Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University - Carlo Strenger (Dept of Psychology)
compares Israel with Nazi Germany
Similarly, in the 1920s Germans felt humiliated
by the Versailles treaty, and their already weak economy could not
withstand the onslaught of the Great Depression. As a result, the
theory that a Jewish conspiracy had brought down Germany became ever
In Israel, there are currently two main
variations on the theme of conspiracy. Netanyahu's main story line
is that Israel is being delegitimized and that its very existence is
called into question. He keeps repeating that the global criticism
of Israel has nothing to do with the settlements, nor with the
stalled peace process. Since the world doesn't accept Israel's
existence, it doesn't matter what Israel does: it will be isolated
and under criticism.
Israel is trapped in paranoid vicious
As Netanyahu continues to explain criticism of Israel's
settlement policy as a conspiracy to delegitimatize the Jewish
state, hatred turns on a real or imagined enemy - Israeli Arabs.
By Carlo Strenger
The rise of racism and xenophobia in Israel has been a favorite
topic among pundits over the last few weeks, and for good reason,
because the phenomenon is worrying. The causes have been
well-analyzed: the fragmentation of Israeli society, the lack of a
common culture and ethos, and of course Israel's growing
This is the type of situation in which right-wing movements
flourish: They take the confusion engendered by complex factors, and
they resolve the problem by creating a conspiracy theory that
When faced with an intractable problem, right-wing politicians
single out an easily identifiable group to be the scapegoat. This is
the essence of what psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion called paranoid
This has been true for all societies, and we Jews should know
this well. Anti-Semitism rose steeply in the 13th century because of
the bubonic plague. At the time, people didn't understand the real
reason behind the deaths: a rise in urbanization. So they developed
conspiracy theories, for example that Jews had poisoned water wells.
Similarly, in the 1920s Germans felt humiliated by the Versailles
treaty, and their already weak economy could not withstand the
onslaught of the Great Depression. As a result, the theory that a
Jewish conspiracy had brought down Germany became ever more popular.
In Israel, there are currently two main variations on the theme
of conspiracy. Netanyahu's main story line is that Israel is being
delegitimized and that its very existence is called into question.
He keeps repeating that the global criticism of Israel has nothing
to do with the settlements, nor with the stalled peace process.
Since the world doesn't accept Israel's existence, it doesn't matter
what Israel does: it will be isolated and under criticism.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli
Yishai are focusing on Arabs as a fifth column. Each in his own way
keeps arguing that Israel is under threat from the inside and from
the outside. Since the outside threat cannot be addressed directly,
they focus on Israel's Arabs, arguing that they are threatening
For our purposes it is irrelevant whether Netanyahu, Lieberman
and Yishai believe their own stories, and what their precise
interests are in propagating them. We are interested in the effect
of right-wing tactics. The mechanism of explaining everything
through conspiracy has one immediate psychological effect: It
channels a vague anxiety into hatred focused on a real or imagined
It creates the temporary semblance of more unity through its
mythology: "Our society is in danger, there is an external enemy,
and we now need to stick together and fight that enemy."
In the long run, this type of myth exacerbates the real problems:
Netanyahu's line that the Palestinians and Iranians are the
obstacles to peace convinces very few outside Israel. It also
doesn't help that Netanyahu keeps a foreign minister whom most
commentators and diplomats (of course never officially) see as an
The result is that the international community no longer sees
Israel as a partner for peace talks, whereas it does see the
Palestinians as constructive; hence the notion that Israel needs to
be pressured into a peace agreement is gathering momentum.
This, in turn, is used in Netanyahu's story line that the world
is delegitimizing Israel's existence. Internally the situation is
exacerbated as well. Israel's Arabs feel more and more alienated by
the hatred propagated by seculars like Lieberman and the anti-Arab
This closes the vicious circle of paranoia: Anxiety is translated
into hatred and suspicion, which disrupts communication with the
outside world and internal groups designated as enemies. This leads
to further isolation, which in turn raises anxiety even further.
The right of course has no incentive to stop this vicious circle.
The higher the anxiety, the more votes it will reap.
Where this will vicious circle end? At this point it is very
difficult to see what forces inside Israel could change the
paranoid, isolationist state of mind. Politicians are pressured into
conforming to right wing demands to fall in line in the face of
impending doom, and are desperately afraid to be seen as traitors if
they point out that there might be more cooperative modes of action.
Historically, escalation from the right leads to implosion before
sanity is regained. This was true for Italy and Germany as it was
for Serbia. In these cases, the wakeup call to sanity was triggered
by a lost war. In the case of South Africa the international
community generated ever higher pressure, until the regime
understood that it was no longer tenable.
Not long ago it seemed that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict imposed from the outside would be a catastrophe. Given the
alternative, it is sadly ironic that international pressure toward
change is now the lesser of two evils.