Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession

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Israel and Iran invariably are portrayed as sworn enemies, engaged in an unending conflict with potentially apocalyptic implications.Iranophobia offers an innovative and provocative new reading of this conflict. Concerned foremost with how Israelis perceive Iran, the author steps back from all-too-common geopolitical analyses to show that this conflict is as much a product of shared cultural trajectories and entangled histories as it is one of strategic concerns and political differences.

Haggai Ram, an Israeli scholar, explores prevalent Israeli assumptions about Iran to look at how these assumptions have, in turn, reflected and shaped Jewish Israeli identity. Drawing on diverse political, cultural, and academic sources, he concludes that anti-Iran phobias in the Israeli public sphere are largely projections of perceived domestic threats to the prevailing Israeli ethnocratic order. At the same time, he examines these phobias in relation to the Jewish state's use of violence in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon in the post-9/11 world.

In the end, Ram demonstrates that the conflict between Israel and Iran may not be as essential and polarized as common knowledge assumes. Israeli anti-Iran phobias are derived equally from domestic anxieties about the Jewish state's ethnic and religious identities and from exaggerated and displaced strategic concerns in the era of the "war on terrorism."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...Iranophobia presents an innovative approach to studying Israeli-Iranian relations and should be seriously engaged with by anyone interested in the cultural foundations of this relationship."—Jacob Lederman, The GC Advocate

"Iranophobia is a recommended read for anyone trying to get a greater understanding of today's middle eastern conflict."—Library Bookshelf

"Ram (Middle East studies, Ben Gurion U. of the Negev, Israel) presents a critical history of changing Israeli perceptions of Iran before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He argues that, while some Israeli anxiety about Iran has derived from legitimate strategic concerns, much of it is derived from Israel's domestic crisis of modernity since the late 1970s. This crisis has involved a perception that Iran and Israel are similar states entwined by common trends and phenomena, a perception that has led to a displaced 'moral panic' among the Israeli media, the public, and agents of social control."—Book News

"Ram boldly challenges conventional assumptions about Iran and works to debunk Israeli and Western myths. First and foremost a study of Israeli culture through discussions about Iran, this utterly brilliant work reveals how Israeli anxieties about Iran are related to domestic social hierarchies, constructs, and politics in Israel."—Yehouda Shenhav, Tel Aviv University

"Someone with equal courage and imagination needs to do for Islamophobia in Europe and the United States what Haggai Ram has done so admirably for Iranophobia in Israel. Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession is a groundbreaking study of the constitution of the Enemy as a reflective sign of innate anxiety in those who do the constituting. Ram has written by far the most insightful book about current Israel and the social-psychology of its own fearful fantasies, while at the same time laying the theoretical groundwork of a much more ambitious project on dangerous delusions that obsess people and obscure reality. This is an indispensible piece of scholarship for anyone interested in the current tug of war between the Islamic Republic and the Jewish state, and even more so for those concerned for the fate of millions of human beings trapped inside gory allegories they weave around themselves."—Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University, author of Iran: A People Interrupted

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Haggai Ram is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. His publications include Reading Iran in Israel (2006, published in Hebrew) and Myth and Mobilization in Revolutionary Iran (1994).
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Introduction 1

1 Inaugurating Iran's Radical Alterity: Shifting Geopolitics, Oxymoronic Voices 23

2 Modernity in Crisis: Israeli Pipe Dreams of Euro-America and the Iranian Threat 50

3 Iran and the Jewish State's Repertoires of Violence in the Post-9/11 World 73

4 The Unclassifiable: Iran's Jews in Zionist/Israeli Imagination 96

Postscript: A Few Comments on a "Known Rapist" 120

Notes 135

Bibliography 187

Index 211

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  • Posted June 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Iran and Israel Looking in Each Other's Mirror

    Haggai Ram examines with much clarity and expertise Israel's multi-layered obsession with Iran before and after the revolution of 1979. Mr. Ram attributes the Iranophobia in the Israeli public sphere not only to the hostility of Iran towards Israel after the revolution of 1979 but also to the current and future direction of secular Zionism.

    A. Iranian-Israeli Hostility

    Iran and Israel have been locked in a strategic rivalry for military supremacy in an unstable region that lacks a clear pecking order. The threats and counter-threats that Iran and Israel have persistently made against each other reflect genuine feelings of vulnerability on both sides that are anchored in their respective histories.

    Israel relies on its military superiority and nuclear arsenal to avoid a second Holocaust. Unsurprisingly, many Israeli are inclined to compare the threatening President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler and Iran's suspected nuclear program to Nazi Germany's series of aggressions in the 1930s. Mr. Ram reminds his audience that most people who make these comparisons fail to mention that Iran has the largest, largely prosperous Jewish community in the Middle East. To the perplexity of many Jews outside Iran, most Iranians Jews do not want to leave Iran. Furthermore, Mr. Ram observes that many Iranians do not share the obsession of President Ahmadinejad with Israel and his anti-Semitism.

    Iran is challenging Israel's military superiority and is more than probably developing its own nuclear arsenal for different reasons. First, Iran feels surrounded by enemies or potential enemies. Secondly, Iran observes the inconsistent enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation regulations towards India and volatile Pakistan by nuclear U.S. and nuclear Israel. Thirdly, Iran's insecurity cannot be properly understood without the related contexts of monarchic despotism and Iran's entanglement with the history of Western colonialism since the early nineteenth century. Finally, Iran does not forget the complicity of Israel with the Shah's repressive policies.

    B. Israeli Domestic Politics

    Mr. Ram controversially suggests that Israel's approaches to and anxieties about Iran were greatly influenced not only by the Israeli-Egyptian peace process of 1977-1981, but also by the Likud's victory in the 1977 elections and the rise of the religious Zionist settler movement since the mid-1970s. In the 1977 national election, the Likud party ended nearly thirty years of Labor party rule by appealing to many Mizrahi (Oriental) Israelis who were being treated by the Ashkenazi (European) Jewish ethno-class as second-class citizens. Many Israelis feel that present-day Iranian realities are in effect actualizations of Israel's future. The rise of religious parties has shown that Israel cannot fully subscribe to the separation between religion and secularism.

    Despite Iranian-Israeli animosities, and despite everything else, Mr. Ram reminds his audience that there still exist some intact bridges between both countries through the intermediation of Turkey. For this reason, Turkey could play a key role in the new approach of U.S. President Barack Obama to global politics, including Iran.

    To summarize, the book under review is not for the faint of heart. Some readers will call Mr. Ram's book 'blasphemous' because it bluntly challenges many clichés about Iran and Israel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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