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Friday, October 07, 2011

American Jewish "settlers" are more liberal than messianic

From Ha'aretz:
Something strange happened among the hills and red-roofed settlements of the West Bank: Western left-leaning radicalism moved in with right-wing Zionist ideology. At least that's the claim of an American doctoral student, who says American immigrants to Israel who move to the settlements are not stereotypical gun-toting extremists but rather represent a larger and more diverse dynamic than they are given credit for.

"Stereotypes exist because they also have some elements of truth to them, but there is a much wider, more nuanced story behind that," Sara Hirschhorn, 30, said. American Jews who settled in the West Bank represent "a very heterogeneous and dynamic movement," she added. "It doesn't necessarily fit into any preexisting categories. In addition to that, I believe that my findings bring the discussion out of this typical left/right discourse that we have developed when we talk about the settler movement. There is a very wide spectrum, which certainly runs the gamut of everything you can imagine."

Hirschhorn's dissertation, which she is doing at the University of Chicago, presents the first known attempt to draw up a comprehensive demographic profile of Americans within the Israeli settlement movement. Her findings seem to imply they are somewhat overrepresented: According to Hirschhorn, who had access to confidential records from the American consulate in Jerusalem, 45,000 settlers have American citizenship, or about 15 percent of the Israeli West Bank population. In comparison, Americans make up less than 8.5 percent of all Israeli Jews, based on estimates of 500,000 Americans among Israel's 5.8 million Jews.

"Jewish-American immigrants [to the territories] were primarily young, single, and highly identified as Jewish or traditional but not necessarily Orthodox in their religious orientation," Hirschhorn said. "They were primarily political liberals in the United States, voted for the Democratic Party and have been active in 1960s radicalism in the United States, participating in the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle against the Vietnam War. This perhaps does not necessarily correspond to the idea we might have in mind about who these people were before they came to Israel."

Hirschhorn started working on her dissertation three years ago. It is based on archival research and 25 interviews with various leading American-Israelis active in the settlement movement.

"Many of them were activists in the U.S. long before they became activists in Israel," Hirschhorn told Anglo File recently in Jerusalem. "A lot of them were heavily involved not only in secular activism but also in Jewish activism, especially around Beitar and other Jewish-Zionist youth movement in the U.S., some more right wing and some more left wing."

Many Americans who moved to the settlements after the Six-Day War see what they're doing in Israel as an extension of their radicalism in the United States, Hirschhorn said. "They would also say that what some of them consider what they're doing in the territories in part as an expression of their own Jewish civil rights."

"In coming to Israel and participating in the settlement movement these American Jews continued in their radicalism," the Massachusetts native said. "While many other from their generation went back to a more conventional lifestyle - becoming soccer mommies and moving to Scarsdale [and affluent New York suburb] - here they moved to a hilltop on the West Bank."

Hirschhorn added that many Americans who move to the West Bank are trying to recapture the pioneering idealism of the state's Zionist founders, while others are driven by a Biblical imperative to settle the land.
I never thought about the link between '60's style radicalism and those who choose to live in Judea and Samaria for ideological reasons, but there seems to be something to that. I'd love to see this paper when it is published.