In my recent post about the “summer camp of destruction,” I cited figures from Israeli social psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal’s survey on the political attitudes of Jewish Israeli high school students. In polling conducted in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Bar-Tal found that a majority of Israeli high schoolers favored at least some form of apartheid, and that the desire for apartheid among religious nationalist youth was nearly universal. The disturbing findings have been generally read as a reflection of Israel’s comprehensive shift to the hard right since the collapse of the so-called peace process (see Bar-Tal’s polling on Israeli attitudes toward territorial concessions here). But there is considerable evidence that a majority of Jewish Israeli youth had been been successfully conditioned to consent to indiscriminate violence against Arabs well before the most recent phase of radicalization, and years before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza even began.
Akiva Orr was a founder of the leftist group Matzpen, the first organized Israeli group to renounce Zionism and urge a joint struggle with Palestinians against the occupation. Orr has been a swimming champion in Mandate Palestine, a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence, a neighbor of David Ben Gurion, and a leader of the movement to free Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu (who is finishing out a grueling prison sentence for violating the onerous terms of his release). His unique perspective makes him one of the most valuable but under-acknowledged analysts of Israeli society from its earliest days.
In his excellent collection of essays, “Israel: Politics, Myths, and Identity Crises,” Orr explored in detail the political attitudes of the generation born in independent Israel immediately after 1948. He identified the first curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education as a key factor in the radicalization of this generation of youth. Orr wrote, “Already in the early 1950’s special lessons on ‘Jewish consciousness’ were introduced into all schools to inculcate Jewish identity into the minds of the very young. These lessons present Jewish history as a unique — and inexplicable — martyrology… The motto is: ‘Masada will never fall again.'”
Orr described a document that exposed the consequences of indoctrinating the young and impressionable: A 1963 poll published by the Israeli psychologist G. Tamarin entitled, “A Pilot Study in Chauvinism: The Influence of Ethnico-Religious Prejudices on Moral Judgment.” Tamarin’s research compiled responses by over 1000 Jewish Israeli schoolchildren of ages 8 to 14 to two texts. (The children represented a broad range of social groups and classes spanning the whole of Israeli society — only Arab students were exempted). The first part of the first text presented to the children read:
You are well acquainted with the following passages from the book of Joshua: “So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets; and it came to pass when the people heard the sound of the trumpet and the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that they people went into the city every man straight ahead and they took the city. And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass with the edge of the sword. (VI, 20, 21) And that day Joshua took Makkedah, and smote it with the edge of the sword and the kings thereof he utterly destroyed and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain in it; but did unto the king thereof as he did unto the king of Jericho.”
After reading the passage, the children were asked the following questions:
1. Do you think that Joshua, and the Sons of Israel acted right or not? Explain your view.
2. Suppose the Israeli army conquers an Arab village in battle. Do you think it would be proper to act against the inhabitants as did Joshua with the people of Jericho and Makkedah? Explain your view.
600 of the children expressed total approval of Joshua’s destruction of Jericho and the application of his methods to the Arabs. Only 200 totally disapproved while 200 expressed mixed feelings — either partial approval or disapproval.
The same children were then presented with a version of the same story taken from ancient Chinese history:
General Lin, who founded the Chinese kingdom some 3000 years ago went to war with his army to conquer them a land. They came to some great cities with high walls and strong fortresses. The Chinese War God appeared to General Lin in a dream and promised him victory, ordering him to kill all living souls in the cities, because these people belonged to other religions. General Lin and his soldiers took the towns and utterly destroyed all that was therein, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep, and ass with the edge of the sword. After destroying the cities they continued their way conquering many countries.
Only 70 children among the group of over 1000 totally approved of General Lin’s methods. 750 totally disapproved while the rest expressed mixed feelings.
Here is a breakdown of Tamarin’s findings:
On the Joshua question: (A) 60% (B) 20% (C) 20%
On the General Lin q: 7% 18% 75%
A = total approval
B = partial approval or disapproval
C = total disapproval
Why did a majority of the children support applying Joshua’s destruction of Jericho to the Arabs, while strongly rejecting the methods of the non-Jewish General Lin? Tamarin published a few of the children’s justifications:
The Israeli army would have acted rightly if it acted towards the Arabs as Joshua acted towards the people of Jericho and Makeddah. I think so because if they would have left the people and the city, the Arabs would have invaded the city and fought them.
I think they acted well, as Joshua did, because the Arabs want us to believe in their idols.
Joshua and the Sons of Israel did not act well, as they could have spared the animals for themselves.
Joshua acted properly because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.
When Tamarin released his research, Tel Aviv University refused to publish it. His findings only reached the public when they were read aloud during a meeting of the Israeli Psychological Society in November 1963. When Tamarin’s data was finally reported by the Israeli press, it caused a major uproar. In a cold and clinical fashion, he had informed the Israeli public that their children had been conditioned to approve of hypothetical acts of genocide against their Arab neighbors, if not to become active participants in a real genocide. Yet instead of prompting calls for reforming the education system, Tamarin’s research only invited widespread scorn.
Bar-Tal’s recent polls must be read in the light of Tamarin’s path-breaking study. Taken together, the surveys are evidence that the extremist political tendency of Jewish Israeli youth is not a new trend, but the intensification of a long process (Bar-Tal has been covering the phenomenon for years). And thanks to figures like Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar, who endorsed Im Tirtzu’s McCarthyite campaign against academic critics of state violence, the process will grind on until well into the future.