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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel
Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinksy

London: Pluto Press, 2004
176 pp PB 14.99 ISBN 0-7453-2090-2

In their book Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinksy focus on the dramatic growth of this phenomenon in recent years by providing a thorough assessment of its history and development, examining the various strains and identifying the messianic tendency which they believe to be the most dangerous. The authors focus on the total contempt which Jewish fundamentalists show toward non-Jews, especially Palestinians, and the great ignorance of, or indifference to this phenomenon in the outside world.

The book investigates the various Jewish sects which seem to differ on various issues but agree on one basic eschatological truth by which the Jewish Kingdom will arise upon the coming of the Messiah and the reconstruction of the Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosques in the Old City of Jerusalem. One radical stream of Jewish fundamentalists is represented by the National Religious Party, and its progeny, the settlers of the Gush Emunim. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a Gush leader rationalizes that God?s requirement to abide by abstract codes of 'justice and righteousness' do not necessarily apply to Jews. He further states that ?messianic realism? which dictates that Israel has been instructed to be holy do not bind the people of Israel, for whom chosen nature overrides all else. Consequently, the Gush reject any peaceful settlement with Arabs. For them, the Oslo Accords, and the prospect of the ?re-division? of the ?Land of Israel? was a profound, existential shock. The murder of Yitzhak Rabin in 1996 by Yigal Amir, a religious fanatic that claimed to be acting in accordance with dictates in Judaism, is one in a long line of murders of Jews who followed a path different from that ordained by rabbinic authorities since the Middle Ages, as the authors explain. This is also manifested in their belief of force as the only way to deal with the Palestinians who will always be ?resident aliens? in the land of Israel and must be forced to leave either by enforced emigration or elimination. The killing of 29 Palestinians while kneeling during prayer in Hebron by Doctor Baruch Goldstein in 1994 is just one example. This American-born fundamentalist was subsequently celebrated as a hero in many spheres of the Israeli society.

Israel was always a highly ideological society; it is also a vastly outsized military power. This combination of extreme ideology and power poses a threat to any stability or future peaceful settlement in the Middle East. This book is important in providing an astonishing insight into the dynamics of politics and religion in Israel and in uncovering an invisible phenomenon: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.

Rana Alhelsi, PhD student, University of Ulster

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