Ethnicity and education : nation-building, state-formation, and the construction of the Israeli educational system
The dissertation is about the ethnicisation of social relations in Israeli society and its reflection and manifestation in education. My main aim in this study is twofold: first, to offer a critical account of the development of ethnic relations in Israeli society and to examine the role ethnicity has played in the processes of nation-building and state-formation; and, second, to propose a history of the educational system in Israel which accounts for the role of education in creating and perpetuating ethnic identities. The first part of the dissertation consists of a critical reading of existing analyses of ethnicity in Israel. Its aim is to bring the state into the analysis of ethnic relations and demonstrate that such an approach is vital to the understanding of ethnic relations and identities. In the following part, I trace back the processes of nation-building and state-formation demonstrating how governments and major political actors became involved in the formation and re-production of ethnic boundaries within Israeli society. In these two parts, I am arguing against both functionalist and critical accounts of ethnicity in Israel, which tend to ‘essentialise’ ethnic categories and thus deny the political nature of ethnicity and its power as an organising basis for political action. In the third and major part of the dissertation, I seek to re-construct the history of the Israeli educational system within an understanding of ethnicity as a structural feature of state-society relations. This re-construction reveals how ‘ethnicity’ became an organising feature of this system since its inception as a Zionist national educational system in the early days of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine. Whereas the ‘national’ educational system was characteristically sectorial, non-European (mizrahi) Jews were denied the same autonomy that their European counterparts enjoyed. With the transition to statehood, and the massive influx of Jewish immigrants, the educational system was re-organised under the aegis of the state. Yet, it turned out, this new system retained the ‘old’ lines of division between Arabs and Jews, and between European and non-European Jews, thus imposing upon the latter the stigma of being ‘non-modern’ and ‘non-Zionist’. This re-emphasised ethnic boundaries, and entrenched ethnicity as a powerful basis for political action. In the 1960s, when the state engaged itself in reforming the educational system, making it compatible with the new needs of industrialisation and nationhood, ethnicity again played a critical role in legitimising state policies. ‘Integration’, that is, the de-segregation of the educational system, turned out to be nothing but a political token and, in fact, a means for entrenching ethnic boundaries and identities. The state, I argue, has thus been a crucial factor in perpetuating those ethnic images and realities, and hence a focus of ethnic discontent in the 1980s and 1990s.