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Tackling the challenge of liberal democracy in Israel: the role of political scientists in the civic studies debate

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Abstract

Recent trends suggest that liberal democracy in Israel experiences tensions. Although such a crisis calls for the involvement of political scientists in this public debate, the bulk of political scientists has refrained from visible activity. The exception to this rule is the civic studies arena in which a small group of political scientists is deeply and visibly engaged. Civic education, which Israel integrates into the civic studies subject, is a central political socialization tool. As a deep controversy rages in Israel regarding the meaning of the “democratic” and the “Jewish” components of the state’s identity, civic studies arouse strong emotions. This arena enables political scientists, who are divided into the liberal and the conservative camps, to remain out of the limelight of the general public debate about the illiberal turn, while at the same time engaging heavily in its shaping. The civic studies issue constitutes an example of how collective engagement of political scientists on specific policy issues, may constitute an opportunity for these scholars, their visibility and enhance to therefore, their social relevance. A qualitative analysis of the case study of civic studies in Israel demonstrates the various ways of involvement employed by political scientists in the illiberal turn debate.

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Notes

  1. The Israel Democracy Institute’s Democracy Index project (2019) found that among those who identify as right-wing, only a mere 33 percent have a positive opinion of the judicial system.

  2. This was confirmed by three of the interviewees (interviewees no. 4, 6, 7, see below).

  3. According to PROSEPS survey (see Real-Dato and Verzichelli, this issue), 58.5 percent of Israeli political scientists participated in public debates during the last three years, slightly above the general mean in the survey (57.5 percent).

  4. The criteria for the search, which was conducted in daily newspaper digital databases, referred to articles which included the terms: ‘The Nation-State Basic Law’ and ‘judicial review of legislation/the Override Clause’.

  5. Know your professor’s website ‘Im Tirtzu’ ‘know your professor’ available at https://imti.org.il/en/activities/knowyourprofessor/, accessed 27 July 2020.

  6. Political scientists-interviewees no. 2–7; bureaucrat-interviewees no. 1, 8–10.

  7. The Kremnitzer Report, 1996, available at https://meyda.education.gov.il/files/Mazkirut_Pedagogit/Mate/2019/DokhKremnitzerFull.pdf, accessed 26 July 2020.

  8. The Gilo Center for Citizenship, Democracy and Civic Education, ‘About us’, available at http://gilocenter.huji.ac.il/center/about-eng.asp, accessed 26 July 2020.

  9. It is worth noting that Diskin does not identify himself as an adherent of the right-wing political world view and that he was one of the first supporters of a Palestinian state.

  10. See the petition on Atzuma (2019) ‘University democracy days’ (Hebrew), available at https://www.atzuma.co.il/demanduni, accessed 27 July 2020.

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Correspondence to Michal Neubauer-Shani.

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Neubauer-Shani, M. Tackling the challenge of liberal democracy in Israel: the role of political scientists in the civic studies debate. Eur Polit Sci 21, 115–131 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-021-00336-8

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