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Israel Shahak, Norton Mezvinsky: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (1999)


Virtually identified with Arab terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism 
is anathema throughout the non-Muslim world. Virtually identified 
with ignorance, superstition, intolerance and racism, Christian 
fundamentalism is anathema to the cultural and intellectual elite 
in the United States. The recent significant increase in its number 
of adherents, combined with its widening political influence, 
nevertheless, make Christian fundamentalism a real threat to 
democracy in the United States. Although possessing nearly all the 
important social scientific properties of Islamic and Christian fun- 
damentalism, Jewish fundamentalism is practically unknown outside 
of Israel and certain sections of a few other places. When its 
existence is acknowledged, its significance is minimized or limited 
to arcane religious practices and quaint middle European dress, 
most often by those same non-Israeli elite commentators who see 
so uncompromisingly the evils inherent in Jewish fundamentalis- 
m's Islamic and/or Christian cousins. 

As students of contemporary society and as Jews, one Israeli, one 
American, with personal commitments and attachments to the 
Middle East, we cannot help seeing Jewish fundamentalism in 
Israel as a major obstacle to peace in the region. Nor can we help 
being dismayed by the dismissal of the perniciousness of Jewish fun- 
damentalism to peace and to its victims by those who are otherwise 
knowledgeable and astute and so quick to point out the violence 
inherent in other fundamentalist approaches to existence. 

This book is a journey of understanding - often painful, often 
dreary, often disturbing - for us as Jews who have a stake in Jewry. 
With our hearts and minds we want Jews, together with other 
people, to recognize and strive for the highest ideals, even as we 
fall short of them. We see these ideals as central to the values of 
Western civilization and applicable throughout the civilized world. 
We believe these values do not stand in the way of peace anywhere. 
That a perversion of these values in the name of Jewish funda- 
mentalism stands as an impediment to peace, to the development 
of Israeli democracy and even to civilized discourse outrages us, 
both as Jews and as human beings. To identify and lessen, if not 
purge, this outrage, we have written this book and undertaken this 
journey in the hope that it may bring understanding to our readers 
as it has brought understanding to us. Our assumption is that 
peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved until the currents and 
cross-currents of contemporary life in the region are understood. 
In this most historical and most religious area, understanding 
entails an exploration of the past that continues to impinge upon 
the attitudes, values, assumptions and behaviors of all the people 
of this beautiful and troubled land. Jewish opposition in Israel to 
Jewish fundamentalism greatly increased after a Jewish, funda- 
mentalist, religious fanatic, Yigal Amir, who insisted that he was 
acting in accordance with dictates in Judaism, shot and killed 
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That numerous groups of religious 
Jews after the assassination supported this murder in the name of 
the "true" Jewish religion aroused interest in Israel in past killings 
by Jews of other Jews who were alleged to be heretics or sinners. 
In our book we cite present and past investigations by Israeli 
scholars documenting that for centuries prior to the rise of the 
modern nation state, Jews, believing they were acting in accordance 
with God's word and thus preparing themselves for eternal paradise, 
punished or killed heretics and/or religious sinners. Contemporary 
Jewish fundamentalism is an attempt to revive a situation that 
often existed in Jewish communities before the influence of 
modernity. The basic principles of Jewish fundamentalism are the 
same as those found in other religions: restoration and survival of 
the "pure" and pious religious community that presumably existed 
in the past. 

In our book we describe in some detail the origins, ideologies, 
practices and overall impact upon society of fundamentalism. We 
emphasize mostly the messianic tendency, because we believe it to 
be the most influential and dangerous. Jewish fundamentalists 
generally oppose extensions of human freedoms, especially the 
freedom of expression, in Israel. In regard to foreign policy, the 
National Religious Party, ruled by supporters of the messianic 
tendency of Jewish fundamentalism, has continuously opposed 
any and all withdrawals from territories conquered and occupied 
by Israel since 1967. These fundamentalists opposed Israeli 
withdrawal from the Sinai in 1978, just as twenty years later they 
continued to oppose any withdrawal from the West Bank. These 
same Jews printed and distributed atlases allegedly showing that 
the land of Israel, belonging only to the Jews and requiring liberation, 
included the Sinai, Jordan, Lebanon, most of Syria and Kuwait. 
Jewish fundamentalists have advocated the most discriminative 
proposals against Palestinians. Not surprisingly, Baruch Goldstein 
and Yigal Amir, the most sensational Jewish assassins of the 1990s, 
and most of their admirers have been Jewish fundamentalists of the 
messianic tendency. 


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