The Israeli economy is composed of several sectors that include industries such as hi-tech, biotech, agriculture, communications and tourism, among others. It is a relatively young, diversified and growing neoliberal economy that has managed to stay afloat while many have shrunk, barely survived or collapsed entirely due to debt, market fluctuations and crashes.
As a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Israel is highly ranked for health care and life-satisfaction but is plagued by poverty, housing crises and stark inequality.
Yet it is in the war, security and incarceration industries that Israel truly excels.
Israel is one of the world’s main arms dealers. It has a shady history of selling weapons to some of the most brutal regimes and militias. For decades, Israel’s arms industry has fueled wars and crises throughout the globe, which has resulted in thousands of victims. Only recently, Israeli weapons sales to Myanmar were the subject of intense debate and condemnation due to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people carried out by the Burmese regime.
Israel is also a leader in security services. American police and other security forces regularly receive training in Israel, despite, or likely because, of its long history of occupation, repressive practices and human rights abuses.
Israel has served as an inspiration for the most regressive, xenophobic and oppressive policies and ideologies. In fact, American President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have very similar visions for a future dominated by ethnocentric, hyper-militarized, privatized and corporate-controlled economies that benefit their rich friends at the expense of the commons, with an emphasis on a continued impoverishment of the global south and disenfranchisement of black, brown, indigenous and immigrant communities.
Recently, the Israeli government announced a dystopic initiative. According to Walla News, Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan and the President of Bar-Ilan University Arie Zaban are collaborating on a “university teaching prison”, in the same format as university teaching hospitals.
Bar-Ilan University and the Public Security Ministry signed an agreement to increase the university’s use of Rimonim Prison, in Hasharon Tel Mond, northeast of Tel Aviv, as the subject of academic research. The prison’s unit for sex offenders will be the first to join the program. “The twist is the establishment of a partnership with the prison administration, so that the prison guards themselves will gather and study data, and the warden will publish articles together with university professors,” said Prof. Natti Ronel of Bar-Ilan’s criminology department.
The prison will be managed by the Israeli Prison Service and academics from Bar Ilan University will have free reign to conduct “experiments” and other ventures (unspecified). Erdan added that he believes the new university prison will “inspire other countries”.
This new venture is in line with Israel’s continued economic interest in imprisonment and wall-building. After all, it has decades of experience with the mass incarceration of Palestinians, has built a 422 mile-long annexation wall that cuts off and impoverishes the Palestinian population of the West Bank while stealing many of its vital resources, and is actively maintaining the largest modern open air prison – Gaza.
Erdan’s and Zaban’s initiative is cynical and dystopic on multiple levels. First, it appears that its goals are primarily economic, not humanitarian. This means that profit will be placed before people, i.e. human rights. The notion of turning an entire subclass of society, the incarcerated, into an “industry” that should be studied and experimented on in an academic setting is, in fact, the normalization and even glorification of modern-day slavery, and ultimately caters to the private prison industry.
Second, “experiments” conducted in a prison setting have a very dark history, including the infamous case of Jewish prisoners in German camps during World War 2, e.g. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz. A recent case that involved a collaboration between an academic association (the American Psychological Association), the US Department of Defense and the CIA clearly demonstrated the dangers of such ventures.
Finally, the academicization of imprisonment focuses on- and promotes resolving the symptoms of a diseased society, instead of working on healing its pathology. In contrast to the provably effective approaches of prevention, decriminalization, humane rehabilitation and mental healthcare, Israel’s new and inherently immoral venture seeks to perfect and model the profit-making industry of mass incarceration and maximize the exploitation of imprisoned populations, at the expense of their human rights.