Stranger in the Land: Jewish Identity Beyond Nationalism

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A critical appraisal of the politics of Jewish identity after the Holocaust and a passionate memoir by an Israeli dissenter.

in 1984, Daniel Cil Brecher, then a reservist in the Education Corps of the Israeli army, refuses to cross into occupied Lebanon to deliver a morale-boosting lecture to Israeli troops fighting there. This small act of rebellion against an unjustified war marks the critical turning point in a lifelong search for identity.

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Overview

A critical appraisal of the politics of Jewish identity after the Holocaust and a passionate memoir by an Israeli dissenter.

in 1984, Daniel Cil Brecher, then a reservist in the Education Corps of the Israeli army, refuses to cross into occupied Lebanon to deliver a morale-boosting lecture to Israeli troops fighting there. This small act of rebellion against an unjustified war marks the critical turning point in a lifelong search for identity.

Brecher grew up in postwar Germany as the son of Austrian Holocaust survivors. Caught between an unwelcoming German society and a weary and isolated Jewish community, Brecher witnessed the rise of Jewish nationalist thinking — the weakening of Jewish intercultural identity and the hardening of attitudes toward the non-Jewish world — attitudes that helped to justify the violent creation of a Jewish homeland, and to trivialize its consequences. After moving to Israel in search of personal fulfillment, Brecher served as a historian in the reserves, where he lectured troops about the official history of the country. Gradually, Brecher came to recognize this official history as myth and to feel that his homeland was not the liberal democracy it purported to be.

Weaving lucid political and historical argument into a passionate account of his life in Europe and Israel, Brecher explores both the private and public dimensions of the modern Jewish narrative — integration and displacement, the Holocaust, the Jewish colonization of Palestine, and attitudes towards Arabs and other non-Jews. He concludes: Equating the experience of Anti-Semitism in the Diaspora with the suffering of Jews in Israel radicalizes the Middle East conflict, fuels distrust of the non-Jewish world and deepens the injustices committed against the Palestinians.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews

A readable, provocative rejoinder to Tom Segev’s 1967, Gershom Gorenberg’s The Accidental Empire and other recent works on modern Israel.

Publishers Weekly

...his critique...that most Israelis do not empathize with nor even think about Palestinian suffering, is worth considering...a thoughtful autobiography.

Kirkus Reviews
Must one be Zionist to be Israeli, or even Jewish? Historian Brecher, former director of the Leo Baeck Institute in Jerusalem, ponders the question. The author, born in Tel Aviv but long resident in his parents' native Germany, returned to Israel in the 1960s. In Germany, he writes, "most parents of the Jewish children I grew up with made do with abstract, summary remarks when their experiences during the persecution came up." In Israel, conversely, his historian colleagues "wanted to steer me out of the darkness and confusion of the Diaspora" and urged him to embrace a vision of a Jewish people living in a secular culture in which they were neither oppressed nor assimilated, or assimilated to the extent that its members were "new Jews," namely Israelis, ethnically dominant in a country of their own. "How could I, as a German Jew, accept such a nationalistic principle of nation and nationality?" writes Brecher. He could not, it develops, for he became convinced that such status was possible only at the expense of the land's Arab inhabitants. Though surrounded by 100 million Arabs, he urges, Israel is the Goliath of lore, a modern industrial nation with a powerful army set against corrupt and ineffectual countries that could not manage even to feed their own people. His views earned him enemies and cost him a certain amount of influence in his work as a military historian, but, as he writes in this combination of memoir and history, he pressed his case as a lecturer and as an activist in the nascent Israeli peace movement. Only when Israeli society acknowledges the injustices the nation has committed, he concludes, will that peace be possible, though "this is predicated on a politicalmaturity . . . that is not yet in evidence."A readable, provocative rejoinder to Tom Segev's 1967, Gershom Gorenberg's The Accidental Empire and other recent works on modern Israel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512111
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 7/11/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Cil Brecher

Daniel Cil Brecher is an independent historian living in Amsterdam. A former director of the Leo Baeck Institute in Jerusalem, he has taught at Haifa University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His documentary films and exhibitions have been shown throughout Europe and the U.S. Barbara Harshav has translated more than thirty books from German, French, Hebrew, and Yiddish, including After the Holocaust, Jewish Memories, A Surplus of Memory, and My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman. A historian by profession, she lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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