Perceived Outgroup Hostility and the Implications for Identity
Individuals generally regarded their Jewish and Israeli identities as being inextricably entwined, in that they perceived Israel as “the one and only Jewish state” and themselves interchangeability as Jews and Israelis. Similarly, there was a perceived causal link between anti-Zionism and antisemitism – individuals attributed hostility towards Israel from outgroups to an underlying antisemitism:
Our country was built so Jews could call a place “home” and this [Israel] was an obvious choice because of our historical, spiritual connection to Israel [
… ] When people doubt Zionism and say how awful it is, they are really just revealing what they think deep down about Jews and that's all. (Dan, male)
Dan accentuated the Jewish character of Israel and reiterated its raison d'être as a Jewish homeland. By accentuating Israel's Jewish underpinnings, Dan was able to argue that anti-Zionism actually constituted a manifestation of antisemitism. He believed that opposition to Israel actually revealed “deep” inner cognitions concerning Jews. Individuals reflected upon the thoughts and feelings evoked by perceived hostility from outgroups towards the State of Israel and to their Israeli national identity. Although most manifested a sense of resilience in face of outgroup hostility, there was an underlying sense of threat to identity in several individuals' accounts:
Sometimes it makes me feel very alone. We are alone in a world that wants to just kill us. Alone in a region surrounded by people who want Jews dead. It is a harsh feeling and I think we Israelis do think of this a lot [ … ] When I went to Europe, I really thought of this even more. Crossing one border to go to another friendly country and everyone is different. There's a different culture there [ … ] they have no idea what we go through. It's a harsh feeling. It makes you wonder what's so wrong with you, your people, that they should do this. (Yiftach, male)
When you see other countries that do such things, you realise that Israel gets a lot of stick. It is singled out for being a Jewish state. It can do nothing right. It's due to our neighbours who hate us for being who we are [ … ] We try but we just can't fit in to this region, no matter what. (David, male)
Yiftach perceived extreme hostility towards both Jews and Israel from neighbouring countries and believed that outgroups “want Jews dead”. Like Yiftach, several individuals perceived regional outgroups (namely Arabs and Iranians) as posing a realistic threat to Jews because there was a perception that this wished to cause extreme harm, including death, to Israel due to its status as the Jewish State. It has long been acknowledged in social psychology that human beings actively seek feelings of acceptance and inclusion in relevant social groups (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). Similarly, social groups seek acceptance and inclusion within the broader social matrix. Individuals who perceive valued social groups as being excluded from society may experience similar threats to the belonging principle of identity. This seemed to be true of Yiftach and several other participants in the study. Yiftach indicated that he, as an Israeli, felt “very alone” and elaborated by describing his ethno-national ingroup as being “alone in a world that wants to just kill us” and “alone in a region surrounded by people who want Jews dead”. He described this threat to belonging as a “harsh feeling”. On the one hand, there was a clear perception of ingroup loneliness, that is, the notion that his ingroup did not belong in a superordinate society or community of nations. On the other hand, there was a perceived realistic threat to the lonesome ingroup from external parties who wished to harm it physically. Indeed, this perception of realistic threat was particularly important because ingroup security has long been a focal concern for Israeli society (Bar-Tal, Jacobson and Klieman, 1998).
Like many respondents in the study, Yiftach appeared to cope with outgroup hostility towards Israel in a relatively resilient manner, although his account did suggest that Israelis experienced threats to the belonging principle due to perceived exclusion, otherisation and threat from hostile outgroups. Interestingly, it was observed that the threat to belonging acquired particular salience when he travelled to Europe and observed positive intergroup relations between European nations, which facilitated an open-border policy between European nation-states. Despite the clear ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences between distinct European nations, Yiftach noted that there was a positive intergroup repertoire, which in turn rendered salient the negative intergroup repertoire characterising
relations between Israel and its neighbours. Individuals mulled over possible causes underlying this negative intergroup repertoire and concluded that it was antisemitism that underpinned the anti-Zionist stance of their neighbours. The attribution of anti-Zionism to antisemitism was abundantly evident in David's account – he believed that Israel was “being singled out for being a Jewish state”. David's account too pointed to a threatened sense of belonging due to consistent otherisation from its neighbours and Israel's futile attempts to “fit into this region”. Given the strong sense of attachment that most individuals attributed to their Israeli national identity, there was a generalisation of group-level threats to the identity principles to the individual level of cognition (Lyons, 1996). Participants expressed intense dismay at the negative outcomes that decades of intergroup conflict with their neighbours and exclusion from the superordinate level had
caused for ingroup self-efficacy:
I feel Israel could have achieved so much. Look where we'd be if we didn't have the whole world, especially the Muslim world, against us, trying to stop us from achieving our potential, blocking any Israeli achievement, refusing to participate against Israeli athletes, blowing up Jewish targets in the world, you see how much time and money we dedicate to [dealing with] Arab terror, it's unthinkable. (Orit, female)
They (antisemites) have squeezed out all our energy, resources, our everything. They achieve their aim, because even while we are trying to defend ourselves they are draining us [ … ] Look at the Iron Dome. We spend so much catching each Iranian missile.2 It is draining us slowly. (Ruth, female)
There was a prevalent perception that the State of Israel had been unable to realise its full potential due to several regional countries' steadfast commitment to antiZionism, which inhibited “Israeli achievement” in its various forms. Although participants were keen to avoid imagery of Islamophobia in their accounts, they did invoke “the Muslim world”, “Arab terror” and “Iranian missiles” in describing the perpetrators of anti-Zionism. Participants invoked Israel's isolation in the domain of competitive sports due to the unwillingness of some nations to compete against Israel and to boycott competitions in which Israel participated. For instance, Arash Miresmaili, the Iranian judoka competitor in the 2004 Summer Olympics, was said to withdraw from the competition in order to avoid having to compete against the Israeli player, Ehud Vaks. He later commented: “Although I have trained for months and was in good shape I refused to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathise with the suffering of the people of Palestine and I do not feel upset at all”.3 Both the
2 Here, the participant referred to the notion that the Islamic Republic of Iran supplies both Hezbollah and Hamas with rockets and weapons.
3 New York Times website nytimes.com/2004/08/14/sports/olympics-
notebook-iranian-judo-champion-refuses-to-face-israeli.html. then-mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former president Mohammed Khatami openly congratulated him on his withdrawal. It is noteworthy that, through their engagement with the Israeli media, participants were acutely aware of Iran's anti-Zionist stance in the domain of sport, which they construed as undermining their Israeli national identity.
Most importantly for participants, Israel was said to underachieve due to its necessary preoccupation with security issues which had arisen from anti-Zionism in the region (Bar-Tal, 2000). Orit believed that the State of Israel was compelled to dedicate much of its time, efforts and revenue to limiting “Arab terror” against Israel and “Jewish targets” in the world, which in turn limited the competence and achievement of Israel. Israel was perceived as being obliged to respond to the realistic threat (both to the State of Israel and to Jews abroad) posed by hostile outgroups. Ruth employed the metaphor of antisemites having “squeezed out all our energy, resources, our everything” and as “draining us” in order to objectify the consequential constraints perceived to be imposed upon ingroup self-efficacy. This suggested a gradual process of elimination which highlighted a perceived realistic threat from hostile outgroups. Indeed, a realistic threat is said to entail threats to the ingroup's resources (Stephan and Stephan, 2000), to which both Orit and Ruth explicitly referred.
Both participants invoked the importance of self-defence which further contributed to the social representation of realistic threat. Ruth exemplified the importance of self-defence by referring to Israel's Iron Dome, which is an air defence system designed to intercept and destroy short-range missiles. Although the Iron Dome is highly effective, it is very expensive to operate – it is estimated that each interceptor missile costs approximately $50,000. Israelis are acutely aware of the social representation of costliness, and within the context of the present study participants construed this as evidence of the strain on Israeli resources. As interviewees contemplated threats to (national) self-efficacy, they invoked the categories “Arab”, “Iranian” and “Muslim” in describing the perpetrators of such threats.
Respondents were unanimously supportive of a peace agreement with these groups, despite perceived hostility from them. However, upon close scrutiny the data suggested that Israelis had grown accustomed to the negative intergroup repertoire and that they doubted the prospect of positive intergroup relations with hostile outgroups:
I don't know, Arab and Israeli, it's not so common to link up, you know. I don't see much hope for this. It's uncomfortable [ … ] The situation is such that I can't imagine what it would be like, as an Israeli, to mix with Iranians, to talk to Iranians. There seems a sort of clash between our civilisations because of politics. With all the threats from them, I mean. (Elad, male)
Elad and others appeared to find it difficult to imagine social and diplomatic
relations between Israelis and Arabs and between Israelis and Iranians due to a
long history and legacy of negative intergroup relations (see also Jaspal, 2014b). This negative intergroup repertoire appeared to overshadow and obscure the positive intergroup encounters between Israelis and Arabs (Bar-Tal and Teichman, 2005). Elad described this as “uncomfortable” and as a “clash between our civilisations”, which suggested that a positive intergroup repertoire could be problematic for the psychological coherence principle of identity. Interestingly, this was also observable among the Iranians who participated in the interview study outlined in Chapter 7 – many of them regarded a positive intergroup repertoire as threatening for psychological coherence. Individuals had come to accept the social representation of realistic threat from hostile outgroups, namely Arabs and Iranians. As Bar-Tal (2000) observes, Israelis are acutely aware of the multiple invasions by Arab armies, the Arab embargo on Israeli products, and decades of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli Jews, which, collectively, have contributed to the social representation that the Israeli ingroup is besieged. Similarly, Israelis are increasingly anxious about the threat perceived to be associated with the Iranian regime, which is suspected to be pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. Consequently, like Elad, many Israelis appeared to have internalised the threat representation, which, as exemplified by Elad's account, was construed as incompatible with the notion of a positive intergroup repertoire with Arabs and Iranians. More specifically, individuals manifested suspicion surrounding the sincerity of hostile outgroups in peace talks, which perhaps rendered the prospect of positive intergroup relations all the more threatening for psychological coherence.
Participants unanimously conceptualised anti-Zionism as opposition to a Jewish nation state in the Land of Israel. By extension, there was a social representation among participants that Israeli Jews were “foreign” to the region and not genuinely “Middle Eastern”. There was a widespread desire to assert feelings of authenticity, which they felt were jeopardised as a result of this tenet of anti-Zionism:
They don't think we're true Middle Easterners. They say we're from Europe and we've colonised this place and kicked out the Palestinians but look at me. I am Middle Eastern. I feel Middle Eastern. This is the Middle East. This is where I was born and I really hate it when I hear this. I mean, whatever else, OK, it's a stereotype but me? European? This is absurd. (Hana, female)
Respondents were aware of the social representation that Israel constitutes an example of European colonialism, which is prevalent in the Middle East (Jaspal, 2013a). This was construed as raising questions about the authenticity of Israelis as Middle Easterners and, more generally, regarding the legitimacy of Israel as a nation state within this region. Many Israelis plausibly found this representation fallacious because of the reality that over half of the Israeli Jewish population consists of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, that is, Jews of non-European descent. As a Mizrahi Jew herself, Hana rejected the categories “European” and “coloniser” which she believed were commonly attributed to Israelis. Given her self-
categorisation as Middle Eastern, she felt that she was incorrectly categorised by hostile outgroups. This seemed to call into question her authenticity as a Middle Easterner, which was threatening for identity (Markowe, 1996). Hana believed that anti-Zionism resulted in the erroneous categorisation of Israelis as “Europeans” and “colonisers”, which may be threatening since individuals seek external “validation” of their social identities (Jaspal and Cinnirella, 2012). Incidentally, the lack of outgroup recognition for the State of Israel has contributed to the Israeli siege mentality (Bar-Tal, 2000).
Although perceived anti-Zionism and antisemitism appeared to jeopardise multiple principles of identity, potentially resulting in identity threat, there was a perception that outgroup hostility was a long-standing position to which individuals were culturally accustomed. It appeared that anti-Zionism did have negative implications for identity but it had come to form part of a “routine”:
Generations of Jews were born in a hostile world. We grew up knowing the Arabs hate us, and we have got used to it. Sometimes it does feel bad but not so much. It's just a part of life for us [ … ] If they didn't hate us, it'd be a shock, I'll tell you. My parents told me how strange it was when they went to Jordan. It was like making friends with your biggest enemy all of a sudden. (Sarit, female)
They are Muslims. What can you expect? Muslims don't like Jews and especially not Jews who are living their own land and controlling their own system. But it's a given. We know this, we've always known it and it's all we've known. Nothing new here. (Oliver, male)
Sarit and Oliver perceived antisemitism as an age-old phenomenon which “generations of Jews” had suffered and which had become an aspect of Jewish existence. Both Sarit and Oliver referred to Arab/Muslim antisemitism as a longstanding prejudice, in particular. They noted that these outgroups were unable to accept the notion of Jewish self-efficacy and political autonomy, objectified by the State of Israel. Although Sarit appeared to construe antisemitism as a threat to selfesteem, which is a predictable outcome of outgroup prejudice (Brown, 2000; Jaspal, 2011a), both she and Oliver invoked the “normality” of Arab/Muslim antisemitism such that they had grown accustomed to it. It could be argued that the perception of outgroup hostility had come to form part of their routine and that it had lost its power to threaten the continuity principle of identity. After all, participants did not perceive outgroup hostility from Arabs/Muslims as unexpected. Oliver referred to this as “nothing new” and made use of the present and present perfect tenses in order to illustrate Jews' long-standing awareness of antisemitism, as well as the centrality of antisemitism to the Jewish experience (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011). Conversely, it appeared that, in some cases, reconciliation with hostile outgroups could in fact jeopardise individuals' sense of continuity (see Chapter 7). Sarit illustrated this by referring to her parents' experience of visiting Jordan, a country with which Israel signed a peace agreement after five decades of conflict. There was a perceived temporal discord in having to view one's “biggest enemy” as a friend, which suggested a potential threat to continuity. Although individuals identified with and endorsed the concept of peaceful and harmonious intergroup relations with hostile outgroups, the perception of antisemitism and anti-Zionism had become potent and enduring and, thus, difficult to change (see Jaspal, 2011a, for an analysis of popular resistance to social change).
There was a perception of antisemitism and anti-Zionism from outgroups, which clearly had unfavourable outcomes for identity in that it could jeopardise the motivational principles of identity. However, it appeared that some respondents were resistant to a change in intergroup relations because this would entail a threat to the continuity principle of identity.