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Israel Studies 4.2 (1999) 237-246

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Political Violence and Extremism

Myron J. Aronoff


Ehud Sprinzak, Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination. New York: The Free Press (1999), xvii, 392 pp.


Israel's leading expert on political violence has compiled an encyclopedic compendium on violence and extremism in Israel. On the one hand, the comprehensiveness is a strength in that it covers every conceivable aspect of the problem. On the other hand, this comprehensiveness constitutes a weakness in that it prevents the kind of analytical focus that would have made this a stronger work. Sprinzak divides his study in two chronological parts. The decision to write chronologically meant mixing varied phenomena, which works better in the first part than in the second, since the former were mostly related to the major political divisions of the Yishuv and the early state. What he terms the first Israeli republic (1948-1967) deals with diverse, well-known events such as the Altalena affair, the assassinations of Chaim Arlosoroff and Count Folke Bernadotte, the "Season," Deir Yassin, opposition to German reparations, and the assassination of Rudolph (Israel) Kasztner, and less well-known events like the rebellion of Israel's seamen in 1951. Although these events have been well covered in the Hebrew literature, Sprinzak's discussion makes them available to a wider audience. Similarly, his discussion of Haredi violence makes the findings of such scholars as Menachem Friedman, Amnon Levy, Aviezer Ravitzky, and others, whose work is published primarily in Hebrew, accessible to a wider readership. Unfortunately, Sprinzak fails to show how they fit together as pieces of a whole mosaic.

Sprinzak perceptively and eloquently states that "the Six-Day War transformed the map of Israeli political consciousness" (115), and he uses it as an historical benchmark in the division of his book. He notes that the war introduced the ideological division between hawks (maximalists) and doves (minimalists) without explaining (as did Rael Jean Isaac 1 ) that this was the [End Page 237] result of the termination of the previous consensus over the nature of Israel's greatest security threat. Rather, he launches into discussions of the rise of the extra parliamentary left, Matzpen and Siah, and the eruption of "Sephardi" violence from Wadi Salib to the Black Panthers. Since the constituencies, goals, and tactics of these groups were so different, it is not obvious why (other than chronology) they should be discussed in the same chapter. This problem characterizes other chapters as well.

Gush Emunim and the Jewish terrorist underground have been widely analyzed even in English. Unfortunately, Sprinzak's discussion adds little to what is already known, even though he was one of the early pioneers in this research. A very superficial discussion of the Yom Kippur protest movements and Peace Now almost completely ignores the monumental changes in the political culture and the party system that were taking place. For example, he notes the changing of the top leadership of the Labor party in a single sentence and that Shinui "became instrumental in the downfall of Labor in 1977" (176). But conspicuously absent is any mention, much less discussion, of the transformation of the political system from a dominant party to a competitive party system, and he fails to cite the work of scholars whose research focuses on this transformation. Similarly, he ignores important analyses of the major changes that were taking place in Israeli political culture that paved the way for and accompanied these structural changes. Whereas he could not analyze such factors in detail, his own analysis suffers from the lack of institutional and cultural perspectives, which he could have obtained by situating his analysis in the context of the conclusions of other scholars as he does with other parts of his book.

Sprinzak's most valuable contributions are from his own original research on the Kahanist culture of violence, which he appropriately contrasts with that of Gush Emunim. Rabbi Moshe and Miriam Levinger and other Gush Emunim activists expressed contempt for the followers of Kahane, from whom they went to great lengths to...


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