Alan Flashman
Alan Flashman

The Children of Israel 11: The Faces of Childism in Israel: Pause to Reflect



  1. Children are different from adults. They are dependent on adults for physical and emotional support and protection. They think differently about life, death, loss and meaning. They live according to developmental time which is different from adult time.
  2. Children have the rights of protection, provision and participation in relation to the decisions that adults make about them. Respecting the rights of children entails understanding and respecting the ways in which children are different from adults.
  3. “Childism” can be defined as a disposition to fail to respect these three aspects of children’s rights, especially those of provision and participation.
  4. The “pastoral” dispotif would be consistent with all of these rights. However, the “governmental” dispotif may be by definition difficult to align with these rights
  5. The State of Israel’s political nature is “governmental,” perhaps to an extreme.
  6. It is worthy of inquiry whether “childism” could be conceived as an integral part of extreme governmentalism in Israel.
  7. This issue impacts upon the way in which childism can be identified and redressed in Israel. Can childism be corrected without a major change in governmentalism?

Here I wish to reflect upon the “archive” I have been creating with the information I have been providing in previous blogs and to examine each of the above propositions according to this archival information.

This was one heavy start, huh? Let me unpack each of the terms. (Readers of the previous blogs or of Losing It may skip this section.)


It was the original and provocative social critic Michel Foucault who pointed out that the Judaeo-Christian model of rule in the ancient West differed substantially from the Greek model. The pre-polis Greeks simply saw power as a form of virtue and forcing one’s will as a legitimate form of government. The Jewish view was quite different, seeing the ruler as a shepherd responsible for the spiritual salvation of each of his people. Foucault even quoted a Midrash in which Moses appears as a proper ruler after he follows on lost sheep of his herd, finds him drinking, says, “If I had known you were thirsty I would have brought you here,” and carries him back to the flock on his shoulders. Foucault calls this the “pastoral” dispotif. The latter term refers not to a theory but to the manner in which things are managed in practice. Since Constantine, Roman Emperors and their would-be inheritors adopted such a pastoral dispotif and the head of state was seen as the shepherd of his (Christian) people. Naturally, some Emperors were better at this than others. The battles fought in Europe did not object to the dispotif, they merely tried to determine who got to be Emperor.

All this changed in 1648. Tired of centuries of bloody wars, the European states signed the Treaty of Wetsphalia in which the role of Emperor was relinquished. Rather, the states agreed to live in peace, each state within its own boundaries. These new “Westphalian” states now needed to create economic and military balance so that they would not attack each other. A new dispotif called “governmentality” came about with new terms to express it. The state no longer paid attention to the spiritual salvation of each citizen. Rather, the “population” was regarded as owing the state economic and military productivity to balance the populations of neighboring states. Citizens became statistics, and indeed the dispotif talked in these new terms, “the population” and the numbers the new state needed, “statistics,” to calculate economic and military balance.

The “Westphalian“states were not self-conscious of this change and continued to speak pastoral rhetoric while they operated on a governmental way of going about things. Foucault was able to articulate the change by meticulous study of “archives,” those written documents and other material traces that testify to how things actually proceeded, included the birth of new terminology.

Moving on:

In this blog I have been describing how things actually proceed in the treatment of children in the State of Israel. I have been suggesting that while the state speaks in pastoral terms about its children, it actually treats them according to governmental management. I have been trying to link this contradiction with Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s last work, Childism. What I have been building is a case of structural Childism as part of the governmental dispotif. The child qua child has no representation in this dispotif. The child does not participate in the creation of military or economic goods.

Time must be reckoned here, as of course the child is the future of the governmental state. Here I think the economic way of thinking makes thinking about the future impossible. Economic balance between states at this juncture (post-monopoly international capitalism) can change almost instantaneously. A balance responds to global situations and is highly unstable. As a result, the more remote the pay-off of an investment from a quarter or perhaps two, the more difficult it is to maintain consistent investment capital. Children are by their very nature a long-term investment. Today’s state will have great difficulty in maintaining a high budgetary allotment for children as opposed to competing outlays that show a dividend in the short run.

This contradiction in Israel, at least, is mainly covert and probably unconscious because the “pastoral” rhetoric has nearly universal agreement. The state cannot justify discriminating against its children overtly. Citizens actually believe the pastoral rhetoric particularly as applied to children, because neglecting children is “unthinkable,” perhaps even to the politicians responsible for the measures that neglect children. There cannot be and there will never be an overt “program” to neglect children.

Child development involves the world accommodating itself to the child. When the child finds this accommodation adequate, she learns gradually the pleasure in accommodating-back, in mutual accommodation. The willingness of a child to accommodate to what parents and then teachers expect of them depends on a basic experience that this adult world has shown them in accommodating to the child. The adult world accommodates to the child by protecting the child in the way that helps the child grow, by providing the tools that the child needs to grow and develop, including significant relationships with adults and peers, and finally by creating a matrix for mutual accommodation, giving the child increasing participation in how protection and provision are carried out. This is the developmental basis for the “rights” of the child. Recognizing and implementing these “rights” involves a basic commitment to allocate funds for programs consistent with these rights.

We have been seeing in this blog archival evidence that the governmental dispotif in Israel is doing an increasingly poor job at honoring these rights. We have seen that “protection” too often interrupts natural family bonds which the child needs. Real “protection” against continuing security threat is woefully ineffective. We have seen that “provision” often falls short of the children’s needs, especially in neglectful funding of public education and developmental services. We have seen that “participation” of the child in how his life is managed is almost absent. The first form of Childism is Israel is the expectation that children will flourish no matter what form of protection, provision and participation are present.

Children however do poorly when they are neglected. They falter in academic achievement, they do not find it easy to be submissive to “authority,” they do not easily accommodate themselves to what schools or parents expect of them, they become anxious and depressed, they break rules, they  drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and grass, and participate in Heaven knows what sexual exploits. And, of course, they are “addicted” to every new technological toy.

The second form of Childism in Israel is a failure to look at the sources of the distress of children (developmental neglect) and to correct these sources. Rather, children are increasingly medicalized, in other words seen as the source of their own distress. This form of Childism claims that the adult world as expressed in the state is infallible; whatever it provides for children is just fine for a “normal” child, so anyone having distress must be diagnosed. However, even the diagnosis does not provide redress let alone rethinking, because the”treatment” is focused entirely on a presumed “biochemical” imbalance in the child to be corrected by medication. For the largest groups of children there is flimsy scientific evidence to back the claims of the diagnosis let alone the treatment, but the state treats this fact as irrelevant, because the fault must be found in the child. In addition, the medical treatments and the social treatments in privatized centers produce economic goods out of the child population quarter by quarter.

Pushing On

We now come to the crunch. Governmentalism tends to create covert Childism in practice while citizens and even politicians remain convinced that our state must be pastoral, just because it claims to be so. Short of some revolution that replaces the governmental state with some yet to be described form, how can Childism be redressed within the governmental dispotif? “What is to be done?”

The first thing I have learned through many years of frustration, as I described in Losing It, is what not to do.  That is, not to make righteous pastoral speeches to governmental functionaries. Making the covert Childism overt too early usually does more harm than good. The more correct, accurate, precise the critique, the less impact it has. Functionaries working in the governmental dispotif cannot bear to see how far their function deviates from a well-meaning pastorality that they believe they are serving. Their response is to erase the critique and marginalize the critic.

A productive approach must be within the terms of what is really valued in practice in governmentality, the production of economic and security goods. Let us look at the neglect of children’s experiences with continuing terror. What is of value in practical governmentality? Successful students and draftees. I now think that the treatment of the children of, say, Sderot, or Ashkelon has to first be phrased in these terms. “Children pounded with missiles for decades may fail in school and have trouble being drafted.” Here we face the conundrum of time – “When, this quarter?” No, in ten years.” “Go away, come back then and we’ll talk.”

At this junction I think stories must be told. The invisible children of Israel have to be given back their voice. This involves talking with them and making their voice heard. This strategy is similar to Foucault’s chosen political activism of speaking with prisoners and giving voice to their experiences in prison, which I outlined in Losing It. In some ways this BLOG has that intention. What form it may take, in what language, is still a work in progress. As I write this, the thought occurs to me that a Hebrew website (with proper funding with immediate translation into English) could collect stories told by children and present them to Israeli adults.

I would hope that the stories would awaken the pastoral concern that lives in the hearts of most Israeli adults. Once adults regain access to their ability to pay attention to the voice and stories of individual children, they can then come to question themselves the current Israeli practices with children. They can enter into the gap, the tension between what a story mandates and how it is so easily ignored.

It is at that point that I have found Foucault crucially important in continuing the dialogue. Some sense, a non-condemnatory and understandable meaning, has to be attributed to the “other” side, since the newly awakened Israeli was right over there just one moment ago. Let me take as an example a group of senior guidance counselors I was teaching several years back. They heard some stories, say of loss (Blog 10), their hearts were opened to the stories and to the needs of the kids and the ramifications of seeing these needs on a practice. The group ran a danger of being split between justifying the practice of ignoring children’s losses or just being enraged at it. Here I introduced Foucault, and it is really not as hard as it might seem, when people are ready and in need of his theory. The group was able to see the “governmentality” as part of a global dispotif which they had naturally taken part in. Then they were able to see many of their conflicts with principals or with the “system” as manifestations of the tension between the two dispotifs. This allowed them to understand the view of the principal and engage the principal is dialogue, much like the dialogue they had just experienced with me. I could then hope that they could become agents for change in their continuing work.

Surely, this is no global strategy. I admit I do not have one. However, it is my (not evidence based) conviction that changes are prepared by small dialogues where a change of climate is created. In the further blogs of this series I hope to present another dozen or so issues, explore the gaps in the dispotifs as I have so far and in addition and search for workable strategies to return real personal developmental childhood to the children of Israel.

And I invite you, the reader, to think with me about strategies to overcome Childism in Israel with comments on this blog or at

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover.