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V Responding to Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism

Re-Visiting Siege Mentality: Israeli Responses to Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism1


This book attests to the phenomenological importance of antisemitism and antiZionism among some groups and individuals. This is a long-standing problem with potentially severe ramifications. Israeli Jews are acutely aware of the existence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. There has been some empirical research into their responses to such forms of prejudice, some of which is summarised in Chapter 1. Based on quantitative survey research, Bar-Tal (2000) has made particularly important social psychological contributions to this area by arguing that Israeli Jews suffer from a “siege mentality” which motivates them to believe that the world is unanimously hostile and united against the Israeli ethno-national ingroup. This chapter re-visits this construct by examining, in two qualitative interview studies, how Israeli Jews respond to antisemitism and anti-Zionism with particular foci upon the implications for identity processes and how they cope with potential threat. This chapter outlines the following themes: (i) Perceived Outgroup Hostility and the Implications for Identity; (ii) Muslim Anti-Zionism as a Continuation of Antisemitism; (iii) Holocaust Denial, Siege and Identity; (iv) Coping with Antisemitism: Re-Establishing Belonging and Self-Esteem.

Methodological overview

The data presented in this chapter are drawn from two qualitative interview studies conducted in the summer of 2010 and the spring of 2012 with two groups of Israeli Jewish individuals. Unlike Part IV of this book, this chapter was characterised by a focus upon how Israeli Jews might respond to antisemitism and anti-Zionism, such as how awareness of antisemitism and anti-Zionism might affect their sense of self and how they might cope with potential threats to identity associated

1  Sections of this chapter draw upon a previously published article: Jaspal, R. and Yampolsky, M. (2011). Social representations of the Holocaust and Jewish Israeli identity construction: insights from identity process theory. Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture, 17(2), 201–24. Content from this article is used here with the permission of that journal. with these forms of prejudice. The principal focus of the study was on the social psychological level, and there was detailed consideration to the social contexts in which individual cognition was embedded.

Forty-three Israeli Jewish men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 participated in an in-depth interview concerning “perceptions of antisemitism and anti-Zionism”. The interview schedule tapped into: (i) self-description and identity; (ii) the perceived characteristics of Judaism and Zionism; (iii) experiences of being Jewish/a Zionist in distinct social, cultural and geographical contexts;

(iv) experiences and/or perceptions of antisemitism and anti-Zionism; and (v) the implications of these experiences and/or perceptions for identity processes.

There were 20 male and 23 female participants. Twenty participants had a university degree, 10 were completing their military service, and the remaining 13 had completed high school. Participants were recruited from within the Tel Aviv area. A range of ethnic backgrounds were represented in the sample – 27 described themselves as Ashkenazi (European descent), 15 as Mizrahi (Middle Eastern descent) and 1 participant described himself as being of Sephardic (Spanish/North African) descent. All of the participants self-identified as secular Jews. Data were analysed using thematic analysis, following the same analytical procedures that were described in Chapter 7.

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