WashU professor has new take on looking at Israel’s future

A young visitor to the Independence Hall museum in Tel Aviv. Photo: Richard H. Weiss

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Demographic, cultural and political changes are reshaping Israeli society. As Israel begins its 75th year of existence, what some call judiciary reform is a coup d‘etat for others. An agreed-upon plan for Israel’s next 25 years seems harder than ever to envision.

One idea for looking toward the future is to utilize the writings of the past.

Ayala Hendin, an Israeli policy and society scholar, is currently serving as the Israel Institute Fellow for Jewish, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Washington University. She has been looking at some of these important writings and documents to see if they can help us articulate our thoughts and our role in Israel’s future.

From her findings and in partnership with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Hendin is hosting two upcoming events geared to open discussion that hopes to put the rapidly changing political climate in Israel into a new perspective.

“I was in Israel back in January, just as things were beginning to heat up around the proposed judicial reform,” said Hendin. “When I returned to St. Louis to begin classes, I wanted to find a way to discuss the events with my students in a relevant way, but the news was moving so fast.”

To help her students understand the importance of the daily events in Israel, as well as understand what they mean to American Jews, she went back to two iconic documents from Israel’s past starting with the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Hendin says more Israelis than ever before are asking tough questions that are rooted in the Declaration, including if a divided society in a state without a constitution can succeed in agreeing on a national moral compass.

“When we talk about Israel as a nation, who are we actually including? What should be the state’s responsibility to those in the margins or outside of the nation,” said Hendin. “And how can we turn this moment, one that many understand as the most important moment in Jewish history since 1948, into a moment of revival?”

The second document was written much more recently. In 2016, then-Israeli President Reuven Rivlin wrote a speech in which he explained how Israel was “a partnership between four tribes.”

“One thing is clear, the demographic processes that are restructuring or redesigning the shape of Israeli society, have, in fact, created a ‘new Israeli order.’ A reality in which there is no longer a clear majority, nor clear minority groups. Israeli society is comprised of four population sectors, or, if you will, four principal ‘tribes,’ essentially different from each other, and growing closer in size. Whether we like it or not, the make-up of the ‘stakeholders’ of Israeli society, and of the state of Israel, is changing before our eyes,” wrote Rivlin.

The Israel Center speaker series

Ayala Hendin, an Israeli policy and society scholar, is currently serving as the Israel Institute Fellow for Jewish, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Washington University.

Starting May 15th Hendin will host a two-part series to examine and discuss how these two documents can better help our understanding of Israel’s status.

“Is the ‘Jewish and democratic’ notion of the Declaration of Independence still a useful value compass? Is a partnership between the ‘four tribes’ coined by Rivlin still an operable vision? What are other iconic texts from Israel’s first 75 years that can help us articulate our thoughts and our role in Israel in the coming years,” said Hendin.

The May 15th session will focus on the Declaration of Independence. Rivlin’s “four tribes” will be discussed on May 22. Both sessions, which will be 90 minutes each and held at the Federation building, are free, but registration is required.

This is not a lecture

Hendin says these sessions are not lectures.

“If Israel is of interest to you, think about why? Why do you care, and then think about how your insights and commitment may have changed over the years,” said Hendin. “Israel is a country of many contradictions right now. We will talk about what we do when we encounter some kind of a contradiction or controversy when two values butt heads.”

Like her classes at Wash U, this experience will be interactive.

“I want people to be a part of the discussion. I tell my students, don’t come just to say what you have to say in exclamation marks, but come with question marks,” said Hendin.

Israel Center Speaker Series with Ayala Hendin

May 15 | A Jewish and Democratic State in the Declaration of Independence

May 22 | Partnership: A vision or a dream?

All sessions at Federation from 7 – 8:30 p.m.

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