Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the Hebrew Press: Poverty, Religious Instruction Breed Xenophobia in Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

From the Hebrew Press: Poverty, Religious Instruction Breed Xenophobia in Israel

Article excerpt

From the Hebrew Press: Poverty, Religious Instruction Breed Xenophobia in Israel

By Dr. Israel Shahak

One of the best kept secrets in the U.S. is the existence of Jewish xenophobia in Israel and the extent of its political influence. Dr. Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Muslim men and boys at prayer, although it didn't change American attitudes, prompted an in-depth discussion of this problem in Israel.

All of the polls taken in Israel after the massacre have shown a disturbing level of approval for Goldstein's action. Break-downs of who approve and who disapprove reveal much about the evolution of contemporary Israeli Jewish society.

A poll taken 10 days after the massacre by Eliyahu Hassin and published on March 11 by Shishi weekly was based upon a representative sample of all Israeli adults, which means that it included Arab holders of Israeli citizenship. The respondents could choose among three options: justifying the massacre, "understanding" without justifying it, and condemning it in no uncertain terms. The national result was: justifying, 6 percent; understanding, 30 percent (total of first two responses 36 percent); and condemning, 63 percent. Since the answers of Israeli Arabs, who constitute about 14.5 percent of Israeli adults, were included in these totals, we can infer that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews either justified or at least "understood" Goldstein's massacre.

This should be the point of departure for any serious analysis of Israeli Jewish attitudes, and the significant variations among various segments of the Jewish population. The most meaningful variation was between younger and older Israelis. Among Israelis (including Arab Israelis) aged 18 to 29, 8 percent justified the massacre, 35 percent understood it (for a total of 43 percent who did not condemn it), and 56 percent condemned it. Thus, overt or covert approval for the massacre was higher among this youngest segment of adults than the national average. By contrast, among respondents aged 50 to 65, only 3 percent justified it, 18 percent understood it (for a total of 21 percent who did not condemn it), and 78 percent, far more than the national average, condemned it.

The breakdown by age shows that on issues involving the Palestinians in the territories, younger Israelis are more chauvinistic than older Israelis. The opposite is true on issues not directly involving the Palestinians in the territories. On freedom of the press, the younger Israelis turn out to be more liberal than the elderly.

If the young are the most xenophobic group among Israelis, the most xenophobic group among young Israelis are the young religious (which in Israel means Orthodox) Jews. Yael Fishbein, a veteran education correspondent, makes this point in a carefully documented article in Davar of March 3. "The youth's support for Kahane and his views is no news," she wrote. "The Van Leer Institute surveyed this phenomenon in the mid-1980s, using the Dahaf Institute, to find that the percentage of Kahane supporters among the youth stood at about 9 percent. When Kahane's name was not mentioned, however, support climbed to about 33 percent...

The young are the most xenophobic group among Israelis.

"The Van Leer survey also showed that support of religious youth for Kahane was three times as large as that of secular youth, and that the former tended to profess that support in much more extremist terms, stressing explicitly such tenets of Kahanism as hatred of Arabs, the denial of their rights or the demand to expel them from the Land of Israel."

Those findings, Fishbein wrote, sparked an extensive debate but "the religious Jewish community firmly opposed any education for democracy and co-existence in the name of the double standard prescribed by the Jewish religion for attitudes toward the Jews and the Gentiles. This double standard applied with particular force against the Arabs, whom many religious Jews perceived as the `offspring of Amalek' which they were duty-bound to exterminate. …

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