In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Israel's Society

  • Introduction
  • Judaism in Israel’s Society
  • Women and Feminism
  • LGBT
  • Language, Culture, and Identity
  • The Holocaust
  • The Future of Israel’s Society: Scholarly Concerns and Predictions
  • Journals
  • Research Centers and Data Resources

Jewish Studies Israel's Society
Dan Avnon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0134


Israeli society came into being with the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel as the Jewish people’s nation-state. In this respect, the state fulfilled the goals of Zionism, the Jewish people’s national revival movement. In 2015 the population of Israel numbered around 8.3 million, comprised of some 6.3 million Jews and 1.8 million Arab-Israelis (in some scholarly literature, this population is referred to as “Arabs”; in other instances, as “Palestinians”). In this context, the term “Arab” is insufficient to connote Israelis who consider themselves to be also Palestinian, whereas the term “Palestinian” is imprecise because it connotes the civic identity of the population under the rule of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This article uses the term “Israeli citizens” used by scholars to denote those among this population who are Arab-Palestinian Israelis. The State of Israel’s current population are descendants of Jews and non-Jews who resided in pre-state Palestine and of waves of Jewish migrations that commenced with the establishment of the state and continue into the mid-2010s. The founding Zionist ethos of Israel tended to narrate a story of a “gathering of Jewish exiles” intent on establishing a just society based on primordial and national solidarity. Since the 1970s, society in Israel has developed into a diversity of subgroups with a plurality of conflicting values and interests. Contemporary scholars tend to consider Israel’s society as increasingly fragmented, lacking a shared core of values and affected by four major sets of circumstances: the lack of permanent boundaries due to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinian people, the growing impact of a global neo-liberal economy and values on social and economic inequalities, the lack of agreement on Israel’s values as a “Jewish and democratic state,” and the turmoil in Arab states and societies surrounding Israel. Scholarly research studies reflect the plurality, diversity, singular histories, and cultures of Israeli Jewish and non-Jewish social groups. The sources recommended in this article are sensitive to the interplay between methodological and ideological biases of scholarly literature and historical, cultural, and social developments in Israel’s very dynamic society.

Background Overviews

This section includes studies that focus on Israel’s history, culture, and primary social groups. These sources provide a rich variety of historical, cultural, and political backgrounds necessary for understanding the development of Israel’s society and of scholarship relating to Israel’s society. These are divided into Introductory Texts and Anthologies. In addition to these introductions to society in Israel, introductions to trends and controversies in scholarship about Israel’s society are also included. The evolution of sociological research of Israel’s society is reviewed in terms of three primary, overlapping stages of development: Functionalist and Institutional Approaches (1948–Early 1970s); Institutional, Historical, and “New Historians” Approaches (1970–1990s); and Marxist and Post-Zionist Critics of Israel’s Society (1990s–Present). These intellectual dispositions developed parallel to Israeli history and politics, the increasing diversity and plurality of Israel’s social groups, and its growing political polarizations. These social and political divisions are at times part of the academic literature. This article points out instances in which scholarly work has been associated (or accused of association) with social or political agendas. One example is the accusation included in Marxist and Post-Zionist Critics of Israel’s Society (1990s–Present) that the first wave of studies were too intimately involved in advancing the interests and values of the Zionist movement. Another example is included in essays grouped under Mizrahi Jews (from Non-European, Primarily Middle Eastern Descent) is that the first generation of scholars were oblivious to the social realities of Jews who had immigrated from non-Western societies. Some of these critical studies have in turn been accused as being immoderately anti-Zionist, a theme discussed in Critiques of Critical Sociology in this section. For a fine example of the way in which the development of scholarship about Israel society has an impact on specific fields of study, read Peri 1996 (cited under Militarism in Israel’s Society).

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