The Rise of the Indi­vid­ual in 1950s Israel: A Chal­lenge to Collectivism

Orit Rozin
  • Review
By – June 21, 2012

Based on exten­sive study of con­tem­po­rary Israeli archival sources and the media as well as inter­views and pub­lished stud­ies, Orit Rozin exam­ines the imple­men­ta­tion of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­gram in Israel in the ear­ly 1950s and its polit­i­cal, social, and eco­nom­ic impli­ca­tions. The author’s pur­pose is not only to present a com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of some of the changes that took place dur­ing this peri­od, but also to por­tray them … from the point of view of the Israelis who expe­ri­enced them.” The book opens with an exam­i­na­tion of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­gram car­ried out dur­ing the first years fol­low­ing Israeli inde­pen­dence (1948), result­ing from the dwin­dling for­eign cur­ren­cy reserves of the state, pre­vent­ing it from buy­ing essen­tial raw mate­ri­als and food­stuffs while fac­ing at the same time con­tin­ued secu­ri­ty prob­lems and mass immi­gra­tion, much of it of poor Jews, from dev­as­tat­ed post-World War II Europe and the Islam­ic world. 

The aus­ter­i­ty pro­gram, which includ­ed food, cloth­ing, and shoes rationing, caused hard­ships on the pop­u­la­tion and the growth of the black mar­ket, result­ing in increased anger with the rul­ing left-wing MAPAI Par­ty and the strength­en­ing of indi­vid­ual self-inter­est, main­ly of house­wives, who had to make ends meet, since they were the ones who were respon­si­ble for their fam­i­lies’ imme­di­ate needs for food and cloth­ing. Rozin shows how this influ­enced nation­al elec­tions and the rise of the cen­tral lean­ing, mid­dle class Gen­er­al Zion­ists Par­ty. The last part exam­ines how old-timers viewed the immi­grants, and espe­cial­ly those from the Islam­ic world, reflect­ing cul­tur­al bias and feel­ings of supe­ri­or­i­ty. This is an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion not only to the social and polit­i­cal devel­op­ments of Israel in the peri­od imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing inde­pen­dence, but also point­ing to the roots of changes in the fol­low­ing decades. Index, notes, references.
Rachel Simon, a librar­i­an at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, does research on Jews in the mod­ern Mid­dle East and North Africa, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Libya, Ottoman Empire, women, and education.

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