Jewish Independent Article on Hebrew U Prof. Reuven Hazan: "Hawks Versus Doves In Israel"

Bookmark and Share

Jewish Indpedendent Header

Vancouver, May 13, 2011 - About his upcoming lecture in Vancouver, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Prof. Reuven Hazan told the Independent, “I hope to be able to say very frankly and honestly what is going on in Israel. I’m not a foreign office person, I don’t have to toe the government line. I want to be an academic and put all the cards on the table, but I do see that Israel is going through a process that is a positive one long-term and that, in the end, despite, here and there ... maybe negative developments in our political history, overall, the trajectory is positive. There is good news.”

Reuven HazanHazan is an expert in Israeli politics, not only teaching and writing on the topic, but also advising the Israeli government and others on electoral reform and related issues. He will be giving this year’s Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University Robert Rogow Memorial Lecture, which was established by the Rogow family in honor of Prof. Robert Rogow, who passed away in 1998. Rogow was a noted scholar in the field of labor relations, joining the faculty of Simon Fraser University in 1966 and helping to establish its faculty of business administration, as well as serving as its director of undergraduate programs.

Hazan told the Independent that he will be focusing on the hawks-versus-doves aspect of Israeli politics in his Vancouver address.

“First, I want to distinguish between Canadian politics and Israeli politics,” said Hazan. “There seems to be this misconception, at least among many of the Canadian Jews who I’ve met who come to Israel, that we’re both parliamentary systems, we’re both multiparty systems, up until this week [May 2], you also didn’t have a majority party, but now you’re back, that there’s a lot of similarity, and I want to throw that out and say that the two systems are so, so different.“

The basic issue is what elections in Canada are all about compared to Israel and, in Israel, it’s security, and, when you talk about security, it’s a beautiful thing, because everyone wants security. There isn’t a party that would be viable in Israel if it actually campaigned on ‘We have a little bit too much security; we need less.’“

So, security has to be transformed into something that becomes a political hot potato, that one side can be for and the other can be against and that, in Israel, at least in the last 40-some years, has become the debate over the territories,” he continued. “And that’s what splits Israeli politics, not between Liberals and Conservatives, or, right now there’s not much left of the Liberals, I would say NDP and Conservatives; it splits Israel between hawks and doves. And, the interesting thing about them is that they both want more security, but they each see the territories in a completely different way....

“The hawks want to hold on to the territories. They believe that they are, strategically, a buffer zone. You can add to the hawkish side the historical claim to the territory, the religious significance of the territories and so on and so forth. In other words, the hawks believe that Israel will be safer, more secure, if we hold on to the land, if we teach the Arab world that, when they wage war with us,they don’t get land back, they actually lose more land and, therefore, engaging in a war with Israelis counter to their purposes.

“The doves are exactly on the opposite [side]. They say, look, just for the sake of argument, let’s say this land is strategically important, let’s say it helps us win one, two, three more wars. At some point, we’re going to lose a war, because, as long as we hold on to the territories, the Arab world is going to continuously be in a state of conflict with us. And, when we lose a war, we only have to lose one ... Israel will be in the history books. Therefore, we have to change our mentality: not how do we win wars, but how do we avoid them. The only way to avoid them is to enter into a negotiation over the territories, to relinquish control over the territories and to gain, let’s not say the recognition of the entire Arab world –because we do have extremist regimes from Libya to Iran and elsewhere that still are nowhere near to coming to terms with Israel –but an overwhelming majority of the Arab countries, as stated in the Saudi Arabian peace plan that has been adopted by the Arab League and so forth, ‘Go back to the ’67 borders and we’re willing to recognize your right to exist.’

“So, you have these two camps in Israel, both looking at the territories, both seeing exactly the opposite of what should be done with the territories in order to reach the exact same goal, which is a more secure country.”

Barak and NetanyahuHazan said there have been several periods in Israeli history where there has been movement towards accommodation, however. He gave the example of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,“who heads the hawkish camp in Israel, [and] is talking about a two-state solution and advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state. Now, he will debate with them the borders and he will debate whether that state should have Hamas as part of its governing body or not, but the fact that the hawkish element/bloc/family in Israel, which said, ‘Not an inch,’ is now talking in the same voice as the doves did 30 years ago, shows you where Israeli politics was, where Israeli politics is today and, probably, why the world just doesn’t understand why somebody like Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu have more in common today than we’ve ever had.

“Israeli politics is much more consensual, it’s much more pragmatic, it’s much more realistic. The ideologies that pulled us apart are basically gone, yet the world keeps reporting from Israel as if we have these two warring camps, one of them wants to hold on to every inch, the other is wiling to trust the Arabs, negotiate, withdraw – that’s history, that’s no longer this country.”

Hazan pointed to the length of time that this transformation took to happen –12 to 15 years, in his estimation –the general lack of knowledge about Israel’s history and the relative ease of “black-and-white” descriptions of political events and dynamics as possible reasons for the misunderstandings of the current situation in Israel by those who don’t live in the country.

Another possibility is that, to outside observers, the Israeli system of government seems to give an inordinate amount of power to small, fringe groups. However, said Hazan, who was a member of the 2006-2007 Presidential Commission on the Structure of Government in Israel sub-committee on reforming the parliamentary regime and the proportional electoral system in Israel, “Electoral reform is always on the agenda in Israel simply because of the number of parties and the existential issues.

“If you compare it to other countries that really have a lot of parties, and I’m not talking about five, like in Canada, but a dozen; if you compare it to Italy, the Netherlands, electoral reform is on the agenda there as well. Actually, tomorrow [May 5]there is an electoral reform referendum in Britain, where they only have two-and-a-half serious parties.So, talking about electoral reform really doesn’t have much to do with the Israeli context; it’s just alive here as it is elsewhere.” (The British, by the way, voted to stay with their current system.)

Hazan pointed out that Israelis vote every three-and-a-half years, whereas Canadians have had to go to the polls federally several times in the last decade. “In other words,” he said, “if you base the ability of governments to stay in office and not have to go back to the voters, Israeli democracy is more stable than Canadian, and you’ve got a lot less parties, with much bigger parties –you never touch this concept called ‘coalition government.’ I think those who look at Israel as chaotic, as unstable, as maddening, do so because they don’t understand Israel.”

He noted that in Israel’s 63 years of existence, there have been 18 elections. “Our largest party is 22 percent of the vote,” he said. “Coalition politics in Israel are extremely difficult, maintaining governments in office is a day-to-day task, yet we do it. The country functions, it’s economically more stable than most OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries, if you look at what the last three years have done to the currency and the stock markets. Israel in general, and the Israeli political system in particular, need to be given a lot more credibility and the only way to do that is to learn a little more about why we function differently, but we function!”

While he admitted that there are problems with the Israeli system, the number of parties being one such issue, he said, “We know we need to work on it, but what we don’t need is to adopt the wrong reform. Because this country is only 63 years old, with waves of immigration from northern Africa or the former Soviet Union, it’s built on immigrants [for whom] democracy is not something they were born into, they learned it when they came to Israel. Democracy is not something we can take for granted, it’s something we have to fight for every day. To adopt the wrong system in Israel, where a minority of 35 percent of the voters could win a majority in the parliament and make security decisions could lead to a civil war here. So, the fact that we have over-representation in Israel is one of the prices that we pay in order to make this the only stable democracy in the Middle East. And, right now, when you look at what’s going on in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya ... in Syria, you understand that the only place where there is no political turbulence is here, because we don’t have to go to the street, we go to voting booths. This country has a lot to be proud of, knowing that we have a lot that still needs to be fixed.

”Hazan is nine-generation Israeli, and his children are the 10th.“We’ve been here long before the British Mandate, well into the Ottoman Empire, when the Turks ruled. We believe in this country and we believe that, in order to make a country strong, you have to work at it. Canada had a lot of difficulties when it was only 60-somewhat years old; the United States, at this [same] point in time, it was heading full speed into a civil war that killed millions of their own people. We’re a country that is embryonic still. By the way, that’s another one of the reasons why reform is always on the agenda, because we’re still young enough to contemplate it. We don’t have a tradition of a hundred, 200 years of political institutions, so change can still be implemented.”

Hazan is currently examining the concept of representation, “interviewing politicians and asking them how do they perceive their role as representatives. For example, if their voters have a clear opinion on something but their party wants them to do something else, how do they reconcile that difference, even if it might cost them their political career.”

His most recent book is Democracy Within Parties: Candidate Selection Methods and their Political Consequences (Oxford University Press, 2010), which he wrote with Hebrew University colleague Prof. Gideon Rahat. It looks at how political parties are becoming what Hazan referred to as “Americanized,” or “more open internally, allow[ing], not the party leadership, but, for example, party members to decide who the candidates will be, doing things that democratize the party internally and what are the consequences of that.”

In this context, he spoke about the personalization of politics, noting how it is easier for the media to present an individual, rather than an idea or a party. He gave the example of Prime Minister StephenHarper, who “ran in only one district, but his face was everywhere in Canada.”

He continued, “So, you have a process where the media campaign focuses on an individual, where political issues become so international in nature –NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], the EU [European Union] and so forth –that top leaders make decisions instead of the party making the decision. When it’s not Canada, but Israel, where you have coalitions, then you have several parties who have to compromise on their ideology. And how do you compromise on ideology when the rank-and-file wants to be ideological? You give the leadership more power to make those compromises.”

While we need to maintain inter-party democracy and ensure that all citizens have the right to vote, said Hazan, there needs to be limits on intra-party democracy because,“once the party becomes completely democratic inside, it ceases to be a cohesive group that can discipline its members and present policies, legislate them and be accountable to the voters.”

The Rogow Memorial Lecture takes place at the Norman Rothstein Theatre on Thursday, May 19, 7:30p.m. Tickets ($18) can be purchased by calling 604-257-5133 or you can register online at

Follow us:

Visit our facebook page.TwitterInstagram

CFHU is dedicated to supporting IMRIC through direct funding and by developing key collaborative medical research partnerships between Canada
and Israel.


Get Involved!

Sign Up