Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

Israel: Constitution, Government and Politics

State-Local Relations in Israel

Daniel J. Elazar

Israel is well-known as a state in which political power is heavily concentrated in its central institutions, both government and party. The small size of the country, its development as a result of ideologically motivated effort, and the political traditon it has inherited from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources have all coalesced to make this so. At the same time, it is a mistake to think of Israeli government as "centralized" in the usual sense of the word. Power is divided among several centers within the Israeli polity but the centers are organized on cultural-ideological rather than along territorial lines. This means that local government in Israel, which is necessarily territorially based, operates at a handicap. It is often viewed, not incorrectly, as the weakest link in the state's political system. From a power perspective, local governments are indeed subordinate to governmental and party centers, not to speak of the religious communities, in many ways. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to underestimate either the role or the influence of local government in the state.

Local government plays an important role in Israeli society, particularly in connection with the following four tasks: 1) the provision and administration of governmental services; 2) the recruitment and advancement of political leadership; 3) the fostering of channels of political communication between the governors and the governed; and 4) the maintenance of necessary or desired diversity within a small country where there are heavy pressures toward homogeneity. All four of these tasks are of great importance in the integration of what is still a very new society of immigrants or the children of immigrants. The role played by local government in meeting the challenges they pose makes it a far more vital factor on the Israeli scene than it is often given credit for being.

Local self-government was the first vehicle for asserting the national goals of the Zionist movement. The first Zionist colonies were created as self-governing covenant communities not dissimilar in the fundaments of their political organizations to the early Puritan settlements of New England. Somewhat later, the first local governments in their present forms were organized by the Jewish pioneers under the laws of the British Mandate as the precursors of the state. They were designed to give the pioneers as much autonomy as possible while the country was still under British rule.

Thus the first local governments were fostered as alternatives to foreign government and were treated by organized Jewish community in Palestine as important elements in the drive for a Jewish state. Jewish municpaltities such as Tel-Aviv, local councils such as Petach Tikvah, regional councils (which were federations of Jewish agricultural settlements) such as Emek HaYarden and HaGalil HaElyon, as well as the governing committees of the kibbutzim and moshavim, were all encouraged by the Zionist authorities as a means of advancing the cause of Jewish self-government. In those pre-statehood days, the Jewish local governments took on many of the responsibilities that were later to become the province of the State and provided a wide range of services which they initiated and organized in the first place. In this, they were specifically encouraged by the Mandatory government which itself maintained only the minimum in the way of governmental services for political reasons, allowing the Jews and Arabs of what was then Palestine to determine the level of services to be provided in their own sectors. It should be noted that the Arabs resisted any efforts on the part of the British to establish local government institutions in their communities on the grounds that they would interfere with the traditional patterns of local rule whereby the leading family or families maintained well-nigh absolute control over their fellow villagers.

Even in the Mandatory period, local governments also served the cause of maintaining diversity within the framework of the Zionist movement. The General Zionists and other right and center parties that were excluded from positions of power in the Histadrut dominated countrywide organs of the Jewish "state within a state" were able to establish power bases of their own in a number of the Jewish municipalities which gave them a share and a stake in the upbuilding of the land. Moreover, many of the future leaders of the state took their first steps on the road to political careers in the local polities, urban or rural, especially in the kibbutzim. Finally, the very nature of the Yishuv meant that the Jewish local governments would be central factors in the enhancement of political communication among the members of the new society. The history of local government in pre-state Israel is yet to be written but when it is there is no doubt that the record will show that it played an important role as a training ground for the state in the making.

With the establishment of the state in 1948, local government passed off the center of the political stage. Not unexpectedly, the new state began to assume responsibility for many public functions which had rested in local governmental hands for lack of central institutions. Political leadership gravitated toward the offices of the new state, leaving only those members of the opposition parties for whom the limited responsibilities of service in the Knesset were not sufficient and those kibbutzniks who wished to stay home to seek local office actively. In the process of sorting out state and local functions, the party organizations and the Histadrut interposed themselves between the fledgling state and the local governments, further weakening the autonomy of the local leadership.

At the same time, the mass immigration to Israel in the years 1948-1953 shifted the patterns of settlement in the country in such a way that the kibbutzim and veteran moshavim, the local communities possessing the best access to the state and the most power to maintain their local autonomy, declined in importance relative to other local communities. On the other hand, the development towns and the immigrant settlements, potentially the least powerful local communities, became significant elements in the constellation of local governments. While new kibbutzim were established in this period, the kibbutz as such failed to attract many of the new immigrants, so that, although they preserved their own relatively autonomous position within Israeli civil society, they were unable to extend the benefits of their influential role to many of the new arrivals.

The reduction in the power of local government was not necessarily the result of calculated policy but, rather, the result of a natural transfer of powers that could only have that effect. Indeed, the new state took it upon itself to foster local government institutions from the first. Reversing the pattern established in Mandatory days, the central authorities themselves moved to establish new local authorities. The number of Jewish settlements enjoying municipal status rose from 36 in 1948 to 107 by 1968. The number of regional councils (federations of rural settlements) rose from 4 to 50 (consolidation has since reduced the number to 47). Moreover, new rural settlements were all encouraged to develop local committees of their own for their internal self-government. Finally, and perhaps most significant, the Arab and Druze villages were also encouraged to establish modern municipal governments of their own and did so in substantial numbers, thereby opening the door to political participation for thousands of non-Jews who had previously been caught in the embrace of a traditional society that confined political power to the hands of a tiny elite. In addition to the establishment of new local governments, established local governments were upgraded and their structures and functions more or less regularized according to standard statewide patterns.

The same standardization that was brought to governmental activities was extended to politics as well. Regularization brought with it the patterns of voting on the local plane that were becoming fixed statewide. The opposition parties lost control of most of the local governments which had been in their hands in the prestate period and were replaced by new coalitions dominated by Mapai, the Israel labor party that was dominant in the country as a whole. If the establishment of the state strengthened the hands of the parliamentary organization, the mass immigration strengthened the hands of the political party organizations. Whereas in the small Yishuv before statehood the party members could play significant roles in party decision-making, as the population grew and the elements which came in were for the most part politically unsophisticated, the professional party leaders took over direction of party affairs, relying upon the new voting masses who turned out for them at the polls but who were not prepared to participate actively in party government. This had the effect of increasing the role of the central organs of the political parties, enabling them to become the mediating elements between state and local governing bodies with their respective versions of coalition politics.

In keeping with the party federalism that is a major feature of Israel's political system, the new immigrants were divided among the parties according to each party's strength in the general elections, as soon as they arrived in the country. Each party was made responsible for providing the new immigrants with jobs, assisting them in settling in, and providing for their basic social and religious needs, thereby creating bonds of dependence between them. This pattern of division which is known in Israel as the "party key" was institutionalized at all points in the political system and through much of the economic system, across all levels of governmental society. Use of the party key system meant that each party would retain the same relative strength from election to election while ensuring that all new immigrants would fit into the political system through some lasting tie with "their" political party.

Local government reached its lowest point in the political system some time in the mid-1950s. At that point, the older local governments had lost many of their original functions and had been absorbed in the statewide party system along lines that harmonized with the patterns of rule established in Jerusalem. The most powerful local governments, those of the kibbutzim, and secondarily the older moshavim, were attracting a proportionately smaller share of the new immigrants and losing their importance in the local government constellation as a result. The new immigrant settlements that had been established after statehood were still too raw and immature to be self-governing. Even where they were given municipal status, their government offices were occupied or dominated by outsiders sent in by their respective political parties to manage local affairs until such time as "proper" (however defined) local leadership should emerge.

In the late 1950s, the tide began to turn as the local governments began to find their place in the framework of a state in which power was divided on other than territorial bases, first and foremost, but which also wished to encourage local governmental activity across most if not all of the four tasks or roles listed at the beginning of this article. The process of adjustment begun then is not yet completed.

Take the case of government services. After the period of mass transfer of functions from local government (and the Histadrut) to the state, the country entered into a period in which shared or cooperative activity began to be stressed. While the state took primary responsibility for program initiation, policy-making, and finance, program administration -- the actual delivery of services -- was increasingly transferred to local government or, in cases where the division was not so clear-cut, responsibility for the delivery of services was somehow divided between the state and the localities. This became true over a wide range of functions from welfare to education to civil defense to sewage disposal.

The nature of these sharing arrangements should be made clear. They did not involve a sharing among equal partners but rather a sharing by superior and subordinate. But sharing did become the norm, which meant that, at the very least, the local governments were forced to develop cadres of civil servants with sufficient administrative skills to provide the services that the state promised all its citizens. This opened the doors to the recruitment and development of a new class of participants in the governmental process that has drawn in people from all segments of Israeli society out of necessity.

Moreover, unlike local government in the countries with very heterogenous populations like the United States, local governments in Israel undertake a range of social and cultural functions which extend beyond the ordinary police functions of local government. These range from the provision of religious services to the management of orchestras and drama groups, from the maintenance of day care centers to the awarding of literary prizes. No small share of the importance of local governments in Israel flows from its role in undertaking these functions as part of their task of fostering the social and cultural integration of the community.

Forms of Local Government

Urban government in Israel legally takes two forms, cities and local councils, with the distinction between them minimal. The largest local communities are legally cities with full municipal powers, but, in the English tradition of ultra vires, they possess only those powers specifically granted to them, and, in the case of conflict with the state, city powers are interpreted narrowly. Small urban places are formally termed local councils, a status which gives them almost as much power as cities and in a few cases more, but which makes them more dependent on the Ministry of Interior for hiring personnel. Both kinds of municipalities are governed by mayors elected directly by councils, themselves elected on the basis of proportional representation in which the voter casts his vote for a party list rather than for individual candidates, and each party gets the number of seats reflecting the percentage of the total vote it garnered. Frequently, no party gains a majority in the council and a coalition is formed to govern the city, much as is the case on the state level. Usually, even parties winning a majority will form coalitions in order to strengthen the hands of the local government or to better distribute local political rewards in consideration of statewide coalitions.

While cities and local councils are the basic urban municipal units, they can federate with one another to create larger, special-purpose municipal bodies designed to undertake specific tasks. These bodies, termed federations of cities, can be established by two or more municipalities and can undertake one or more functions. They range from the Lod-Ramle joint high school district to the federation of cities of the Dan region, which encompasses the better part of the Tel-Aviv metropolitan area and provides several functions which seem to be best handled on a metropolitan-wide basis.

Israel also has utilized the equivalent of special districts for certain purposes. In Israel, these are called authorities. By and large, these authorities handle water drainage and sanitation problems which require adaptation to watersheds that are less conveniently adapted to existing municipal boundaries. The local religious councils in the Jewish-dominated localities, local planning committees, and the state-mandated, quasi-independent local agricultural committees established in most former agricultural colonies that have become urbanized are kinds of special districts also.

The cooperative sector is represented locally by local workers' councils which are elected by vote of all members of the Histadrut within each council's jurisdiction (which, in most cases, more or less conforms to the municipal boundaries). While formally private, many of their activities are of a quasi-governmental character, and they usually wield great political influence. These workers' councils play a role somewhat equivalent to that played by a chamber of commerce in a small American city. The fact that workers' councils play a role in Israel similar to that played by businessmen's associations in the United States is a significant indicator of Israel's unique history and culture.

The kibbutzim are highly integrated, political, social and economic units. Every kibbutz is organized as a cooperative society and also has municipal status as a Vaad Mekomi (local committee) under state law. It is actually governed by two principle bodies, the general meeting (equivalent to the American town meeting), which elects the local committee on a yearly basis and which meets monthly to consider major issues, and the local executive committee, which meets as frequently as necessary, sometimes daily, to deal with current business. Most of the day-to-day business of the kibbutz is carried on through a multitude of committees involving as many members as are capable of participating. Every kibbutz is also a member of a Moetza Azorit (regional council), a federation of contiguous settlements that provides secondary local government services, in which it is represented by a delegate or delegates chosen by its own general meeting.

Like the kibbutz, the moshav is both a cooperative society with shared economic functions and a municipal unit with its own general meeting and local committee. Moshavim are also members of the regional councils along with the kibbutzim.

Because of the particular character of rural settlement in Israel whereby even family farms are concentrated in villages with their own local institutions, the 728 rural settlements with their own local governmental autonomy have an average population of under 800. Rather than being limited-purpose local governments, as in the urban sector, the kibbutzim and the moshavim provide comprehensive economic and social services as well as traditional municipal functions. In a self-selected population (which is what these settlements represent), it is possible for these small communities to provide a very high level of services. Even so, it has apparently been increasingly necessary to increase the scale through which certain services are provided -- hence, the growing power of the regional councils. All but the smallest settlements, for example, choose to maintain their own elementary schools, but the provision of an adequate high school requires a somewhat larger population base. Hence the provision of high schools is increasingly entrusted to regional councils. At the same time, it should be noted that the regional councils themselves are relatively small, ranging in population from 678 to 20,378, with only four over 10,000.

Because these rural settlements can bring to bear a full range of options -- political, economic, social and commercial -- to confront any problem, they are the most autonomous local governments in the country and also the ones with the most effective cooperative arrangements with one another and with the state authorities. The greater internal diversity of the cities and their more limited corporate purposes prevents them from functioning nearly as well. Moreover, since cities are considered to be mere by-products of the Zionist movement, which, as a back-to-the-land movement, was in many respects anti-urban (Cohen, 1970), they do not have the same claim on the resources or respect of the state that the rural settlements do.

The cities are open to greater permeation by the external society -- including the institutions of the state and the cooperative sector -- in every respect. While the kibbutzim and moshavim are actually part of the cooperative sector, as the elite elements of that sector they can manage their relationships with it. Cities, on the other hand, are often dependent upon decisions taken by the cooperative sector at the higher echelons of its bureaucracy, over which they have minimal influence.


There are today a total of 1409 local authorities functioning in Israel, or approximately one local government per 2823 inhabitants.

Table 1 summarizes the kinds of local authorities functioning in Israel and the number of each. By any standard, this is a high figure. It is particularly high given the strong formal commitment in Israel to centralized government, within terms of state-local relations and within localities.



Type Number
Cities 37
Local Councils 125
Regional Councils 54
Local Committees 825
Federations of Cities 32
Religious Councils 204
Agricultural Committees 26
Planning Committees 84
Drainage Authorities 22
    Total 1409

Most local authorities serve relatively small populations. Tel-Aviv, once the largest city in the country and still the central metropolis, has a population of approximately 329,500 and is already on the decline, having peaked at approximately 385,000 a decade ago. It is now undergoing the process of dedensification which has become common in central cities over much of the Western world, as the movement to better housing in newer parts of the metropolitan area plus urban renewal with the construction of new housing at lower densities has had its impact. Jerusalem now has approximately 415,000 people and Haifa approximately 227,400. There is a second cluster of five cities with populations between 100,000 and 140,000. The other 141 cities range in size from 80,000 to 200. The average city size is under 18,000. Table 2 classifies Israel's cities by size category. Nearly half the population lives in villages or small cities of under 40,000 population while approximately 25 percent live in cities of over 200,000.



Population Size Number of Cities
200,000+ 3
80,000 - 149,000 5
40,000 - 79,000 8
20,000 - 39,000 12
8,000 - 19,000 33
4,000 - 7,900 32
2,000 - 3,900 29
Under 2,000 22

Moreover, neighborhoods have real meaning in most cities. In part, this is associated with the very formation of the cities themselves, whose modern founding was the result not only of associations of pioneers established by compact for that specific purpose, but also of a compounding of different neighborhoods, each created independently by a pioneer association and then linked through a second set of compacts to form the present city. Both large and small cities have clearly identified neighborhoods. In fact, it is fair to say that such can be found in any city with a population of over 10,000 and in some that are even smaller because of the history of city-building in Israel.

Haifa, where formal neighborhood institutions are strongest and most widespread, reflects this process to the fullest. As each neighborhood merged with the growing city, it preserved a neighborhood committee with specific if limited responsibilities for the provision of services and for participation in the development of common city-wide services insofar as they affected it. Finally, taking advantage of a provision in the law, the residents of Kiryat Haim, one of the city's neighborhoods, voted to establish an elected neighborhood council and to assume the powers to which it was entitled.

Jerusalem was unified by external decision of the ruling power, but, because most of the older neighborhoods represented clearly distinct socio-religious communities, the city has consistently refrained from imposing itself upon them in those fields of particular concern to each. Today it, too, is trying to extend more formal devices for neighborhood participation to newer neighborhoods where other forms of distinction remain important. At this writing, experiments in formally instituted self-government are under way in six neighborhoods, both old and new.

In Tel-Aviv the merger of neighborhoods was more thorough, and little, if anything, remains of the earlier framework other than names and recollections. In the past four years, however, the city has made some effort to revive consultative bodies in at least those neighborhoods which have preserved the most distinctive personalities.

Project Renewal has enhanced the already-strong neighborhood orientation of Israel's cities. This massive program of urban redevelopment undertaken by the Government of Israel and Diaspora Jewry, is based on targeting aid to specific neighborhoods and through neighborhood steering committees which bear major responsibility for determining what should be done to improve their neighborhoods. These steering committees determine projects, set priorities, and negotiate with state and diaspora counterparts.

In Israel, as in other parts of the world, there has been occasional pressure to consolidate small local units. Despite the fact that the Minister of the Interior has full authority to abolish any local unit or consolidate two or more units, this authority has rarely been used and then only when such a move has sufficient political backing from local elites. In the early days of the state when political elites did not include representatives of the localities in question, more consolidations were effected. In the last two decades, however, even the weakest local governments have acquired political bases of their own, and any moves to consolidate would be strongly resisted. As a result, consolidation efforts have essentially ground to a halt to be replaced by efforts to create federations of cities to undertake those functions which the individual communities cannot undertake by themselves.

The State Commission on Local Government (Sanbar Commission), which completed its work in 1980, rejected the notion of consolidation as a basic tool of local government reform, recommending that it be considered in one or two cases only. After extensive fieldwork, the Commission concluded that the civic virtues of the smaller local authorities compensated for most of the disadvantages of their small size and that, through interlocal arrangements based on federative principles, those disadvantages could be overcome.

To date, the federation of cities device has been generally used to undertake functions of metropolitan concern and has been little used in the more rural parts of the country. This is partly because the federation of cities idea was developed to serve cities that adjoin one another, that is to say, those in metropolitan regions. The device has not been extended to free-standing cities within a region which may be separated by no more than a few miles but which see themselves, and are treated as, totally separate entities. Thus, a certain amount of very real intergovernmental collaboration in planning and service delivery has been developed in the Dan region, which consists of some 20 cities whose boundaries are contiguous with one another. Yet in the Galilee, a region of several hundred thousand people with no single city of 30,000 residents but with six cities of over 10,000 all within an area of less than 1,000 square miles, there are relatively few intermunicipal arrangements and little local concern with moving in that direction. This is true even though the region as a whole shares common state facilities (e.g., a large hospital in Safed, university extension courses in that city and near Kiryat Shmona, district offices in Nazareth, rudimentary sewage treatment facilities near Tiberias) and has the potential of becoming a kind of multinodal metropolitan region of the kind that has developed elsewhere in the world.

Factors Affecting the Shape of Local Relations


Three major factors influence the shape of state-local relations. The first of these is the effort at cooperative activity which has characterized Israeli society from the first. It reached its most intense form in the kibbutzim, whose experience seems to indicate that a shared response to the fundamental life questions of religion and politics is utterly necessary in cooperative communities of this character, or the community will be faced with intolerable factionalism. In the early 1950s many kibbutzim actually split over questions of political ideology having to do with the extent of their socialist beliefs. These divisions led to secessionist movements and the literal division of certain kibbutzim into two independent cooperative societies with their own municipal institutions.

Cooperative ties in the cities are far less intense. At their best, the cities become civil communities (communities organized for more limited civil or political purposes) and not comprehensive ones. The few exceptions are small cities whose populations have a distinctive religious or ideological bent and, of course, the old established Arab municipalities, which are really traditional villages which have not acquired municipal status.

At the same time, even the cities can be understood as networks of cooperatives in at least one sense. Most people in Israel live in cooperative houses. The cooperative house represents an interesting merger of the exigencies of urban living with the cooperative orientation of Israeli society. Today some 70 per cent of Israelis own their own homes, the overwhelming majority in cooperative houses. Thus every family has its own apartment and an undivided share in the commons of the building, and neighbors must cooperate with neighbors in the maintenance of those common areas and in the provision of common services. Where the building is legally a cooperative house, this is required by law, but even where it is not, it is required by necessity. Thus, for the overwhelming majority of Israelis, the simple act of living requires cooperative links to control externalities. In the case of small buildings (up to eight families) it is likely that building governance will be in the hands of a committee of all resident adults, with one or more persons taking on specific responsibilities on a rotating basis, usually for one-year terms. In larger buldings, a committee is elected at an annual meeting of all tenants, whose responsibility then is to handle all but exceptional problems during its tenure, which is also usually a year. This arrangement follows the pattern of self-governing institutions in Israel and, indeed, is in the Jewish political tradition -- that of the general meeting and the operating committee.

Government-Permeated Society

The fact that Israel is a government-permeated society strongly affects state-local relations. One of the major consequences of this is that local government officials must spend as much time working with outside authorities to either provide services or fund services as they do in directing their own affairs. Another is that local governments have been quite restricted in their ability to finance municipal activities. Relatively few tax resources are at their disposal, and the local share of total governmental expenditures in Israel has been on the decline for nearly twenty years.

By and large, Israeli local governments manage to maintain their freedom of movement by managing deficits rather than through grantsmanship, with the former having become for them the functional equivalent of the latter. There are great restrictions on local government's taxing powers, but there are almost no restrictions on its borrowing powers, providing that any particular local authority can pay the high interest involved. Thus, local authorities borrow heavily from the banks in order to provide services and then turn to the state government to obtain the funds to cover the loans. As long as the services they wish to provide are in line with state policies (and there is almost universal consensus with regard to those services, so that this is not generally an issue) and there is some degree of unanimity within the local ruling coalition with regard to what is being done, the state will provide the requested funds. Nevertheless, this does mean that the local authorities must spend a very large share of their time in negotiations with their state counterparts.

Local leaders are also able to turn, in some matters, to the Jewish Agency and through it (or even directly, in some cases) to foreign donors to gain additional resources, mostly for capital investment -- e.g., the construction of a new high school, a community center, or a child-care center. Where services are provided directly by the state, local authorities will use their influence to try to negotiate more and better services or to influence those responsible for delivering those services locally, but in this they are notably less successful than they are in mobilizing funds for their own programs, partly because the Israeli political cutlure encourages every officeholder to act as independently as possible.

Some Specific Examples


The police force in Israel is an instrumentality of the state directly controlled by the Ministry of Police. All policemen are part of the central government police force, although every community of significant size has tis own police station attached to it and in the course of time relations develop between the police officers stationed locally (most of whom are likely to live in the locality) and the local authorities. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that except in unusual circumstances the local authorities do not have any significant influence over the work of the police. The citizenry has even less, particularly since, while Israel generally has a tradition of maintaining the civil rights of individuals, there are few channels of citizen resource for dealing with specific police violations of those rights. The greatest force enabling citizens to influence the police is a political culture which makes it possible for citizens to attempt to convince a police officer to change his or her line of action on grounds of justice or mercy, simply on the basis of bargaining and persuasion. This method tends to be most effective when "mercy" is involved, whether the matter involves a traffic ticket or the arrest of someone involved in a near-violent argument. The general tendency toward mercifulness in the local culture tends to emerge at such times and it is possible to play upon a police officer's sympathies.

On the other hand, because the police are under state control, local authorities have difficulty getting them to enforce local ordinances. Since there is no parallel local police, those ordinances often are minimally enforced. The Sanbar Commission has recommended that steps be taken to develop an appropriate local law enforcement mechanism to enable the local authorities to maintain the law in matters under their jurisdiction.


Elementary and secondary education is provided by a partnership between state and local authorities in Israel. The Ministry of Education funds all the operating costs of the regular elementary education program, the middle schools, and a few of the high schools. Teachers are certified and employed by the Ministry of Education. City councils handle whatever tasks are devolved upon them in school matters, generally through a vice-mayor for education and an education committee of the council.

Despite this apparently highly centralized structure, education in Israel in fact is rather decentralized. The local authorities are responsible for providing and maintaining school buildings and equipment (including texts, based upon ministry lists), managing the schools, and registering and enrolling the students and for virtually all ancillary and enrichment programs beginning with prekindergarten education. They select school principals from an approved list prepared by the Ministry.

Thus, kindergartens, prekindergarten education, and high schools are the direct responsibility of the local authorities, albeit with financial and technical assistance from the Ministry of Education. On the high school level, the major unifying force is the system of matriculation examinations required by the Ministry of Education and prepared, administered, and graded by Ministry of Education personnel on a uniform basis throughout the country. Thus, the local departments of education are in a position to direct local educational affairs, and, since the ancillary and enrichment services are becoming an ever larger part of every school's program, their influence is expanding.

Matters are complicated by other factors. The first is the division of public schools into separate state and state-religious schools, each with its own departments within the Ministry of Education and within each local office of education. Schools in the rural sector, while nominally linked to one of the two state systems, represent another subsystem because of the particular orientation of the respective movements. In addition, the state provides support (almost equal to that given state schools) for the independent school system. Finally, the state maintains a network of Arabic schools for the Arab-speaking minority.

Each of these subsystems has its own set of educational goals, which reflect strong religious, ideological, or cultural predispositions and which make them somewhat less than amenable to outside interference. In a political system in which pluralism has become consociational in character, their claims to autonomy are widely recognized. Furthermore, every school principal is virtually sovereign when it comes to matters within his sphere of competence. An empirical confirmation of the principal's powers can also be found in the fact that when new schools are opened they are rarely opened as independent schools, but rather as branches of an existing school until they pass through a "colonial" period of development and are deemed by the local department of education to be entitled to autonomy.

The school system, like the rest of the state, was built from the bottom up, with parents and local branches of movements coming together to found individual schools before there was a central educational authority. The significance of this is compounded by the fact that every educational institution was designed to foster the values of the new society among the new generation, including whatever specific version of those values a particular school represented. As a result, virtually every school became a bastion of ideological as well as social and intellectual development, a key element in the creation of the new Jewish society. Principals and teachers were powerful figures -- leaders in the struggle for national survival. Given the Jewish cultural predisposition toward treating learning and teaching with the utmost seriousness, this condition was even further intensified.

Once the state was established, it became inevitable that the schools would be welded together into a system, although the precise character of this system emerged only after a considerable political controversy in the early 1950s. While the schools formally had no choice in the matter, when they were compounded together to create the present system and subsystems, the principals and teachers were able to preserve many of their erstwhile prerogatives, formally, or informally.

Today the law provides that every principal has a right to change up to 25 percent of the curriculum established by the Ministry of Education for his school system. Given the extent to which certain subjects are commonly accepted as necessary, that percentage encompasses as much maneuverability as would be available even under an optimally flexible situation. In recent years a few experimental schools have been established on the basis of that flexibility. By law, parents also have the right to alter up to 25 percent of the curriculum of their school in consultation with the principal. Here, too, the same reality has prevailed as in the case of the principal's powers in this regard.


Welfare is formally a cooperative state-local service in which the localities operate welfare programs funded in whole or in part by the Ministry of Welfare. The operation of welfare programs is similar to that of grant-in-aid programs in other countries. The localities have responsibility for determining who is eligible nder criteria promulgated by the Ministry of Welfare. They create the packages of welfare benefits to be given to any individual or family on the basis of the various programs provided by law, and they furnish the social services needed to assist the family in rehabilitation or adjustment to its condition.

As in other countries, the effectiveness, efficiency, and responsiveness of welfare programs are regularly attacked, both in the press and in studies. While Israel does not suffer from the masses of permanent welfare cases that have come to exist in the United States, nevertheless, as the population in Israel sorts out, the lowest stratum is moving in that direction, and there are already cases on record of several generations of welfare clients from the same family. Israeli practice, on the other hand, has been to prevent the use of welfare to sustain the lower levels of the population, preferring instead to provide "make-work" or other forms of subsidization for the people of marginal employment ability so that they can retain their self-respect and remain off the welfare rolls. This is coupled with a wide variety of social benefits provided directly to families through the Institution for Social Insurance.

Local Functions

There are a number of functions that are purely local, among them garbage collection, libraries, and parks. With the exception of the first, which tends to be provided at a generally high level by localities around the country, these vary from locality to locality, depending upon the degree of interest on the part of the governing officials and relevant pressure groups in securing proper facilities. Israel's local park systems are relatively underdeveloped, partly because this kind of amenity requires a sophisticated population for its support. Much the same is true for libraries. In both cases, capital expenditures and operating funds are mobilized largely from outside the community, the former from overseas contributors and the latter from the state government via the Ministry of Education.

Local Government and Political Integration

Whatever be the advantages for political and social integration gained through local government responsibility for the delivery of services or local government assistance in the perpetuation of legitimate diversity, the role of local government in enlarging the arena of political recruitment and fostering channels of political communication is having an even greater impact toward bridging the cleavages within Israeli society. The former is the key to the latter. It has been noted that the central organs of the Israeli state are dominated by pre-state immigrants or native Israelis, overwhelmingly of Ashkenazi stock. Indeed, that is one of the factors pointed to by criticis of Israeli society as reflecting discrimination against Sephardic Jews.

The situation of local government is quite the reverse where the Sephardic and Oriental groups are represented by local office-holders to a degree that is roughly proportionate to their share of the total population. Between 1955 and 1985, the percentage of Sephardim and Orientals holding local elective or appointive office rose from 23 per cent to 43 per cent, while these groups grew to comprise 47 per cent of the total population. It is now estimated that the former figure has risen to 47 per cent and the latter to over 50 per cent. Moreover, in the development towns where they are the dominant elements in the population, they are overwhelmingly in control of the elective and administrative offices of local government. Otherwise, they are unevenly distributed, with only 20 per cent of the members of local councils in the large and medium-size cities (the older settlements) drawn from among Sephardim and Orientals despite the fact that they comprise 60 per cent of the population in that group.

The existence of opportunity on the local plane has certainly functioned to encourage those with native talent among the Sephardim to pursue satisfying political careers within the system, rather than agitate against it, even though the outside observer may well note that they receive proportionately less for their efforts than those of Ashkenazi background. As anticipated, what happened on the local plane in the last generation, is now happening on the state plane as well, as political socialization, general acculturation and expectation levels rise and new opportunities for advancement open up.

The parties' efforts to bind the new immigrants to themselves have led to an enhancement of the opportunities for political communication between the governors and the governed. Given the East European background of so much of Israeli politics, such political communication was not a dominant feature of the political system in its original form. Indeed, most communication between governors and governed takes place outside the political arena in essentially or ostensibly non-political categories. The country survives as a democracy because it is small and Jewish and such communication can take place easily without formal political channels being perfected.

At the same time, the need to satisfy the new immigrants sufficiently so that they would be bound to the party system made the party professionals far more open to the transmission of communications in both directions than they might otherwise have been. Here, too, the existence of local government has made a big difference. Since the first line of political communication was invariably within the locality, communications with political influentials outside of the locality were enhanced by the existence of local officials who could serve as communicators by virtue of their formal positions on the one hand and their reference group ties on the other.

In sum, by fostering a certain amount of protective localism, local government in Israel has done much to foster a sense among the new immigrants that they have a stake in society on the one hand, and, on the other, a sense among the oldtimers or their children that they can survive in a society that is changing in ways that are not always pleasing to them. While these may be contradictory in one sense, they are typical of so many political contradictions in that they seem to work until a confrontation occurs. To date that confrontation has not occurred. Indeed, it has been prevented precisely because local governments create political distance between groups where physical distance is lacking. Local government plays its role not in isolation but because it is so intimately connected with the state and the party system, but it is not isolation that is necessary here but the ability to capitalize on the forces of integration by adapting them to local situations and needs.

Israel has an emergent political culture that contains a number of conflicting elements yet to be sorted out and integrated. Principal among these are (1) a statist-bureaucratic political culture which implicitly accepts the concept of a reified state existing independently on its citizens and which views political organization as essentially centralized, hierarchical, and bureaucratic in character (a view shared by the vast majority of those Israelis coming from continental Europe), (2) a subject political culture, which views government as the private preserve of an elite, functioning to serve the interests of that elite and hence a potentially malevolent force in the lives of ordinary people (a view shared by the great majority of the Israeli population coming from the subject cultures of Eastern Europe and the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa), and (3) a Jewish political culture, which is civic and republican in its orientation, viewing the polity as a partnership of its members who are fundamentally equal as citizens and who are entitled to an equal share of the benefits resulting from the pooling of common resources. This culture combines a high level of citizen participation with a clear responsibility on the part of governing authorities to set the polity's overall direction and is shared to a greater or lesser degree by the 85 per cent of the population that is Jewish.

These three political cultures exist in somewhat uneasy tension with one another. This tension is evident in a great gap between the formal institutional structure of the polity (which is an expression of European statism) and the actual political behavior and informal institutional arrangements which make it work. Formally, Israel is a highly centralized, hierarchically structured bureaucratic state on the model of France. In fact, the state and its institutions function on the basis of myriad contractual agreements which assume widespread power sharing on a noncentralized basis. These are enforced through a process of mutual consultation and negotiation in which every individual party to an agreement must be conciliated before action is taken.

Because Israel is still an emergent society, the precise political-cultural synthesis cannot yet be forecast. So, for example, in 1975 the proportional representation, party-list electoral system, which has been a feature of modern Israel since the beginning of the Zionist effort, was modified to provide for the direct election of mayors independently of their city councils and to endow them with a modest veto power over council actions. This radical departure represents a step away from continental European parliamentarianism toward a separation of powers model which is more consonant with Jewish political culture. In 1978, the Knesset, following the recommendations of the Sanbar Commission, enacted legislation to implement the 1975 act which in concrete ways established the separtion of powers as the basis for local governance.

Finally, Israel is an exceptional phenomenon in the world of modern territorial states in that it is intimately linked to the Jewish people, an entity with political characteristics not confined to a particular territory. Israel itself has indeterminate boundaries, a condition which is presented to the world as a product of momentary circumstances which has been characteristic of the Middle East since the dawn of recorded history. Moreover, a great part of its political life is not territorially based but is rooted in confessional, consociational, and ideological divisions at least as permanent. It is not that Israel is aterritorial, but territory is only one of the dimensions which its people and institutions use in organizing space and time for political purposes. All of these elements influence the shape of state-local relations.

Ignazio Silone in his excellent 1938 work, School for Dictators, provided a lasting rationale for the strengthening of local government in democracies:

The school of democracy is in local self-government. For a worker to take a serious part in the life of his trade union, or for a peasant to take part in the life of his village, there is no need for higher education. The first test to be applied in judging an alleged democracy is the degree of self-governing attained by its local institutions...Only local government can accustom men to responsibility and independence, and enable them to take part in the wider life of the state.

In respect to Silone's standards, Israel has a long way to go but it may well be moving along the right path.

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