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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Israel Shahak & Norton Mezvinsky

(London: Pluto Press, 1999)
208pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 35.00; ISBN 0-7453-1281-0 Pb.: 11.99; ISBN 0-7453-1276-4

In this deeply disturbing book Shahak and Mezvinsky highlight the dangers that Jewish fundamentalism poses to democracy in Israel. Using Hebrew sources previously untapped by Western researchers the authors elucidate the religious philosophy that underpins the politics of Shas, the National Religious Party and like-minded settler parties; political groups that have an increasingly influential role in Israeli politics.

The picture they paint is a shocking one. Pulling no punches they liken the "intolerance" and "hatred" of Jewish fundamentalist thought to Nazism (p65) and contend that both the Israeli public and their politicians have been too indulgent of the religious parties. In a similar vein to the recently published Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin, the authors charge the religious establishment with inciting and stoking the atmosphere that led to the former Prime Minister's assassination. The examples they cite of fundamentalist writings are unsettling. Women are routinely referred to as "witches, bitches and demons" (p37) while many writers hold non-Jews as the earthly manifestation of Satan (p66).

These, it is important to bear in mind, are not the views of marginalised parties on the electoral extremes. Jewish fundamentalist parties are integral elements of the present government and have been important components of past administrations. By way of further illustration, Rabbi Yoseph, the religious leader of Shas, the largest religious grouping in Israel with five portfolios in Ehud Barak's government, believes that Israel should demolish all Christian churches within its territory. (p. 16) Illuminative, insightful and accessible this is an important book that deserves as wide a readership as possible.

Gordon Peake
St. Antony's College, Oxford

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