Zionist Extremism as Product of the Internal Dynamics of Judaism: Conclusion

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An important mechanism underlying all this is that of rallying around the flag during times of crisis, a phenomenon that is well understood by social psychologists. Group identification processes are exaggerated in times of resource competition or other perceived sources of threat,131 a finding that is highly compatible with an evolutionary perspective.132 External threat tends to reduce internal divisions and maximize perceptions of common interest among ingroup members, as we have seen among American Jews in response to perceived crises in Israel, ranging from the Six-Day War of 1967 to the unending crises of the 1990s and into the new millennium.133 Jewish populations also respond to threat by developing messianic ideologies, rallying around charismatic leaders, and expelling dissenters from the community. Traditionally this has taken the form of religious fundamentalism, as among the Hasidim, but in the modern world these tendencies have been manifested in various forms of leftist radicalism, Zionism, and other Jewish intellectual and political movements.134 Throughout Jewish history, this siege mentality has tended to increase conflict between Jews and non-Jews which then has a feed-forward effect of increasing the perception of threat among Jews. In the context of the intense ethnic conflict of nineteenth-century Eastern Europe, the conflict was exacerbated by an enormous increase in the Jewish population and the resulting poverty.

And in all cases, the leaders of this process are the more ethnocentric, committed Jews. They are the ones who donate to Jewish causes, attend rallies, write letters, join and support activist organizations. As J. J. Goldberg, the editor of the Forward, notes, Jews who identify themselves as doves feel much less strongly about Israel than those who identify themselves as hawks. “Jewish liberals give to the Sierra Fund. Jewish conservatives are Jewish all the time. That’s the whole ball game. It’s not what six million American Jews feel is best — it’s what 50 Jewish organizations feel is best.”135 In other words, it’s the most radical, committed elements of the Jewish community that determine the direction of the entire community.

As a European in a society that is rapidly becoming non-European, I can sympathize with Jabotinsky’s envy of the native Slavic peoples he observed in the early twentieth century:

I look at them with envy. I have never known, and probably never will know, this completely organic feeling: so united and singular [is this] sense of a homeland, in which everything flows together, the past and the present, the legend and the hopes, the individual and the historical. Every nation civilised or primitive, sees its land as its national home, where it wants to stay as the sole landlord forever. Such a nation will never willingly consent to new landlords or even to partnership.137

It is the memory of this rapidly disappearing sense of historical rootedness and sense of impending dispossession that are at the root of the malaise experienced by many Europeans, not only in the U.S. but elsewhere. The triumph of Zionism took a mere fifty years from Herzl’s inspiration to the founding of the state of Israel. There is a tendency to overlook or ignore the powerful ethnocentrism at the heart of Zionism that motivated people like Jabotinsky, especially on the part of the American Jewish community, which has been dedicated throughout the twentieth century to pathologizing and criminalizing the fragile vestiges of ethnocentrism among Europeans.138

But the bottom line is that the Zionists were successful. Israel would not have become a state without a great many deeply ethnocentric Jews willing to engage in any means necessary to bring about their dream: a state that would be a vehicle for their ethnic interests. It would not have come about without the most radical among them—people like Jabotinsky, Begin, Shamir, Sharon, and their supporters—a group which now includes the entire organized American Jewish community. The impending dispossession of Europeans will only be avoided if people of their ilk can be found among the political class of Europeans.


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