Dr. Yeshayahu Ben-Aharon
January 2003

Breakdowns and Opportunities

The work of ICS ľ Activists for Israeli Civil Society ľ is to establish a country-wide network of regional civil councils composed of non-governmental civil institutions (NGO's). These cooperating organizations will ultimately provide social and civil services in Israel. ICS's work is based upon long-term changes taking place in Israeli society. This paper outlines the changes that are occurring and ICS's vision of a practical, healthy alternative.

ICS's social proposals are based on the recognition over the last decades that the life of Israeli cultural-spiritual, social-economic, and political institutions is undergoing a deep and long-ranging changes. Existing state, social and political structures and institutions have not taken these changes sufficiently into consideration. They are therefore unable to respond effectively to the social demands of Israel's present crisis.

There is a clear and urgent need to found non-governmental civil institutions and networks that will serve the development of civil society in the third sector in Israel, and that will restructure the social balance of power, policy and decision making, between the three social sectors of (of government, business and civil society) in the state of Israel.

ICS's proposal is to transfer the management and delivery of social and civil services to non-governmental, freely-created, civil institutions, not by default, but as the result of a larger, gradual social change strategy. The more that citizens self-manage these services, the better they can prevent the privatization and imposition of market values (with proven deleterious effects) on culture, education, medicine and the environment. ICS proposes a pre-meditated and orderly transfer of the management of these services to free and non-governmental civil institutions. This will encourage citizens to take greater initiative and responsibility, raising the quality of the services and reinforcing democracy in Israel.

The restructuring of the balance of power, policy and decision making in Israel will require addressing the deep-seated changes referenced above. These changes affecting Israeli society can be divided into two main types:

■1■. Weakening of the Welfare State.

Israeli state authorities and services have transferred a substantial part of the management and performance of social and cultural services to non-profits, non-governmental organizations and for-profit corporations. This transferral of services is taking place in most democratic states in Europe, North America and Asia. The transferral is taken by default, with no clear and long-term social strategy. The state determines that certain economic, social and cultural interests of the citizens are "free market" items. They are then "out-sourced," leading to declines in the quality of both infrastructures and services.

On the one hand, NGO's are sub-contracted by the State to deliver specific services, the result of which is that they become increasingly state-dependent on bureaucratic direction and interference. On the other hand, the State privatizes parts of economic and cultural infrastructures and services, by selling them on the market, the result of which is that the corporate profit motive reduces the quality and quantity of the services provided.

■2■. Weakening of the founding, cultural-political ideology of the State of Israel.

In the past 30 years, Israeli society has powerfully splintered and diversified. Parallel to this splintering, Israel's founding ideology, which acted as a unifying "cultural melting pot," has lost its former heat. The social-cultural stew that is Israeli society has cooled considerably. A certain solidification and fragmentation has set in.

Israel now experiences spiritual diversity and many cultures, streams and ideologies. The present political system no longer represents a consensual political, cultural, and social ideology. Rather it is concerned with sectarian power and control struggles by narrow interest groups. They pursue their special interests, while ignoring and harming the larger public welfare.

The challenge of increased cultural-social splintering suggests that a conscious move from political-governmental centralization to decentralization is crucial. The alternative of civil, non-governmental, self-management of major social and civil services is an important and healthy option to consider. The State's current policies and practices are only adding to and increasing the speed of Israel's social fragmentation.

ICS Initiative: Establish NGO's within Civil Society Regional Networks

The social initiative of ICS includes the following components:

1) Israeli Civil Society forms a national movement, based on regional civil councils, which will enable citizens to take initiative and responsibility, to positively counteract, influence, and cooperate with the economic and political institutions on local and national levels.

2) The regional civil councils will deal with the following issues through representative NGO's, in dialogue with one another and individual citizens: Education, culture, media, human rights, environment, planning and development, poverty, health, minorities and disadvantaged social sectors.

3) The regional civil councils have two main aims:

•  Enhance involvement of citizens of each region in the processes of decision making and implementation of all important social issues. This involvement may be with and\or against local business and State institutions. The council's function is to establish "threefold" ("tri-sectoral") cooperation models and practices, between the forces and institutions of business, polity and culture, in Israel. The civil councils will constitute the 'back-bone' of a new civil society in Israel.

•  Build public support to create independent, non-governmental institutions for civil self- management of social and cultural services. The aim of the civil councils will be, first, to complement State and local authorities in the management and implementation of such services.

Second, they will help to facilitate and to increase the transferral of the services to non-governmental authorities. Ideally, the services should not be administered and supplied by the State or by businesses, but rather by civil, non-profit and non-political social institutions.

Key Research on Functions of the Third Sector in Israel

The Israeli Center for the Research of the Third Sector published a detailed report on the functioning of the third sector in Israel: The Third Sector in Israel 2000 ľ the Functions of this Sector. The following data is taken from this study.1

What makes Israel's civil society, third sector unique is the fact that it is one of the leading countries world-wide in the size and vitality of its third sector. About 10% of the labor force in the Israeli economy is employed by the third sector. Concentrated in this sector are many functions ľ social and cultural services, protection of human rights and of environment ľ that the State is no longer able to provide. The relative size of the third sector in Israel places it in the fourth place in the world according to a survey conducted in 22 developed States - after Holland, Ireland and Belgium. Of special importance is the following data: The share of the third sector in the overall employment in Israel is almost double the average of the 22 States, and is higher than those of the USA and Britain, where the third sector is especially large. The data also indicates that one tenth of the overall economic activity in Israel takes place in the third sector. As for paid employment, it provided in 1995 about 155,000 full-time jobs, which are more than 9.3% of the overall employment in the entire Israeli economy. Together with voluntary work, third sector employment rises to 10.7% of the overall employment.

The way in which third sectors jobs are distributed in the economy is also interesting. In the area of health, about 44% of the jobs in Israel in 1995 were in the third sector. More than 35% of the jobs in the areas of education and research were in third sector organizations. In culture, recreation, welfare and religion, 30% of the jobs were in the third sector.

This data makes it clear, as is noted by the authors, that: "this has turned the third sector into the central alternative for providing social services in Israel".

The report notes that this current reality is significant with regard to the on-going formation of Israeli civil society. However, the researchers warn that this situation may also bring disadvantages for civil society. This is due especially to the "question of the connection between government funding of the third sector and the development of civil society."

The authors state that: "the growing financial dependence of third sector organizations upon the government impairs their independence and hampers their ability to act as representatives of specific interests and as promotors of social change."

* * *

The report's conclusions are precisely the point of the current social initiative of ICS, which is based on these facts. It is clear that without reforming the social means to fund third sector organizations, the continued weakening of the welfare State will not result in the building of an independent, non-governmental, third sector and civil society in Israel. It is imperative that civil society and its supporters in Israel understand this fact. On its right evaluation depends the future of the third sector's self-organization, definition, and independent functioning.

This is, therefore, the essential future task of Israeli civil society. It must initiate the founding of independent civil institutions in the third sector of society that will enhance direct democracy and citizens engagement, participation and responsibility in social affairs, and lead the third sector to ever growing independence.

Israeli Societal Transformation: From Homogeneous to Multi-Cultural

Among historians, sociologists and anthropologists investigating Israeli society it is customary to assume that the State of Israel and Israeli society are undergoing, in the last decades, a crucial shift in respect to all important areas of ethnic, national, cultural, ideological, and spiritual life. For example: "During the last two years Israeli public debate has been inundated with an avalanche of books, conferences, public reports, and media coverage, all relating to a cardinal change that Israeli society is apparently undergoing: 'the privatization of Israeli culture', which has gradually been transforming Israel into a 'multicultural society'."2

Here is a brief history of the shift, without attempting to analyze all its components.

The common argument, in various nuances, is that the spiritual-cultural, ideological-political, social-economical synthesis which characterized the State of Israel in the first thirty years of its existence, ceased, in effect, to exist since the end of the 1970's.

The disintegration of this unity occurs simultaneously on two parallel levels: One, the disintegration of national consensus, and two, tied to it, the loss of weight of the dominant social stream that led and actualized that consensus.

European (Ashkenazi) socialist Zionism created the widest common denominator which granted Israeli society a relative stamp of unity, and also uniformity, in the general social sense. At the same time, this stamp granted a parallel stamp of alienation to ideological, ethnic and cultural minorities, which were not part of the consensus.

What characterizes today, above all, the (cultural) multiplicity and the (ideological-political) diversity is the fact that the three components in this formula - the Zionist, European and socialist - whether together or separately, have ceased, in fact, to serve as a basis for national consensus. For thirty years Israeli was characterized by the realization of European-Socialist-Zionist dominance with these main components:

•  Spiritually-culturally: dominance of European streams of Zionism.

•  Ideologically-politically: dominance of a socialist world-view and political establishment, both in the centralist-governmental version of the labor party ("Mapai") and the labor unions' head organization ("Histadrut").

•  Socially-economically: dominance of public and State over private economy with relative socio-economic equality.

It is not our task here to examine in greater detail the various components of the European-Socialist-Zionist synthesis that enabled the establishment of the State of Israel in the framework of a general Zionist consensus. Let us rather briefly examine the implications of the collapse of the consensus and indicate why it reinforces ICS's threefolding proposal, noted above, as a healthier, more practical social strategy for a rapidly changing Israeli society.

It is a fact in all major social aspects that we are witnessing a process of radical social transformation. The center of ideology and its farthest-removed periphery now change places, or at least lose their relative position with regard to each other. The social system in Israel has entered a 'chaotic' phase, where it is no longer possible to ascertain exactly the relative positions of social center and social periphery. Both are currently in rapid and wild displacement, fluctuation and perturbation. The cultural-ideological-economic 'seams' created by the European-Socialist- Zionist synthesis are coming apart today.

In his book "The End of Ashkenazi Hegemony", Baruch Kimerling lists seven different Israeli cultural communities that make up the current multicultural Israeli situation:

■1■. Secular Ashkenazi

■2■. Eastern, mostly "traditional" Orthodox

■3■. Mostly anti- or non-Zionist

■4■. National-Religious

■5■. Russian

■6■. Ethiopian

■7■. Israeli-Arab

One can add the rapidly growing foreign workers community as an eighth community.

These eight communities, with their own diverse sub-streams and splits, will be able to co-exist with mutual relationships of relative tolerance, only to the extent that there will come an end to the government's centralized, bureaucratic control of the political system, which no longer represents a national consensus.

It is not difficult to understand why a "chaotic," 'peripheralized' society, lacking one ideological center that is accepted by its major cultural, political and economic forces needs an organizational structure that can respond to its social-cultural needs. Without a new center organized around a working respect and tolerance for the multi-cultural society that Israel has become, greater social fragmentation and chaos will be the norm.

This is the reason why ICS is initiating the founding of regional and national civil councils, as a basis for self management and administration of services by NGO's. Our aim is to enable each citizen, in each of the eight Israeli cultural communities, to initiate, manage and implement their particular values in the education of their children, in the services of health, religion and welfare, in the protection of environment. We must respond to a time in which 'State uniformity' is declining very fast.

■a■) The Current Instability and Sustainable Alternatives

Israel's political parties and establishments cannot claim any meaningful commitment to general Israeli values or ideology. Moreover, the continuing political control of the whole social body, makes anarchy a permanent social feature. The current political control blocks positive future development and discourages the belief of the Israeli people in democracy and in generally agreed-upon human and social values.

The continued existence of one center of control and of one centralized mode of policy making and operation - through the increasingly value-less institutions of the centralized State - is a clear prescription for inflaming and perpetuating a constant civil war.

In Israel's present condition, a political coalition or party that rules from the 'center of control', which in the past still expressed authority stemming from a measure of consensus on values and ideology, has become a sheer power-seeking, sectarian and parasitic social force. It uses the whole social body to increase its separate and egotistic agenda. A veritable "social carcinoma" is flourishing now under such conditions.

The only preventive rational measure available to Israel now, when politics has turned into pure force, is to release the spiritual-cultural sector, civil society, from its bondage to the State. It must be released to allow maximum freedom for each citizen to express his unique culture, religion and nationality. Israeli society is shifting from a state of cultural, political and economical homogeneity into a state of cultural multiplicity, of political contrasts and of economic gaps. Now there is an ever-growing need for an active civil society in the third sector and for a decentralized, threefold, social structure on all social levels.

As middle European history in the course of the 20th century demonstrated, the most harmful and dangerous thing was the maintenance and continuation of a centralized state political function. In Israel the political center has been hollowed out and emptied of any positive social and cultural quality. This central vacuum has invited in the most damaging and destructive forces, which use State power for their advantage.

This is a time of great danger, as well as for a new, challenging positive opportunities for Israeli society. Kimmerling names the new social force that can turn Israeli destiny in a more favorable direction:

"On the one hand, [Israeli] society is subdividing into different cultures which fight each other vehemently over the rules of the game and the allocation of common assets. But at the same time, a dialogue, however crude it may be at times, is being built between the various cultures and their elite leaderships, and a solidarity is being consolidated on a new basis. Thus, a new public space may be formed gradually before our eyes, the like of which we have never known before: Civil society". 3

People who experience only one aspect of the process of social change that Israel is undergoing, mourn for the loss of "paradise," of the old social order, to which they were attached. But we must turn our look also to the new doors that are opening toward the future. It is possible to argue, even to prove, that in many areas real regression is taking place on the social and cultural level of the State of Israel ľ compared with what was achieved in the 1960's and the 1970's.

One can also argue that the new synthesis, once formed, will reflect more faithfully the real composition of a more mature Israeli society. Its realization will acknowledge the end of past social forces, which have made their contribution. Also acknowledged will be positive social forces of the future. These lie hidden in the Israeli reality and are waiting to come into effect.

These forces are the driving power behind the engagement of thousands of Israeli citizens and NGO's, now operating in all fields of Israeli social and cultural life. Together they are and will make civil society, the third sector, into a fruitful, healing social force.

* * *

(see below for contact and basic information on ICS)

Activists for Israeli Civil Society (ICS)

Background and Present Activities

ICS seeks to advance the self-organization of civil society in Israel, and the understanding and implementation of social threefolding in the state of Israel. ICS was founded by Dr. Yeshayahu Ben-Aharon, philosopher, social activist and founder of the intentional kibbutz community of Harduf, and Eyal Ziegelman, entrepreneur and developer of social and business initiatives.

ICS's first public conference took place March 25, 2002, in the Green Village, with 250 people attending. Its theme was: "The Roles of Civil Society in Israel in a time of National Crisis." Participants included members of civil society organizations from Israel and abroad, and leaders of political, business, cultural and religious groups. Among the keynote speakers were Nicanor Perlas of the Philippines, John Beck of the USA, Mr. Yitzhak Ben-Aharon, former leader of the Israeli Labor movement and Mrs. Prof'. Yuli Tamir, former cabinet minister.

ICS organized on December 26th, 2002, a "Day of Civil Hearing" with 30 NGO's participating, in the Arab town of Shepharam, near Nazareth. Some 150 people attended the conference. The NGO's presented their current activities for the environment, in human rights, in education, and in Jewish-Arab relations. ICS presented its initiative, the establishment of regional and national "citizens' councils". Representatives from the attending NGO's, as well as many individual participants, expressed their wish to join the NorthernáCitizens' Council and other councils in other parts of the country

ICS works in cooperation with Israeli-Palestinian NGO's in the fields of education, advocacy and human rights to create a non-partisan, civil social movement that will unite Israeli Jewish and Palestinian citizens. Our goal is to guarantee freedom of education, culture and religion, and an equal share in the economic and physical resources of the state of Israel for Israeli-Palestinian citizens.

ICS is a member in the Global Network for Threefolding (GN3, at www.globenet3.org), together with 15 civil society organizations in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America. GN3's activity is based on the groundbreaking achievements of global civil society since the 1990's, especially since the "battle of Seattle" in 1999. It joins the struggle for just globalization and the creation of an independent, self-conscious, global civil society, all part of a new, threefold, global social formation.

ICS, in partnership with GN3 and a coalition of global civil society networks, is organizing a major global conference in Israel in the spring of 2005:

A Clash, or a Dialogue, of Civilizations?

The conference will challenge the aims of imperial and elite globalization and of extreme religious fundamentalism in the Middle East. It will present current, sustainable Israeli Palestinian and Jewish religious-cultural, political, and economic alternatives.

Activists for Israeli Civil Society (ICS); D.N Hamovil, 17930, Israel; Tel: ++972-4-9059333;
civilsociety@barak-online.net ; www.civilsociety.co.il/eng

1. Israeli center for third sector research (ICTR). www.bgu.ac.il/ICTR/
2. "The Miulticultural Condition", Yosi Yohah and Yehouda Shenhav, Theory and Criticism, no. 17, Fall 2000.
3. Baruch Kimmerling, The End of Ashkenazi Hegemony, Keter, Jerusalem, 2001. And see also: The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military, Los-Angels and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001

About "Activists for Israeli Civil Society (ICS)"

©  HopeWays, 2003-5. All Rights Reserved

HopeWays reserves the right to publish materials at the editors' discretion. However, all materials in this website are published at the sole responsibility of their authors. The owners and editors of this website accept no responsibility for any materials unless they are explicitly mentioned as authors of a specific segment.