Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israeli Neo-Revisionism and American Neoconservatism: The Unexplored Parallels

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Israeli Neo-Revisionism and American Neoconservatism: The Unexplored Parallels

Article excerpt

The similarities between the American Neoconservative movement and the Israeli Neo-Revisionist movement (followers of Vladimir Jabotinsky, including Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Binyamin Netanyahu, and to some degree Ariel Sharon) have not previously been systematically explored. The two movements share a Hobbesian worldview, confidence in the efficacy and frequent necessity of force, xenophobia, cultural pessimism, and belief in the "exceptionalism" of their respective societies. The article compares and analyzes their ideologies and their political dynamics, as well as their similar trajectories of rise and decline. It demonstrates their political relevance for the contemporary situation in the Middle East and beyond.

After many years in the "political desert," as an irrelevant opposition to the dominant Labor movement, the Israeli Right assumed power in 1977 via the Likud party under the inspiring leadership of Menachem Begin. Since then the Right, a political camp that some have called Neo-Revisionist,1 has dominated the Israeli political scene with relatively brief periods of Labor rule (1992-1996 and 1999-2001).

Seemingly separately, beginning in the late 1960s an indigenous American political movement, generally known as Neoconservatism, has become prominent, first in a limited way during the Reagan presidency and then, much more significantly, during the George W. Bush Administration. Its origins, in marked contrast to Neo-Revisionism, have been traced to disparate elements including Trotskyism, American Socialism, and American Liberalism.2 Though many but not all Neoconservatives have been supporters of Israeli Neo-Revisionism, the link between the two movements rarely has been explored.3 The purpose of this article is to close this lacuna in the analytical literature and to initiate a serious scholarly conversation about the intellectual connections between Israeli Neo-Revisionism and American Neoconservatism.

The vast majority of scholars dealing with the emergence of the pre-state Zionist Right, and later the Israeli Right, have emphasized its European origins.4 Their work has focused on the influence of sociopolitical movements such as pre-World War II Polish nationalism, the Irish resistance to British rule, or fervent Italian nationalism. Whether authors took a negative5 or positive6 approach to the Right, most focused on Europe and ignored, for the most part, other possible influences, including American.

Within the context of our analysis, Israeli Neo-Revisionism is a social and political movement that evolved under the charismatic leadership of Menachem Begin. The movement argued for promoting the legacy of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (18801940), the legendary nationalist and Zionist leader who stridently and systematically rejected any partition of Palestine (Eretz Yisrael) between Arabs and Jews. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, what we call Neo-Revisionism emerged as the most radical version of Israeli nationalism, led by the Herut Party under Menachem Begin. The Neo-Revisionists rejected the 1947 UN partition of Palestine and supported, after the establishment of the Arab-Israeli armistice lines of 1949, an assertive, militarized Israeli foreign policy. Thus, they were strong supporters of the reprisal policy of David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan, backed the 1956 Suez/Sinai Campaign (while arguing that it should have been expanded to Jordan), and enthusiastically endorsed the IsraeliFrench military alliance that lasted from the early 1950s until 1967. However, despite Begin's considerable political and especially oratorical talents, the impact of the NeoRevisionists was negligible until 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Suddenly, their territorial demands seemed to have become realistic, at least theoretically. Under Begin and several of his successors, especially Yitzhak Shamir and Binyamin Netanyahu, Neo-Revisionism made a claim to "Greater Israel" (reflecting its long-held appetite for territorial expansion), implemented an aggressive settlement policy in the Occupied Territories when it was in power, and carried out a highly controversial war in Lebanon. …

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