Author: Sophia Solomon, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

The State of Israel is at the center of a worldwide controversy due to defining itself as a “dual” state: both democratic and Jewish. Legislation and policy are oriented towards Israel as a military power and a democracy with liberal values. A military approach has to balance the emphasis between power/warfare, and liberal civic values of equality and non-violence.

As a state, Israel is a young country, established and recognised formally in 1947 by the UN as the home of the Jewish people, who were scattered across the globe after the Holocaust and World War II. The constant mindset of “fear of elimination”, fuelled by political elites and the collective trauma of the Jewish nation’s history, still has an enormous influence on Israeli legislation, policies and institutional framework. This framework worsens the problem of terrorism that is somewhat present in everyday life. It lays down the two ends of the paradigm used by legislators when it comes to handling radicalisation. The first prioritises state security and how it characterizes Israel as a militaristic society. The second end involves its democratic regime and Israel’s obligation to universal human rights, considering differences between periphery/center according to national territory and resources division.

After analysing interviews, official statistics, state reports, publicly available data, and legal materials, we found three central themes that accompany the fragile balance of security and civic rights: ethnicity, nationality, and religion. All three are present within Israel’s main rules and practices, policy, and institutional initiatives from the past two decades. All three are influencing radicalisation processes in Israeli society with a significant impact on state approaches to de-radicalisation processes as well. It shows that Judaism, as culture, religion, and nationality, sometimes creates difficulties at a micro-level for non-Jews and non-religious citizens.

At times, it seems that the central focus that the state has placed on ethnicity, religion, and nationality, wages a significant impact on its policy framework and operative institutions at the expense of undermining citizenship and equality discourses. Citizenship and religion, two basic universal issues fundamental to the population and the nation-state, underpin Israeli society’s most crucial “soft belly” spots. Both are interconnected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, emphasizing the struggle to preserve human rights and secure the Jewish nation’s right to national freedom.

Our findings show that the policy in Israel is affected and implemented by a range of actors, including political parties, social movements and lobbyists, and local human rights organizations. The active Israeli civic society influences decision-makers and public discourse. For example, In 2016, the Anti-Racism Coordinating Government Unit (ARCGU) was established under the Ministry of Justice due to protests of the Ethiopian community against racism and police brutality. In parallel, Israel’s most dominant de-radicalisation program, named “City without Violence,” was suggested and is implemented by municipal authorities in cooperation with civic organisations and other government institutions.

As a ruptured society, Israel has difficulties integrating Arab communities without confronting the question of Palestinian identity and including different ethnicities as part of its equal citizenship discourse. The two main threats – Jewish and Palestinian terrorism – are handled in parallel, showing the great influence civic society has adopted on human rights and civic equality as a response to places that centralize ethnicity, religion, and nationality differences. Therefore, we suggest that the state would deepen its ties with and support for non-profit educational organizations. It is also suggested that the state comptroller could appoint a team that will gather all essential activities made by civic society to highlight constant injustices from local communities. Israel should foster more integrational approaches, added to its progress within intelligence and security authorities. It is simply not enough to rely on court rulings and security institutions since it preserves the tension between human rights and security protection.

We also assert that Israel sould define its particular institutions dealing with the field of de-radicalisation and strengthen them by legislation. It would be helpful to create jurisdictions and authorities under permanent law instead of the current fluidity of different rules under multiple ministries and governmental units. This should accompany the establishment of a permanent constitution to handle better social ruptures created due to the absence of a unified constitutional frame. The latter one  raises difficulties on policy stability and enhances mistrust of the public in state institutions that use ethnicity, religion, and nationality as a political leverage against its own citizens. With the absence of a permanent constitution, the often changes made in state laws also affect the judicial system. Even though it is a significant stakeholder in cases of promoting civic rights, the court of law that bears a liberal agenda, is also bound up with national, ethnic, and religious considerations.

The implications of constant and unresolved disputes lead to feelings of Injustice, Grievance, Alienation, and Polarization, not just by terror perpetrators that already find themselves excluded but also by citizens who pay the price in the quality of their lives. Despite noticeable efforts made by the state to fight racism at an institutional level and address integrative approaches to education, there are still severe gaps in implementing policies. Maintaining these conflicts on such a scale will indeed affect future generations of Jews and Arabs, even though it is pretty clear that both groups are “here to stay”.

For more insights, see the REPORT >>, that provides a conceptual account on existing policies and laws addressing radicalisation, to pinpoint their most critical aspects and best practices, and to develop evidence-based policy and guidelines.