A Stranger in the Land: Jewish Identity Beyond Nationalism

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9781590512111: A 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.

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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About the Author:

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.

From Publishers Weekly:

Brecher, an Amsterdam-based independent historian who lived in Israel and now describes himself as an opponent of Zionism, has conjoined two books. One is an often rich personal memoir of his life, and alienation, in both postwar Germany, where he grew up, and then in Israel as a young man during the 1980s, when he served in the army's education corps. Brecher has many insightful things to say about such issues as the understandably anxious nature of German-Jewish identity. The other book is an analysis of Israeli society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Brecher characterizes the 1993 Oslo Accords as not a peace treaty, but a treaty of surrender by the Palestinians. While Brecher acknowledges Palestinian terrorism, his basic stance is that the Zionists were and continue to be colonialists and expansionist aggressors—a cartoonish history of a conflict marked by tragedy and by injustices committed by both sides. Some of his critique, such as that most Israelis do not empathize with nor even think about Palestinian suffering, is worth considering. In general, however, though a thoughtful autobiography, this is less successful as history.
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Daniel Cil Brecher, Barbara Harshav (Translator)
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