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Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Pluto Middle Eastern Studies) [Paperback]

Israel Shahak , Norton Mezvinsky
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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1 Jun 1999 Pluto Middle Eastern Studies
At the very heart of the modern world is the idea that all people are born equal. Yet the Jewish religion teaches that people of Jewish faith are special before God, and Jewish fundamentalism passionately defends this belief. This book considers the consequences of this belief in the light of the considerable political influence and power of Jewish fundamentalism. The authors make a clear distinction between the fundamentalist ideology of Israel's Ashkenazi Jews and that of the Sephardic Jews, examining the growing impact of these two movements on Israel's political processes and their effects at a grassroots level through the armed forces' relations with the Palestinian population. Shahak and Mezvinsky argue that Israeli Jewish fundamentalism is closely associated with a new form of national religious Messianism which has its origins in the settling of the conquered territories during the war of 1967 and which vehemently opposes the peace process. Focusing on the consequences for Israel of these ideologies, the authors examine in particular the activities of fundamentalist groups and individuals. Shahak and Mezvinsky conclude by analyzing the possible scenario of civil war in Israel between religious fundamentalists and secularists.

Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Pluto Press (1 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745312764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745312767
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,622,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value." -- Noam Chomsky"The voice of reason is alive and well, and in Israel, of all places. Shahak is the latest -- if not the last -- of the great prophets." -- Gore Vidal" 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.......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.......Illuminative, insightful and accessible, this is an important book that deserves as wide a readership as possible." Gordon Peake, St. Anthony's College, Oxford." The fact that Jewish fundamentalists in Israel glorify murderers, undermine the peace process, and practice the most vicious forms of sexism is rarely even acknowledged. Many are afraid to mention this problem for fear of encouraging the anti-Semitism that is endemic in all western societies.....Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist resident in Jerusalem for more than 40 years, and Norton Mezvinsky, an American history professor with great experience in Judaism, have bravely decided to break the silence about the fundamentalist danger. They report that the problem has been glossed over by thosereporting on Israeli society much in the way that the crimes of Stalinism were glossed over by some leftists in discussions about the late USSR......The authors conclude that if fundamentalists ever get into power, they will treat non-Jews in Israel very badly, and treat Jews they consider heretics - the vast majority of the Israeli population - even worse. Perhaps more frightening is that they would stop female education and force women to withdraw from public life. The authors ....are right to warn us of the danger, especially the danger of failing to give these people the attention they deserve and judge them as we would other groups. The first thing for Americans to do is brave the wrath of those who don't allow Israel to be criticized and demand a stop to US aid to a system which helps groups that are dangerous to women, democracy and world peace." -- The Socialist" ... The dominant North American public intellectual culture 'disappears' the Shahaks and Mezvinsky's with their upsetting challenges to prevailing dogma. (Their) explicit objective is to rouse the reader, particularly the North American reader, into an acknowledgment that Jewish fundamentalism is as "pernicious" as other fundamentalisms. This requires us to approach the Jewish past not as a folk-tale but as history.....some readers...could be shocked, even affronted by the evidence presented. How influential is Jewish fundamentalism?.. The authors contend it is enormous, particularly on the Likud.....Jewish fundamentalism seeks a return to ignorance, ritually prescribed behavior, and authoritarianism inseparable from inhumane viciousness; in short, the recreation of the internal conditions of pre-modern Jewry."-- TheOutlook on Books, Canada's Progressive Jewish Magazine

About the Author

Israel Shahak was a resident of the Warsaw Ghetto and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. He arrived in Palestine in 1945 and lived there until his death in 2001. He was an outspoken critic of the state of Israel and a human rights activist. He was also the author of the highly acclaimed Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Pluto Press 1999) and Jewish History, Jewish Religion (Pluto Press 1994). --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Be Prepared To Be Shocked 3 July 2001
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel by Israel Shahak & Norton Mezvinsky: The media are rapid in responding to Islamic fundamentalism whilst showing scant regard to providing detail about Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. Yet, it is Jewish fundamentalism that has driven the settlement movement since the 1967 War. The settlement movement, in particular Gush Emunim, has become an intractable problem and the greatest obstacle to the peace process. Shahak and Mezvinsky's book is not a read for the faint hearted. There are unpalatable truths in the dangerous fundamentalist worldview presented. It is, however, an essential read for anyone with an interest in understanding why the ' peace process' has been derailed and become a cycle of violence. The authors have shown great courage in exposing what has become the core of the problem between Israel and the Palestinians. Whilst the book answers many questions about fundamentalism, it also raises serious doubts for a reader about the ability of any Israeli Government to resolve the settlement issue and progress peace. The authors present an eye opening expose of a destructive movement that exerts tremendous control over Israel's politics. In giving the book five stars, there are details contained that should be more widely known. In many respects it is shocking, which is a major reason for making it a must be read book.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a very disturbing book 19 Dec 2003
Shahak is no friend of organised religion, and he tireless in seeking to expose all aspects of life that have been contaminated by it. This book tells the story of how the far-right fundamentalists in Israel are holding the state to ransom. More, it offers some very interesting reasons for why secular Jews are letting these people get away with blackmail. He suggests that both sides are using each other, while simultaneously exposing the racism that underscores Israeli attitudes towards everybody else, and especially their Arab neighbours.
Compared to Jewish History, Jewish Religion, it is a less stylish and accomplished book, but its subject matter is even more disturbing. The Fundamentalists he talks about are not some mere crackpots, but people whose fingers are uncomfortably close to the nuclear button.
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great (and revealing) book by Shahak. 10 July 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While I'm not the greatest fan of Israel Shahak's writing style (it's sometimes a bit dry), I found this book readable and informative. It details the little-known and little-discussed subject of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel and highlights the risk of ignoring such a threat. As Shahak mentions in his introduction, the modern world focuses a great deal on Islamic fundamentalism and even on Christian fundamentalism but rarely ever focuses on Jewish extremism which is equally, if not more, dangerous.
He begins with a brief summary of Jewish history classifying the different religious sects and their historical roots before plunging into the politics of the 20th Century and the outlook for the 21st. It is important to understand these roots for the modern political construct of Israel is dominated by a sense of nationality which defined as much by religion as ethnicity.
He proceeds to speak of the various religious movements and their effect on the political spectrum inside Israel as well as their interrelationships with the United States. Groups like Gush Emunim are extreme in their views and many of these which are stated quite openly (but receive little attention) are so extreme as to make one wonder why the world has not taken notice. Jewish extremists in Israel often use talmudic scholarship to justify some of the most racist views I have ever heard which would not doubt disgust moderates of all religions.
Israel Shahak treads very carefully around this serious, yet dangerous issue and I feel comes out of it with one of the most informative reads I have had in a long time. His aim is not to insult Jewry or criticise Judaism as such but more to examine the religious extremes as well as political influence in Israel today.
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6 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother 5 Nov 2003
By A Customer
I decided to give this book a go despite the lack of clarity I have gained with Shahaks other works only to find the same distinct pattern of personal attacks and blame culture. This is not a serious treatment of the issues and falls far short of many other books depicting a consciencious attempt to find the roots of the intifada and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many of the arguments were weak in the extreme and there was little if any recognition for assigning a level of responsibility to the Palestinian authority. Shahak is obviously looking for a scapegoat in Jewish fundamentalists (many of whom have been brought to justice in the current climate for attempted attacks whereas the Palestinian Authority have openly flouted their responsibility of conducting a proper deterministic clampdown on their own fundametalists prefering to employ them in their own police forces rather than imprison them) which he does extremely poorly. This book comes across as the embodiment of one man's issues (badly argued) with the Jewish State and not a serious memorable academic work.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
59 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative and Honest 27 Jun 2002
By James - Published on
"We realize that by criticizing Jewish fundamentalism we are criticizing a part of the past that we love. We wish that members of every human grouping would criticize their own past, even before criticizing others. This, we further believe, would lead to a better understanding between human groups and would be followed, perhaps, slowly and hesitantly, by better treatment of minorities." -authors.
Far from being anti-Semitic, a label being thrown around carelessly these days which is most unfortunate. Shahak (himself a Jew) takes pains to separate fundamentalists from secular and traditional Jews. He further differentiates between groups under the fundamentalist influence. This book gives the reader a rare look of what happens in rabbinical circles and what is printed in Hebrew press that the rest of the world doesn't get to see. I wish MEMRI would be more altruistic and translate some of the Hebrew press. The major threat is that these groups pose a threat to Israel's democracy, and are major deterents to peace in the region. Without a doubt, Palestinian Muslim fundamentalists are equally to blame, however this book focuses (as the title indicates) solely on Jewish fundamentalism. A very eye-opening book and a bit frightening for lovers of peace and democracy. The complexity of Jewish society and culture is absolutely incredible. This book was clearly written for academics, NOT anti-Semites looking for "ammunition" with which to spew their hatred. I only wish there was a book written by Muslims that was as open and honest in their criticism of Islamic fundamentalists as this book is of Jewish fundamentalists. One certainly learns that broad generalizations of culture groups is wrong and non-representive. Shahak details the history and development of events leading up to Rabin's assasination, the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein, and more. The book also details the rise of the Haredim in Israel and how political influence is won and lost in the Knesset. When an orthodox Jewish friend of mine told me how cruel Jews can be to other Jews, I had no idea how serious he was until I read this book. It is saddening to read. An excellent book recommended to those who are reading to learn of another perspective, not for those looking to increase their anti-Semitic hate. The information in this book could easily be taken out of context; the beauty of this book is that it provides everything IN context so that the reader understands the severity of the problem of fundamentalism without drawing the incorrect conclusion that Jews are somehow racist. Truly an incredible read.
89 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener 13 Oct 2000
By Phelps Gates - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fascinating insights into the groups which are generally over-simplified into the "ultra-Orthodox" (itself a serious misnomer, since "Orthodoxy" isn't the issue at all). The authors explain the differences between the various fundamentalist factions and sub-factions (Haredim, Shas, NRP, Kookists, Gush Emunim, etc., etc... and the black vs. knit skullcaps), who often put more energy into battling each other and other Jews than they do against the Palestinians. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is that it draws almost entirely on Israeli sources in Hebrew, rather than the self-censoring and often apologetic English-language press which attempts to put as good a light on things as possible, largely for the benefit of the diaspora. I was unaware, for example, of the extent of open rejoicing among fundamentalists (and many other Israelis) over the Patriarch's Cave massacre and the murder of Rabin; and the role of "magic amulets" in election campaigns. Alas, the book does not make one optimistic about the prospects for reaching peace through rational discussion.
58 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars detail on jewish fundamentalism 14 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I enjoyed this book. There is a tremendous amount of detail on the different Jewish fundamentalist political groups, the major one being Shas. Certain areas of the book interested me more than others. I felt the points on religiosity and fundamentalism were interesting. Another major point of my interest was the work on Baruch Goldstein. Shahak and Mezvinsky did an excellent job in substantiating that Baruch Goldstein was part of a larger Jewish fundamentalist movement that is accepted by Israel rather than a single crazy man.
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest, but sobering depiction of Israeli politics 7 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Shahak explains in vivid detail various strains of Jewish fundamentalism and their political ambitions. Having come from a religious background, he describes accurately the mindset which the ultra-orthodox have and their motivations.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Settler Ideology 30 Jan 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Jewish fundamentalism is only rarely considered in the Western press--try looking up references to Gush Emunim, the settler's movement, in the NY Times index, to find how well its tenets have been explained to the American public. Try looking up "Jewish fundamentalism" and contrasting the number of results with "Islamic fundamentalism" to get some idea of the magnitude of the bias in the media on this topic, so crucial to understanding the wars of our time.
Shahak and Mezvinsky have done us a great service by providing a coherent and well researched explanation of the ideologies of the fundamentalists in Israel, and how they influence the policies of the state. The authors have, they explain, decided to use as their primary sources documents that are explicitly not written in English, and are therefore not only less accessible, but more honest than the sanitized works written for the gentiles.
Their contribution provides a powerful introduction to those who wish to gain some understanding of the real basis for the mess in the Middle East, which has finally dragged the US into a full scale war and occupation of Iraq.
The root cause of the conflict is that the fundamentalists, who are comprised of several different groups, mostly agree on their predestined occupation and settlement of the West Bank. They have managed to bring along the political world of the secularists, embodied in the Likud and Labor parties, who have provided the wherewithal to generate and support the settlements consistently over the years, whatever the stage of the "peace process" currently in vogue.
The book is clearly written, well organized, incredibly informative, and a must read for all Americans.
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