The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege


In the 1993 Oslo accords, Israel embraced Yasser Arafat as its "peace partner." It then installed him in Gaza and the West Bank as head of a nascent Palestinian government, allowed him to bring with him some 7,000 of his loyalist gunmen, and provided the gunmen with weapons, even as Arafat continued to support terrorist attacks on Israelis and to assure Palestinians and other Arabs his goal remained Israel's ...
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In the 1993 Oslo accords, Israel embraced Yasser Arafat as its "peace partner." It then installed him in Gaza and the West Bank as head of a nascent Palestinian government, allowed him to bring with him some 7,000 of his loyalist gunmen, and provided the gunmen with weapons, even as Arafat continued to support terrorist attacks on Israelis and to assure Palestinians and other Arabs his goal remained Israel's destruction.

Why did Israel pursue the path of Oslo? Why did it persist on that path when, in the wake of the initial Oslo agreements, the Palestinians unleashed an unprecedented wave of anti-Israel terror?  Palestinian leaders also routinely called for holy war against Israel and compared Oslo to the Treaty of Hudaibiya, which Mohammed had signed in 628 and abandoned when his forces became strong enough to overwhelm his adversaries. Arafat and his subordinates told Arab audiences that Oslo was a step in the PLO's 1974 "plan of phases," a strategy of acquiring whatever land could be won by negotiations and using that territory as a base for pursuing Israel's annihilation.  Yet Israel responded with additional concessions.

What psychological, historical and communal forces spawned policies that undermined Israel's security and even threatened its survival? Dr. Levin's original and powerfully persuasive analysis relates Israeli diplomacy of the nineteen-nineties to psychological responses common among chronically besieged populations, whether minorities subjected to defamation, discrimination and assault or small nations under chronic attack by their neighbors. More particularly, he demonstrates links between the evolution of Oslo and the long history of Diaspora Jews being subjected to persistent abuse. The reaction of many enduring such abuse was to seek to improve their predicament by endorsing elements of the surrounding societies' bigoted indictments and embracing delusions of salvation through self-effacement and concessions.

This case study in the psychology of a community under chronic attack takes on broader significance at a time when even traditionally safe and secure societies such as the United States are confronting the psychological challenges posed by terrorist assaults.

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Editorial Reviews

Center for Security Policy Decision Brief
"The Oslo Syndrome" chronicles the delusions of successive groups within the Jewish world, with a particular focus on the most prominent and contemporary of the phenomena - that of politicians and organizations associated with "the Peace Movement." Dr. Levin explains: "The Peace Movement's stance in fact was as divorced from reality as had been German Jews' blaming of Polish Jews for anti-Semitism, or secular European Jews' blaming of the religious, or socialist Jews' blaming of the Jewish bourgeoisie. But proponents of the Movement, cowed by the persistence of the siege and desperate to see its end, chose to delude themselves. They grasped at any seemingly positive statement coming from an Arab political figure and ignored all the countervailing evidence."
May 31, 2005
Joel Fishman
"This book gives a sober, well-balanced picture of the Jewish experience in modern times, with special emphasis on how the Oslo adventure affected all levels of Israeli society as well as Jews abroad. The discussion of Oslo gives a more candid and complete treatment than what is commonly known in Israel. This work also reconfirms the relevance of the honest treatment of history. The Oslo Syndrome is not an example of the "new history," where information is selected and altered to fit in with ideology, but a carefully documented account that follows the facts. Understanding the recent events that are clarified in this book could help in formulating sound public policy, notwithstanding the rootless opportunists who argue that history is merely an obstacle to be disregarded. Not least, a well-educated public in possession of its own narrative is less likely to be taken for a ride by the bus driver of the moment."
Jerusalem Center for Policy Analysis, April 2005
Katie Silberman
Levin analyzes Middle East psyches in Oslo Accords
Combining psychiatric analysis with international relations, Dr. Kenneth Levin spoke about his new book analyzing Israeli psychological responses to the Palestinians in a Monday night speech sponsored by Chabad.
Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School and frequent commentator on Israeli politics, claimed that groups living under such stressful situations -- the "chronically besieged" -- often choose to accept even the most improbable offers of relief in hopes of ending their mistreatment.
"The chronically besieged tend to embrace the indictments of their accusers in hopes that by accepting them, by reforming, they will escape their predicament," Levin said.
The Oslo Accords, a series of agreements between Israel and Palestine in an attempt to end the Israeli-Arab conflict peacefully, were signed in 1993. They made little progress in their attempts to bring peace to the Middle East and saw increased violence between the two countries.
"The Oslo process was supposed to bring peace, and instead it led to, at that point, the worst terror that Israel had ever seen. The obvious question is why," Levin said. "People haven't answered the basic whys because when you answer them, you realize that Oslo was doomed from the beginning."Levin's book, "The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege," analyzes why so many Israeli Jews saw promise in the Oslo Accords peace negotiations despite Yassar Arafat's public refusals to renouce terrorism.
Making use of his expertise in psychiatry, Levin compared the Israeli mindset to that of an abused child blaming himself for beatings. The son of an alcoholic father who physically abuses him knows that he is being abused, Levin said, but the child will almost invariably think he is at fault."No matter how many times his father beats him, that child will steadfastly believe, 'If I reform, if I do better, it'll stop,'" according to Levin.
The same mentality led to the Israeli embrace of Arafat's false promises of peace, Levin said. Jews embraced these false promises because of the pathology associated with chronic ill-treatment.
Levin cautioned that the psychological response was in no way exclusive to Israel or the Jews; it occurs when any state or minority is oppressed.
He discussed the book with the modest crowd and then opened the floor up to a heated question-and-answer session. Levin did not hesitate to engage his audience in arguments or boldly disagree with audience members' sentiments.
Audience members, intrigued by Levin's contentious theories, stayed long after the question-and-answer session, which went on for so long it had to be cut off."I thought that it was well presented and well thought out," David Nutt '09 said. "Dr. Levin has obviously given considerable thought to the situation. Even though I didn't necessarily agree with what he said, I thought his reasoning was fascinating."
The Dartmouth October 11, 2005
New York Post
"In this massively researched, lucidly written and cogently argued narrative, Kenneth Levin tells the appalling story of what has been called the greatest self-inflicted wound of political history: Israel's embrace of Yasser Arafat and the PLO in the Oslo Accords of September 1993 and its dogged adherence to its obligations under them even as its "peace partner" was blatantly flouting its own.

The book is divided into two sections. The first recounts Jewish political failure in the Diaspora, where Jews lived with a constant burden of peril, as the background for the self-deluding rationales that engendered Oslo. The second traces the same self-delusions in the history of Israel itself.

Levin shows how a tiny nation, living under constant siege by neighbors who have declared its very existence an aggression, was induced by its intellectual classes to believe that its own misdeeds had incited Arab hatred and violence, and that what required reform was not Arab dictatorship and Islamicist anti-Semitism, but the Jews themselves..."
Sunday 6/12/05

Publishers Weekly
While the subject of this study is specific-"the delusional thinking that underlay Israel's attempt to achieve peace with its neighbors through the so-called Oslo process"-the author's interests and conclusions are wide-ranging. Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a commentator on Israeli politics, attempts to analyze why many Israeli Jews chose to believe in the peace negotiations of the early 1990s, even when Yasser Arafat was refusing calls to publicly renounce terrorism. Levin analyzes this through both historical and psychoanalytic lenses, mapping out how people who have lived under siege are likely to internalize the hatred they encounter and become "delusional" about their own self-interest. Levin also discusses European and American anti-Semitism and its effect on Jewish identity, from the mid-19th century to 1948, with some background material on the emergence of Zionism and the British Mandate. While the word "delusional" may be too strong, Levin's psychoanalytic arguments about the "corrosive impact of... besiegement" are fascinating and generally persuasive. But once stated, their truth becomes self-evident and their explanatory application over 600 pages of Jewish and Israeli history begins to feel thin. Levin's documentation of the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the past three decades is exhaustive, but while there is mention of the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, Levin might have spent more time exploring how his ideas affect other countries or political situations. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781575254173
  • Publisher: Smith & Kraus, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/2005
  • Pages: 599
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction Oslo - A Delusional "Peace" Process................................ix

Section one
The Diaspora
One- The Modern Era: New Anti-Jewish Indictments and Their Toll..................2
Two- Decimation and Survival: The Ancient and Medieval Diaspora..................12
Three- Outside Looking In: Europe's Jews in the Late 1700s to 1880...............36
Four- Besiegement East and West, 1880-1914.......................................63
Five- The War Between the Wars...................................................90
Six- American Jews and the Holocaust: Catastrophe and Failure....................117
Seven- Responding to Acceptance: American Jewry After the War....................144

Section Two
Eight- Herzl and His Challengers.................................................184
Nine- The Mandate Years: Jewish Delusions Transplanted...........................200
Ten- The Labor Decades: New Nation, Old Pathology................................224
Eleven- Demonizing the "Other Israel," 1977-1988.................................250
Twelve- Delusions Ascendant: The Peace Movement Up to Oslo.......................274
Thirteen- Oslo: Rationalizing the Irrational.....................................321
Fourteen- Oslo Underway: Encountering, and Ignoring, Reality.....................343
Fifteen- The Netanyahu Interlude: A Bump on the Road to Self-Immolation..........393
Sixteen- Ehud Barak and Oslo's Collapse: End of a Fantasy........................412
Seventeen- American Jews and Oslo................................................448
Eighteen- A War of Terror and Israel's Awakening.................................465


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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2006

    Explaining the Oslo delusion

    This is according to one of the best writers on Jewish affairs working today, Manfred Gerstenfeld the finest book ever written on the subject of Jewish self- hatred. Levin explains why Israeli leaders and public ignored all significant signals of true Arafat, and Palestinian intentions- and rushed into an Oslo agreement that resulted in an intensified terror war against Israel. The latest result of this delusion is the bringing into power in the Palestinian Authority of the racist Anti- Semite radical Islamic group Hamas. Levin sees the behavior of the Israelis in Oslo as characteristic of populations under seige. This may be small countries or minorities. The analogy is to abused children who find themselves adopting the viewpoint of the abusing parent- and blaming themselves when they have not been at fault. The child does this in order to maintain hope, and acts in order to please the abusing parent. The Israelis under seige bought into the 'delusion of peace' that enabled them to hope that there was after so many years of war, a way out of their situation. Levin traces historically how Israeli society has bought into different delusions of peace at different times. He also indicates how this is not a Jewish problem alone, and how other groups under seige have acted in the same self-defeating way. He too points out that it is especially the elites of the society under seige who tend to adopt the views of hostile opponents. And this as the elites of minorities often too adopt the views of discriminating majorities. Levin's book is a wake- up call to Israeli society and the Jewish world. It is a call to begin thinking sanely and rationally. It is a call for Israelis to not simply affirm their own right to existence, but to go on the offensive against those villifying and attacking them. To do this with courage requires admitting that the seige is not about to end immediately, and that this is a long- term struggle. Levin points out there is hope in this regard, that even during the period of worst post- Oslo terror and violence eighty percent of Israelis maintained that they enjoyed living in Israel, and would not go elsewhere. In this sense it may well be that the general Israeli population has a more balanced and sane grip on reality than have a good share of their leadership. This is an understanding study which should be part of every Jewish communal library. It also should be read by those with interest in the present test Western civilization is now being put to by radical Islamic Civilization. A tremendously valuable and most highly recommended work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2005

    Important, powerful & sometimes disturbing.

    With particular reference to the basis of the Oslo Accords, and quite disturbing at times, this book delves into the 'mind-set' of Israelis which has resulted in their pursuit of 'peace' with the Palestinian/Arab world. The book outlines how in 1993, the Israeli leadership made the decision to embrace Yasser Arafat as it's 'peace partner', installing him and what is cited as a 'nascent Palestinian government' in Gaza and the 'West Bank' (Biblical Judea & Samaria). Israeli leaders are shown to have allowed Yasser Arafat to bring some 7,000 Palestinian gunmen along with him and provide them with the weaponry which was intended for use by his security services. Weapons which are depicted to have been subsequently used for attacks upon Israelis. The Israeli pursuit of 'peace' under what is called an 'unprecedented wave of anti-Israeli terror', the subsequent effects upon Israeli society and the 'peace process' itself, are all investigated in some detail. Many pertinent questions are asked as to 'why' such a path was trodden,whilst Yasser Arafat and his PLO are described as addressing Arab audiences to the effect that, any/all territory acquired from Israel is only part of the PLO's own 'phased plan' to eradicate the Jewish state. Due reference being provided throughout. Living in a country which the book describes as being 'under perpetual siege', the reader is provided with an extraordinary insight into how 'psychological and historical forces' have spawned such Israeli policies. This is provided specifically in the context of how such a political process is still being allowed to proceed when the cited agendas of Arafat and the PLO are still being met with further, territorial, financial and related concessions without any reciprocity from the Arab side. References revealing that Israel's 'peace partner' was allegedly becoming accustomed to receiving Israeli concessions without giving anything in return and that unilateral withdrawals were only accelerating that phenomenon. Further significant reference is also made to how Israelis have purportedly been confronted with what is termed 'revisionist history'. Many pivotal and foundational issues cited to have been distorted to such a degree that innocent 'peace-famished' Israeli civilians are described as being colluded into falsely believing that 'anti-Jewish sentiment was grounded in a fair and truthful assessment of the Jews'. This giving rise to the perception that , through 'submission', the Jewish community would pave the way to it's eventual 'acceptance' and that it was subsequently possible to achieve peace through territorial and other concessions, irrespective of the ongoing terrorism. The delusional nature of this impression is examined in some depth. The cover of this work carries two photographs o One photograph is of the late Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, shaking each other's hands under the auspices of former US President Clinton on the White House lawn during 1993. The other photograph is that of an Israeli bus, blown apart by a Palestinian suicide bomber. The carnage is horrifying. The reader is left to his own interpretation of these presentations but their relevance & significance are as difficult to ignore as the implications of this study upon the ongoing 'mind-set' behind the ongoing 'peace process' at this time. Whether or not the individual reader agrees with the assertions of this work, this is a book that desperately needs reading by anyone who seeks to understand the feelings of those on the ground. It's importance cannot be under-estimated. Highly recommended.

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