereft of prophetic intensity but laced with dry humor and deadpan understatement, Sharkansky warns against mistaking the often apocalyptic tone that pervades Israeli political life with the pragmatic approach that still reigns in public problem-solving."¡-Kenneth D. Wald, professor of political science, University of Florida