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Ben-Gurion University
[BGU, Sociology] Lev Grinberg: "Israel is a non-democracy" Review of 'Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine'

BGU, Lev Luis Grinberg: lev@bgu.ac.il

IAM Book Review

Lev Luis Grinberg, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine, London:  Rutledge, 2010.

Lev Grinberg, a professor of sociology at Ben Gurion University, a veteran Marxist scholar and political activist, brings his moral sensibilities to bear on the issue of democracy in Israel.  Stating that there is a close correlation between theory, research and the personal politics of the researcher, Grinberg informs the reader: “my interpretation of political dynamics is influenced by my own moral preferences and intentionally designed to facilitate a critique of politics.”  Based on his moral position that “supports dialogue and recognition, while rejecting violence and unilateral imposition,” Grinberg proceeds to develop a strikingly idiosyncratic theory of democracy.  Bypassing most mainstream literature, including the key contribution of Samuel Huntington on democratic transition, Grinberg asserts that democracy is only possible in countries that have defined borders.  While striving to present this finding as a universal postulate, it is quite clear that the theory is tailor-built to the case of Israel, which Grinberg considers to be a “non-democracy.  ” As Grinberg explains, Israel’s continuous territorial expansionism has enabled violence and the military that administer it to dominate the political agenda.  In the absence of recognized borders, the “formal democratic regime fails to contain social and political conflicts by means of representations, negotiations, and compromise… politics is replaced by violence.” 


Not surprisingly, this peculiar normative approach gets Grinberg into trouble with reality.  To prove that Israel is a “non-democracy” permeated by an expansionist military ethos, Grinberg provides an extremely convoluted reading of the Oslo peace process and its collapse.  To begin with, Grinberg exceeds most of his radical peers who blame Israel for the failures while whitewashing the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority and Arafat.  His use of semantics is telling in this respect; Jewish settlers in the territories are constantly described as “zealots” whereas Hamas is described as “pragmatic.”  To prove this point, Grinberg invents an agreement, writing that “Arafat managed to negotiate with Hamas moderates who accepted the Oslo II.”   He also manages to exculpate Arafat from charges of endemic corruption in the PA, blaming the Paris Agreement that governed the PA economy and the alleged Israeli-ordained permit system.   Charges of corruption that international donors leveled at Arafat are dismissed as largely unwarranted.


Reality does not stand in the way of explaining the collapse of Camp David either.   Grinberg admits that that there are many facts in the written records, but he is resolved “not to look at the facts but on the interpretation.”   According to his interpretation Barak failed to engage Arafat and, in the larger scheme of things, Camp David was a return of the Israelis to their “imagined nation” and the willingness to sacrifice life in the name of nationalism. 


Adhering to contrived theoretical categories explains Grinberg’s contradictions.  In the first part of the book the military is described as a monolithic entity that exercises a dominant influence on the political process.   However, later on Grinberg indicates that the military was as politically divided as the nation with regard to the peace process, In fact, he seems to believe that military opposition to the government of Benyamin Netanyahu in the late 1990s –led by active duty and retired generals- was effective in checking the more radical tendencies of Likud.  At one point, Grinberg describes the 1999 elections that Likud lost as “the entry of the military elites and shattering left-right tribal mobilization.”


If Grinberg’s theory is fuzzy, his solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is clear.  He states that Israel cannot become a real democracy within the framework of a two-state state since the proposed border would lack credible demarcation in two ways. The first obstacle pertains to the complex pattern of Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem making a permanent separation impossible. The second obstacle is psychological, as in Grinberg’s view no border can redeem the Israeli Jews from the myth of eternal and a-historical insecurity.  The only answer is a bi-national state that, by virtue of its demarcated and secure borders, would make peaceful coexistence and democracy possible.


Had Grinberg used a more conventional theory of democracy, he would have realized that a bi-national state does not guarantee  democracy and stability.   Even by his own standards, the idea of a peaceful coexistence between Jews, a minority in a bi-national state, and the dominant Palestinian majority is far-fetched.   As Grinberg notes in the theoretical introduction, dominant majorities tend to marginalize minority groups, especially when deep ethnic, cultural and religious divisions are involved.   No clearly demarcated border would address this issue and prevent the Palestinian majority to discriminate against the Jews.  



Sociology Lecture Series 2011 - Lev Luis Grinberg

Thursday, December 01, 2011 4:15 p.m. - 5:45 p.m.

The Department of Sociology presents


Is there a chance to Democratize Israel/Palestine? A political analysis of J-14 movement in Israel


The Israeli movement for Social Justice J14 was initiated in the quiet Summer of 2011, inspired by the Egyptian democratic mobilization in el-Tahrir Square and the Spanish M15 movement. Within 52 days J14 gained incredible popularity of 85% support, according to the polls, and mobilized mass demonstration of more than half a million people, with no precedent in Israel. The Government recognized its economic policies were inducing inequality, and declared new taxation and budget policies aiming to reduce poverty and the social gap. However, the movement never mentioned the injustices the state caused to the Palestinians nor the military occupation. The events at the UN in September and the recent violent escalation in the Gaza Strip are marginalizing the J14 movement.

Is there a chance to democratize Israel without ending the occupation? Is there a chance that the J14 movement for social justice will embrace justice for Palestinians too?

Using the analytical concepts and insights suggested in his book Politics and Violence in Israel/ Palestine – Democracy vs. Military Rule Professor Lev Luis Grinberg will analyze the recent political events from an historical perspective.


66 West 12th Street, Rm 407

Free; no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served


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