THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Tata Institute of Volume 76,...
Tata Institute
Volume 76, Issue 1
Social Sciences
January, 2015
Social Work Education in Israel
Faisal azaiza, Michal soFFer and danielle TaubMan
The article starts with a brief description of the evolution of the social work profession
in Israel. Israel’s cultural diversity, its unique composition and history, and the endur-
ing hostilities between Israel and its neighbours have, and still are, influencing social
work practice in the nation and differentiate it from other Western countries. While the
pedagogical framework of instruction is derived from the American literature, Israel is
increasingly developing courses that are unique to the region. Though a multicultural
approach to instruction is stressed upon, studies indicate that social work students
need special training on culturally sensitive social work to address issues of racism,
multiculturalism and psychosocial intervention in conflict-ridden zones when working
with clients from different upbringings both in clinical and non-clinical settings.
Faisal Azaiza is Professor and Michal Soffer is Senior Lecturer, School of Social Work,
University of Haifa. Danielle Taubman is with the School of Public Health, University of
Israel is a small country in the Middle East that was established as a
democratic homeland for the Jewish people in 1948 (Weiss and Gal, 2003).
Today, Israel has a growing population of just over eight million people,
and Israeli society is composed of a wide range of cultural and religious
backgrounds (Weiss and Gal, 2003). Israel is the world’s only Jewish-
majority nation. Over 75 percent of the current population comprises
Jews, including the Ashkenazi Jews (who originate from Europe and
the Americas) and Sephardic Jews (who originate from Spain, Portugal,
North Africa and the Middle East) (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics,
2013). As a result of Israel’s Law of Return, which allows every Jew to
immigrate and become a citizen, the country has become a land of Jewish
immigrants (Tsuda, 2010). Approximately a fourth (27 percent) of Israeli
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76 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
Jews are Israeli-born, while the others are immigrants from Europe and
the Americas (18.4 percent) and from Asia and Africa (8.6 percent) (Israel
Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010).
Within the population that defines themselves as Jews, some consider
themselves to be traditional, some secular, some religious Zionists, and
some ultra-Orthodox or Haredim (Elazar, 1996). The ultra-Orthodox Jewish
population is rather small at present, representing just around 10–15 percent
of Israel’s population (Dehan, 2013). Furthermore, roughly 20 percent of
the country’s total population is comprised of Arab citizens of Israel (Baum,
2010; Zeira and Auslander, 2010). Arab Muslims currently make up about
16 percent of the population and are considered Israel’s largest religious
minority (Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010). Finally, about 2 percent
of the population is Arab Christian and about 1.5 percent is Druze (Israel
Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010). However, due to the high fertility rates
of both the ultra-Orthodox and the Arab population, the proportion of these
groups combined have been projected to reach about 40 percent of the total
population by 2028 (Hurvitz and Brodet, 2008).
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has been involved in seven wars,
two Palestinian uprisings (intifada), and numerous military conflicts,
which are a part and parcel of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict (Ramon,
Campbell, Lindsay, McCrystal, and Baidoun, 2006). Israel’s cultural
diversity, its unique composition and history, and the enduring hostilities
between Israel and its neighbours have, and still are, influencing social
work practice in the nation and differentiating it from other Western
In this article we review and describe social work in Israel. We begin by
addressing the origins of social work education in Israel, notable events
in the history of social work education, and the social work curriculum
offered at various levels of training. We then briefly describe social
services in Israel, where many Israeli social workers are employed. In the
remaining parts of the paper we focus on two salient issues to social work
education and practice in Israel: social work in a multicultural society and
social work in a political conflict zone.
In 1931, the National Council, an executive body of the Jewish community
under the rule of the British Mandate (1920–1948), established a department
of social work (Weiss-Gal and Gal, 2011). Henrietta Szold, president of
the Hadassah women’s Zionist organisation of America, headed the new
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Social Work Education in Israel 77
department (Weiss-Gal and Gal, 2011). In 1934, the department opened
the first (non-academic) formal training course for social workers (Spiro,
Sherer, Korin-Langer, and Weiss, 1998; Weiss and Gal, 2003; Weiss,
Spiro, Sherer, and Korin-Langer, 2004). In 1937, the Israeli Association of
Social Workers (ISASW) was established to perform three main functions:
1) To act as a professional association, negotiating salaries and working
conditions for social workers and helping workers find employment; 2) To
set a code of ethics for the profession; and 3) To influence and advocate
for social policy (Weiss and others, 2004; Nefesh B’Nefesh, 2014). Since
its creation, graduates of a recognised social work training programme are
granted eligibility to join (Weiss and others, 2004).
By the time the State of Israel was established in 1948, the two existing
schools of social work had trained approximately 150 social workers,
which at the time exceeded the needs of the country (Spiro, 2001). In
1958, the first university-based school of social work was established at
the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (Spiro, 2001). The Paul Baerwald
School of Social Work and Social Welfare offered a three-year programme
leading to a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. Today, having a BSW
or Bachelor’s in social work (BA) continues to provide students with state
authorisation to engage in professional social work (Dehan, 2013). The
decision to integrate social work studies into Israeli universities in the
1950s had significant implications for the development of the profession.
First, it indicated that social work in Israel had achieved a professional
status. Second, it reflected the awareness among social workers that
university training was invaluable to their careers and to the profession
(Cohen and Guttman, 1998).
In the 1950s, various trends in Israeli society, including the damage
caused by the War of Independence of 1948, the mass immigration to Israel
from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries, and the mass immigration of
holocaust survivors from Europe, led to an increasing need for professional
social workers (Spiro, 2001). Over the next two decades, academic
schools of social work were established at four Israeli universities, with
a fifth opening in 1982 (Weiss and Gal, 2003). Several master’s level
programmes opened in the 1970s, and later, Ph.D. programmes were added
(Spiro, 2001; Cohen and Guttman, 1998; Weiss and others, 2004). Today,
Israel has five university-based schools of social work—Ariel University,
Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv
University, University of Haifa—and five colleges that offer social work
degrees (Makaros and Weiss-Gal, 2012).
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78 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
Several schools of social work have also opened specialised programmes
for specific groups of students. One was a two-year intensive social
work training programme targeted for members of kibbutzim (collective
communities in Israel traditionally based on agriculture) (Silver, 1977).
The programme was affiliated with the Social Work Training Institute
of the Ministry of Social Welfare, and was intended to serve kibbutz
communities. Unfortunately, the programme did not survive over time.
Additionally, in 1997, the Hebrew University School of Social Work and
Social Welfare initiated a two-year BSW programme for ultra-Orthodox
women (Haredi) with a prior BA degree (Dehan, 2013; Garr and Marans,
2001). The programme was developed as part of the Council for Higher
Education of Israel’s (CHE) initiative to promote the accessibility of higher
education for the Haredi population (Dehan, 2013). While the programme
adhered to the school curriculum, classes were conducted on the campus of
an ultra-orthodox women’s seminary known as Neve Yerushalyim and the
programme was designated as an official academic programme specifically
for Haredi women (Garr and Marans, 2001; Dehan, 2013). The shortage of
Haredi professionals at that time made it important for targeted professional
social work training programmes for the Haredi population (Dehan, 2013).
The programme’s success contributed to the attention placed on social
work education and higher education for the Haredi population, and led
to an abundance of university-based social work programmes offered on
Haredi campuses (Dehan, 2013). For instance, in 2006 the University of
Haifa opened a three-year BSW programme for ultra-Orthodox (Haredi)
women and men (who study separately), with a prior bachelor’s degree from
a recognised university (University of Haifa, 2014).
Social Work Faculty
At present, about 150 social work faculty members (including professors,
associate professors, senior lecturers, and lecturers) are employed among
the five universities alone. All full-time faculty members in the various
social work schools and departments hold a doctorate degree (the majority
of whom have a Ph.D., and some of whom have a Doctor of Social Work
[DSW]). Adjunct professors and field instructors typically have a master’s
or a doctorate degree. Faculty members in social work programmes in
Israel come from varied academic backgrounds, such as psychology,
political science, law, and sociology.
Significant teaching and administration demands on faculty members,
the need to create and translate measuring instruments to a different culture
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Social Work Education in Israel 79
and in a different language, and the political atmosphere, among other
factors, make it difficult for social work faculty in Israel to invest their
time and energy in research (Zeira and Auslander, 2010).
Nevertheless, social work research in Israel is conducted on a wide
range of issues and in a variety of settings, including universities,
research institutes, and government offices (Zeira and Auslander, 2010). A
particularly positive development has been the growth of research groups
and research centres at several Israeli universities (Spiro and others,
1998). Israeli academics have been contributing to social work research
for a number of years and are among the most prolific contributors to
the literature. Indeed, apart from the United States and Canada, Israeli
academics in the field of social work were found to be the most widely
published researchers in primary social work journals (Zeira and Auslander,
2010). Israel also publishes more on social work in Arab populations than
any other nation and produces significant new knowledge that advances
the field in Israel and abroad (Zeira and Auslander, 2010). The academic
requirements for Israeli researchers emphasise publication in foreign,
English-language journals, and so, their contribution to the advancement of
teaching and practice within Israel is more modest than could be expected.
The pedagogical framework for social work instruction in Israel today
is derived from the American literature (Gal and Weiss, 2000). Indeed,
the majority of the first generation of social workers in Israel were either
trained in the United States or taught the social work model used in the
United States (Cohen and Guttmann, 1998; Gal and Weiss, 2000). As a
result, North America has long been the main influence on the social work
training curriculum and structure in Israel (Gal and Weiss, 2000; Spiro,
2001). Over time, and with the establishment of Ph.D. programmes in
Israel, there has been an increase in the proportion of faculty members
who completed their studies in Israel, but they too usually have a strong
North American orientation. This relationship to North America has
contributed to the international standing of Israeli academics, as reflected
in their publications, participation in conferences, and faculty exchanges.
However, it has been argued that a “distinctively Israeli organising
framework for social work education is lacking” (Prager, 1985: 129). This
orientation has led to a certain degree of provinciality, and a tendency to
ignore developments in social work and social work education in other
parts of the world (Spiro, 2001).
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80 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
Research conducted in Israel reveals a dominant inclination among
students to work with individuals, families, or small groups rather than
with society at large (Weiss and Gal, 2003). Student preference for micro
practice rather than macro practice appears to be connected to the recent
increase in the numbers of social workers in private practice (Weiss and Gal,
2003). One possible explanation for this is the gap between social work’s
macro-level ideology and the actual training, which primarily focuses on
individual-centered practice (Buchbinder, Eisikovits, and Karnieli-Miller,
2004; Kaufman, Segal-Engelchin, and Huss, 2012; Gal and Weiss, 2000;
Spiro, 2001; Weiss-Gal and Gal, 2008;). Although social work training
programmes in Israel emphasise “the person in the environment” approach
(Makaros and Weiss-Gal, 2012), it is seldom implemented in their practice
(Kaufman and others, 2012; Weiss-Gal, 2008). As such, programmes
that include multi-method practical and academic courses are needed to
prepare students to engage in both micro and macro practice (Kaufman
and others, 2012).
Apart from the tendency toward micro practice, a number of studies
show that social work students in Israel are not inclined to work with
marginalised and excluded clients (for example, individuals who are poor,
elderly, or have disabilities) (Kaufman and others, 2012; Krumer-Nevo
and Weiss, 2006). These findings are troubling since social work has been
traditionally committed to these clients (Krumer-Nevo and Weiss, 2006).
Notably, academic programmes for social work in Israel increasingly
understand the need to deepen social work students’ commitment to social
change (Weiss and Gal, 2003). Indeed, there have been proposals of new
training models that would increase awareness, knowledge and skills in
these areas (Weiss and Gal, 2003). Nevertheless, social work practice has
not truly changed at its core. A committee from the Council for Higher
Education of Israel (CEH) addressed this matter, noting too many outdated
approaches to social work practice and not enough implementation of new
findings (Council for Higher Education, 2007). The committee also noted
insufficient differentiation between undergraduate and graduate training,
and an ongoing shortage of funding due to a lack of recognition of the
uniqueness of social work as an applied profession (Council for Higher
Education, 2007).
The curricula in the undergraduate level programmes combine academic
instruction with supervised fieldwork, enabling students to integrate
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Social Work Education in Israel 81
theoretical and practical knowledge (Gilbar, Ben-Zur, and Gil, 2003).
The primary aim of social work training at the undergraduate level
is to provide students with a solid knowledge base in various fields of
social work, experience with social science research methods, as well as
hands-on training in the field (Gilbar and others, 2003). The curriculum
at the University of Haifa, for instance, includes introductory courses
in the social sciences, theoretical social work courses, courses in social
work intervention skills, and methodology courses, such as research
methods and statistics (Gilbar and others, 2003). Each of the five existing
university-based programmes also require fieldwork training during
the undergraduate degree programme (Cohen and Guttmann, 1998),
which is an integral part of the three-year social work curriculum. Most
commonly, agency practitioners who receive an official status as ‘field
teachers’, as well as faculty members, oversee field training that is based
on a university-developed curriculum (Gal and Weiss, 2000; Weiss
and Gal, 2003). Many of these practitioners, especially those in senior
positions in their agencies, now have advanced degrees and are often
formally acknowledged as experts in their field. It would be beneficial to
consider transferring much of the practical training from the agencies in
the field, to the university. Such a model, if implemented carefully and
with consideration to the curriculum required, could strengthen the links
between academic instruction and those with experience in the field, but
has yet to be employed by any of the Israeli schools.
A BA in social work (BSW) is a prerequisite for admission to a master’s
of social work (MSW) programme in Israel, in addition to two years of
employment as a social worker (Buchbinder and others, 2004). Most
Ph.D. programmes in social work require a master’s degree as a pre-
requisite to enrollment. However, the Hebrew University, for instance, has
recently implemented a direct Ph.D. track that admits a handful of students
immediately after their Bachelor’s degree (Hebrew University, 2014). The
graduate level programmes strive to cultivate leadership and advanced
practice roles in the profession (Gilbar and others, 2003). Graduate training
in social work at the master’s level involves two years of coursework.
Many programmes offer specialisations that provide focused knowledge
in particular populations and areas of social work (for example, health,
trauma, administration and social policy, social work and corrections,
children and families, and clinical social work). At the doctoral level,
students are engaged in individualised programmes of study and research
to prepare them for a future of leadership, teaching, and publication.
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82 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Israeli social work
programmes encourage interdisciplinary collaboration within the
university and, to a larger extent, collaboration with the community
(Bronstein, Mizrahi, Korazim-Korösy and McPhee, 2010). In addition,
research is an important part of social work education in Israel. Social
work students learn skills in research designs and methodologies and
many conduct their own research projects. All Ph.D. students and many
MSW students are engaged in original research projects for their theses
and dissertations (Spiro and others, 1998).
Practicing Social Work in Israel
The Ministry of Welfare and Social Services in Israel creates policy,
initiates legislation, enacts regulations for the operation of social services,
and supervises the services offered by public and private organisations
(Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2013). The Social Welfare Law of 1958
mandates that all municipalities and local authorities in Israel maintain a
department of social services. Over the years, the ISASW successfully
lobbied to establish the principle that only academically trained social
workers would be able to fill social work positions (Weiss and others,
2004). This principle was given legal backing with the passage of the
Social Workers Act of 1996, which represented a substantial change in the
professional status of social work in Israel (Doron, Rosner, and Karpel,
2008). The Act has also led to the anchoring of the rules of ethics in a
set of regulations [The Social Workers Regulations (Rules of Professional
Ethics), 5759 – 1999 (3)]. These regulations which apply to all social
workers in Israel, unlike the ISASW’s code of ethics of 1994 (a revised
and enlarged version of the first ISASW code of ethics published in 1978)
(Weiss-Gal and Gal, 2011), which applies only to its members.
As a welfare state, the government of Israel ensures that every citizen
receives acceptable standards of health, education, housing, employment,
and income. Implementation of these political rights through intervention
and allowances is deemed a collective responsibility of the Israeli
government (Cohen, Mizrahi, and Yuval, 2011). From the 1940s to the mid
1970s, the Israeli welfare state mostly corresponded to the social-democratic
orientation. However, since the mid-1970s, the nation has followed the
neo-liberal orientation, which proposes that the government should limit
its intervention. This was due to structural changes, globalisation, an
economic crisis, and the rise of individualistic values in Israeli society
(Cohen and others, 2011). As part of these ideas, Israel’s public sector has
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Social Work Education in Israel 83
been undergoing a process of privatisation in recent decades, which has
also affected the social welfare system (Doron and Karger, 1993). More
and more services are now provided by non-governmental organisations
(NGOs) or for-profit businesses. As a result, wealthier individuals now
have increased access to improved, high-quality services. However, low
socio-economic status individuals are left with few options from which to
choose (Doron and Karger, 1993).
Furthermore, data on social workers in Israel is scant. According to
the Israeli Association of Social Workers (ISASW), in 2011, there were
approximately 15,000 social workers in Israel, 89 percent of whom were
women (ISASW, 2011). Data from a convenience sample of 411 social
workers from 27 social service agencies in Israel suggested that a majority
of social workers in Israel were married (77.6 percent), Jewish (85.1
percent), and secular (64.7 percent) (Weiss-Gal and Gal, 2008). Weiss-Gal
and Gal (2008) also found that 73.3 percent of Israeli social workers had
a bachelor’s degree and the remaining 27 percent had an MSW or a Ph.D.
In addition, most social workers are employed in services headed by
other social workers and report experiencing a high degree of professional
autonomy (Krumer-Nevo, Weiss-Gal and Levin, 2011). Social workers
in Israel work with a variety of populations such as persons with mental
illnesses and their families; at-risk children and youth; hospital patients and
their families; the elderly; individuals who are addicted to drugs, alcohol
or gambling; immigrants; trauma and abuse victims; and victims of terror
(Krumer-Nevo and others, 2011). In 2011, the ISASW reported that 9,000
social workers were employed in the public sector, while the remaining
6,000 social workers were employed in not-for profit organisations and
private entities (ISASW, 2011).
Like other countries, the average salary of social workers in all three
sectors is typically low, especially in the beginning of an individual’s
career (Shetreet and Woolf, 2013). In addition, in many social work jobs,
few benefits, high turnover, and lack of ongoing training are the norm
(Preminger, 2013). According to a self-administered survey of social
workers employed at 15 Arab and Jewish Human Services Departments,
work satisfaction of Israeli social workers is largely determined by their
relationships with their supervisors and colleagues, opportunities for
promotion, comfortable work environment, and their ethnicity (in this case
Jewish) (Abu-Bader, 2000). Moreover, according to a subsequent report of
the same study, though female social workers reported fewer opportunities
for promotion, lower quality of supervision, and higher workload than their
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84 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
male counterparts, the results did not indicate significant job satisfaction
differences based on gender (Abu-Bader, 2005).
Social work education and practice in Israel is taking place in an increasingly
multicultural, multi-religious, and multiracial milieu. As a welfare state,
Israel recognises the significance of promoting the quality of life of all its
citizens. Thus, social workers are encouraged to express cultural sensitivity
and acceptance, and to maintain a non-judgmental attitude when serving
clients (Band-Winterstein and Freund, 2013). Students and practitioners
are expected to familiarise themselves with their clients’ cultures and to
take cultural norms and values into account (Baum, 2010).
One way for social work educators to teach their students how to
embrace diversity in their careers is by teaching culturally sensitive
social work (Nadan and Ben-Ari, 2013). Research from Israel suggests
that cultural-competence training enhances cultural self-awareness, gives
them insight into the centrality of immigration in the lives of Israeli
immigrants, and makes them more empathic to their clients’ experiences,
challenges, and cultural diversity (Mirsky, 2012). However, while social
work schools in Israel are likely to discuss culturally sensitive social work
practice (Mirsky, 2013), it is not yet a dominant training approach (Roer-
Strier and Haj-Yahia, 1998). Indeed, qualitative research suggests that
Israel is far from implementing a multicultural approach to instruction
(Schiff and Katz, 2007). Baum (2007; 2010) specifically found that social
work students expected to have difficulty empathising with individuals
with different political beliefs. This finding further indicates that special
training for social work students is necessary to ensure they are well suited
to work with clients from different upbringings both in a clinical and non-
clinical setting (Baum, 2007; 2010).
Nonetheless, if social work students are not placed with clients from
their own cultural background, they may return to their communities of
origin without the specialised knowledge necessary to help their clients
(Schiff and Katz, 2007; Zoabi and Savaya, 2012 ). Schiff and Katz (2007)
for example, found the majority of Arab social work students complete
their fieldwork requirements in predominantly Jewish populations, leading
them to alter their attitudes, values, and expectations to mainstream Jewish
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Social Work Education in Israel 85
Apart from teaching culturally sensitive social work, the literature
suggests a need to ensure sufficient representation of the various groups
among the faculty and student body. Many of the cultural groups of Israel
are represented among the social work student body, and over the years,
the number of Arab students in particular has grown (Schiff and Katz,
2007). In addition, several services have been created for Arab students at
the schools of social work, such as an outreach programme for Bedouins,
special advisors for Arab students, and support groups. However, these
services do not address issues of racism and multiculturalism among the
general population of social work students (Roer-Strier and Haj-Yahia,
Moreover, as previously mentioned, two groups (members of kibbutzim
and Haredim) have been the focus of specific training programmes
(Roer-Strier and Haj-Yahia, 1998). A sustained effort to recruit students
who were immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia has also
been made. For the latter group, this has sometimes required a degree of
affirmative action, and special programmes to ensure their success. An
effort has similarly been made to increase the numbers of students from
economically disadvantaged communities and to help them with their
academic requirements (Ivri, 2007)
Israeli social work practice—like Israeli social work education—
emphasises a multicultural worldview (Band-Winterstein and Freund,
2013). Since culture fundamentally affects the ways in which individuals
understand the world, as well as how they behave in different situations,
social workers in Israel need to employ culture-specific intervention
strategies when working with clients (Haj-Yahia, 1995; Al-Krenawi and
Graham, 2000; Zoabi and Savaya, 2012).
Semi-structured interviews with Palestinian social workers living and
educated in Israel, for example, revealed that these professionals work to
1) create a client-therapist discourse based on mutual understanding; 2)
help clients avoid punishment by their family and community; and 3) help
clients cope with their problems in a way that is familiar and relevant to
them (Zoabi and Savaya, 2012).
For example, given the importance of faith in Palestinian culture, social
workers may help their clients cope with problems by emphasising G-d
as a source of strength, and by attributing tragedies to fate (Zoabi and
Savaya, 2012). Importantly, Palestinian social workers who have served
in their communities, have in their toolkit both the cultural strategies they
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86 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
have gained on the job, as well as Western intervention strategies they
learned during their training (Zoabi and Savaya, 2012). This means they
can employ a variety of intervention strategies depending on the individual
and his or her situation and experiences.
Notably, as various cultural groups have become more exposed to
secular society, many individuals are more open to working with social
workers outside of their communities. With an increased need for social
workers in particular communities within Israel (Band-Winterstein and
Freund, 2013), this makes it possible for social workers from outside a
given community to provide much-needed assistance.
Still, it is clear that social workers from inside a community (for
example, a Haredi social worker serving in a Haredi community),
and those from outside a community (for example, a non-Haredi
social worker serving in a Haredi community) come to the therapeutic
encounter from different starting points (Band-Winterstein and Freund,
2013). For instance, data based on in-depth interviews with social
workers intervening with Haredi clients revealed that Haredi social
workers are already familiar with the cultural codes of their community,
while non-Haredi social workers have to learn the specific ‘language’ of
Haredi culture and use that language during their encounters with their
Haredi clients (Band-Winterstein and Freund, 2013).
Social Work in a Political Conflict Zone
In addition to being a land of diversity, Israel, as aforementioned, is a
land with a history of both political uncertainty and political conflict. This
reality has an effect on social work professionals and the clients they serve,
and in turn, on social work practice (Ramon, 2004; Baum, 2006; Nadan
and Ben-Ari, 2014).
In the aftermath of a national emergency, social workers in Israel are
tasked with providing psychosocial care for victims and their families,
crisis intervention, and case management (Baum and Ramon, 2010).
Generally, Israeli Jewish and Arab social workers work side-by-side in
mixed Arab- Jewish cities, but not in exclusively Jewish or Arab residences
(Baum and Ramon, 2010).
Israeli social workers often live in the same community as their clients
and experience the same traumatic events as those they serve (Nuttman-
Shwartz and Dekel, 2009; Dekel and Baum, 2010; Nadan and Ben-Ari,
2014). They are tasked with helping others cope with an event even when
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Social Work Education in Israel 87
the same event was personally threatening or harmful (Nadan and Ben-
Ari, 2014). Thus, these social workers find themselves in what has been
termed a ‘shared traumatic reality’ with their clients (Nuttman-Shwartz and
Dekel, 2009). Social workers in this situation report greater work-related
stress, emotional pressure, and conflict between work and professional
roles (Nadan and Ben-Ari, 2014). Of note is that, given their relative
inexperience and vulnerability, social work students may experience
significantly higher levels of anxiety and exhaustion than professionals
(Nadan and Ben-Ari, 2014).
Baum (2004), for example, found that in response to the Second Intifada,
which erupted in October 2000, students mentioned doubt about their
professional competence, a need to carve out personal space to cope, and
worry about their ability to do fieldwork under terror. However, research
has also shown that violent political conflict may offer an opportunity
for growth. Social workers who have served during a traumatic political
conflict expressed increased skills and knowledge, greater solidarity,
greater team cohesion, and increased emergency and crisis intervention
knowledge (Baum and Ramon, 2010). Still, Israeli social work students
undoubtedly need preparation to work in conflict-ridden areas.
Unfortunately, though, despite its relevance to social work research in
general, and Israeli social work research in particular, political conflict
research as it relates to social work education and practice is limited.
Perhaps because of this, conflict-related issues are seldom addressed in
students’ coursework and few attempts to train students to work in political
conflict zones have been documented (Nadan and Ben-Ari, 2014).
Indeed, researchers Nadan and Ben-Ari (2014) conducted 25 in-depth
interviews with social work educators, finding that social work educators
did not deliberately address political conflict and its implications with
students. Rather, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict organically came up in
class discussions when discussing current events or through the interactions
of Arab and Jewish students. The researchers noted that although bringing
up the political conflict may overwhelm or distress educators and students,
this discomfort can give students new perspectives, new abilities to reflect
on challenging situations, self-awareness, and skills to work in areas of
conflict (Nadan and Ben-Ari, 2014).
Educators should allow traumatic events to be part of class discussions
and individual experiences to add to students’ professional socialisation
(Baum, 2004). They should also make a concerted effort to enable minority
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88 Faisal Azaiza, Michal Soffer and Danielle Taubman
students to feel comfortable in the classroom and fieldwork environments
(Baum, 2004).
Social work in Israel has a relatively short history. Nonetheless, since
1931 the profession has grown and developed considerably, and in
contrast to many other countries, Israeli social work has achieved a level
of professionalism that resembles that of the more traditional professions
(Doron and others, 2008).
Alongside the successes, professionals recognise future challenges that
Israeli social work still needs to face. Social work education and training
needs to equally emphasise both micro and macro practice. As an integral
component of this challenge, social workers in Israel need to re-embrace
their roles as advocates for justice, equality and human rights and, first and
foremost, their commitment to those who are disadvantaged, marginalised,
and excluded.
Two decades ago, an attempt was made to forecast some of the
characteristics and challenges of social work in Israel in the early 21st
century (Weiss-Gal and Levin, 2011). One such projection was the possible
increase in resources following a successful peace process between Israel
and its neighbours, an expectation that unfortunately has not come to
fruition. Instead, social workers now more than ever, must train to handle
emergencies and traumas. Nonetheless, as above-mentioned, the topic of
social work in conflict-ridden zones has not received sufficient attention in
social work training and education today.
Other developments that were forecast include dealing with immigration
waves and training students in culturally sensitive practice. Unfortunately,
today this still remains a challenge for social work education and practice
in Israel.
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Social Work Education in Israel 89
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