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Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel

Israel Shahak, Norton Mezvinsky

Could Jewish fundamentalism derail the peace process, plunging Israel into civil war? In this controversial book, acclaimed Israeli writer Israel Shahak and American scholar Norton Mezvinsky explore the consequences of the fundamentalist belief that people of Jewish faith are special before God, a belief the fundamentalists passionately defend.

The authors consider the consequences of this belief in the light of the considerable political influence and power of Jewish Fundamentalism. They make a clear distinction between the fundamentalist ideology of Israel’s Ashkenazi Jews and that of the Sephardic Jews. The growing impact of these two movements on Israel, at both the political and grassroots levels, is also examined.

Shahak and Mezvinsky argue that Israeli Jewish fundamentalism is closely associated with a new form of national religious messianism. Rising from the 1967 settling of the conquered territories, this growing trend vehemently opposes the peace process.

The authors conclude by analyzing the possibilities for civil war in Israel between religious fundamentalists and secularists.

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 renowned human rights activist. He authored the highly acclaimed "Jewish History, Jewish Religion" (Pluto Press 1994) and "Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies" (Pluto Press 1997).
Norton Mezvinsky is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University.

"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 those reporting 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".-- The Outlook on Books, Canada's Progressive Jewish Magazine

192 pp pages, 5 1/4 " x 8 ˝", October 1999

cloth, 0 7453 1281 0, $65.00
paper, 0 7453 1276 4, $18.95
Published by Pluto Press


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