CofC’s preface (4 of 10)

“The Jewish problem is one of the greatest problems in the world, and no man, be he writer, politician or diplomatist, can be considered mature until he has striven to face it squarely on its merits.”

—Henry Wickham Steed


The Culture of Critique’s
“The evolutionary origins of Jewish
collectivism and ethnocentrism”
in the Preface:

Jews originate in the Middle Old World cultural area(11) and retain several of the key cultural features of their ancestral population.

The Middle Old World culture group is characterized by extended kinship groups based on relatedness through the male line (patrilineal) rather than the bilateral relationships characteristic of Europeans. These male-dominated groups functioned as military units to protect herds, and between-group conflict is a much more important component of their evolutionary history. There is a great deal of pressure to form larger groups in order to increase military strength, and this is done partly by acquiring extra women through bridewealth.(12) (Bridewealth involves the transfer of resources in return for marriage rights to a female, as in the marriages of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob recounted in the Old Testament.)

As a result, polygyny rather than the monogamy characteristic of European culture is the norm. Another contrast is that traditional Jewish groups were basically extended families with high levels of endogamy (i.e., marriage within the kinship group) and consanguineous marriage (i.e., marriage to blood relatives), including the uncle-niece marriage sanctioned in the Old Testament. This is exactly the opposite of Western European tendencies toward exogamy. (See MacDonald 1994, Chs. 3 and 8 for a discussion of Jewish tendencies toward polygyny, endogamy, and consanguineous marriage.) Table 1 contrasts European and Jewish cultural characteristics.(13)

[The table can be seen here]

Whereas individualist cultures are biased toward separation from the wider group, individuals in collectivist societies have a strong sense of group identity and group boundaries based on genetic relatedness as a result of the greater importance of group conflict during their evolutionary history. Middle Eastern societies are characterized by anthropologists as “segmentary societies” organized into relatively impermeable, kinship-based groups (e.g., Coon 1958, 153; Eickelman 1981, 157-174). Group boundaries are often reinforced through external markers such as hair style or clothing, as Jews have often done throughout their history. Different groups settle in different areas where they retain their homogeneity alongside other homogeneous groups. Consider Carleton Coon’s (1958) description of Middle Eastern society:

There the ideal was to emphasize not the uniformity of the citizens of a country as a whole but a uniformity within each special segment, and the greatest possible contrast between segments. The members of each ethnic unit feel the need to identify themselves by some configuration of symbols. If by virtue of their history they possess some racial peculiarity, this they will enhance by special haircuts and the like; in any case they will wear distinctive garments and behave in a distinctive fashion. (Coon 1958, 153)

Between-group conflict often lurked just beneath the surface of these societies. For example, Dumont (1982, 223) describes the increase in anti-Semitism in Turkey in the late 19th century consequent to increased resource competition. In many towns, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in a sort of superficial harmony, and even lived in the same areas, “but the slightest spark sufficed to ignite the fuse” (p. 222).

Jews are at the extreme of this Middle Eastern tendency toward hyper-collectivism and hyper-ethnocentrism—a phenomenon that goes a long way toward explaining the chronic hostilities in the area.

I give many examples of Jewish hyper-ethnocentrism in my trilogy and have suggested in several places that Jewish hyper-ethnocentrism is biologically based (MacDonald 1994, Ch. 8; 1998a, Ch. 1). It was noted above that individualist European cultures tend to be more open to strangers than collectivist cultures such as Judaism. In this regard, it is interesting that developmental psychologists have found unusually intense fear reactions among Israeli infants in response to strangers, while the opposite pattern is found for infants from North Germany.(14) The Israeli infants were much more likely to become “inconsolably upset” in reaction to strangers, whereas the North German infants had relatively minor reactions to strangers. The Israeli babies therefore tended to have an unusual degree of stranger anxiety, while the North German babies were the opposite—findings that fit with the hypothesis that Europeans and Jews are on opposite ends of scales of xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

I provide many examples of Jewish hyper-ethnocentrism in my trilogy on Judaism. Recently, I have been much impressed with the theme of Jewish hyper-ethnocentrism in the writings of Israel Shahak, most notably his co-authored Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Shahak & Mezvinsky 1999). In their examination of current Jewish fundamentalists and their influence in Israel, Shahak and Mezvinsky argue that present-day fundamentalists attempt to recreate the life of Jewish communities before the Enlightenment (i.e., prior to about 1750). During this period the great majority of Jews believed in Cabbala—Jewish mysticism. Influential Jewish scholars like Gershom Scholem ignored the obvious racialist, exclusivist material in the Cabbala by using words like “men”, “human beings”, and “cosmic” to suggest the Cabbala has a universalist message. The actual text says salvation is only for Jews, while non-Jews have “Satanic souls” (p. 58).

The ethnocentrism apparent in such statements was not only the norm in traditional Jewish society. It remains a powerful current of contemporary Jewish fundamentalism, with important implications for Israeli politics. For example, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, describing the difference between Jews and non-Jews:

We do not have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior level. Rather we have a case of a totally different species. The body of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all nations of the world. The difference of the inner quality [of the body] is so great that the bodies would be considered as completely different species. This is the reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic(15) difference in attitude about the bodies of non-Jews [as opposed to the bodies of Jews]: “their bodies are in vain”. An even greater difference exists in regard to the soul. Two contrary types of soul exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness. (In Shahak & Mezvinsky 1999, 59-60)

This claim of Jewish uniqueness echoes Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel’s (1985, 153) claim that “everything about us is different.” Jews are “ontologically” exceptional.

The Gush Emunim and other Jewish fundamentalist sects described by Shahak and Mezvinsky are thus part of a long mainstream Jewish tradition that considers Jews and non-Jews as completely different species, with Jews absolutely superior to non-Jews and subject to a radically different moral code. Moral universalism is thus antithetical to the Jewish tradition.

Within Israel, these Jewish fundamentalist groups are not tiny fringe groups, mere relics of traditional Jewish culture. They are widely respected by the Israeli public and by many Jews in the Diaspora. They have a great deal of influence on the government, especially the Likud governments and the recent government of national unity headed by Ariel Sharon.

The members of Gush Emunim constitute a significant percentage of the elite units of the Israeli army, and, as expected on the hypothesis that they are extremely ethnocentric, they are much more willing to treat the Palestinians in a savage and brutal manner than are other Israeli soldiers. All together, the religious parties make up about 25% of the Israeli electorate (Shahak & Mezvinsky 1999, 8)—a percentage that is sure to increase because of their high fertility and because intensified troubles with the Palestinians tend to make other Israelis more sympathetic to their cause. Given the fractionated state of Israeli politics and the increasing numbers of the religious groups, it is unlikely that future governments can be formed without their participation. Peace in the Middle East therefore appears unlikely absent the complete capitulation of the Palestinians.

The point here is not so much about the fundamentalists in contemporary Israel but that traditional Jewish communities were intensely ethnocentric and collectivist—a major theme of all three of my books on Judaism. A thread throughout CofC is that Jewish intellectuals and political activists strongly identified as Jews and saw their work as furthering specific Jewish agendas. Their advocacy of intellectual and political causes, although often expressed in the language of moral universalism, was actually moral particularism in disguise.

Given that ethnocentrism continues to pervade all segments of the Jewish community, the advocacy of the de-ethnicization of Europeans—a common sentiment in the movements I discuss in CofC—is best seen as a strategic move against peoples regarded as historical enemies. In Chapter 8 of CofC, I called attention to a long list of similar double standards, especially with regard to the policies pursued by Israel versus the policies Jewish organizations have pursued in the U.S. As noted throughout CofC, Jewish advocates addressing Western audiences have promoted policies that satisfy Jewish (particularist) interests in terms of the morally universalist language that is a central feature of Western moral and intellectual discourse. These policies include church-state separation, attitudes toward multi-culturalism, and immigration policies favoring the dominant ethnic groups. This double standard is fairly pervasive.(16)

A principal theme of CofC is that Jewish organizations played a decisive role in opposing the idea that the United States ought to be a European nation. Nevertheless, these organizations have been strong supporters of Israel as a nation of the Jewish people. Consider, for example, a press release of May 28, 1999 by the ADL:

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today lauded the passage of sweeping changes in Germany’s immigration law, saying the easing of the nation’s once rigorous naturalization requirements “will provide a climate for diversity and acceptance. It is encouraging to see pluralism taking root in a society that, despite its strong democracy, had for decades maintained an unyielding policy of citizenship by blood or descent only,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “The easing of immigration requirements is especially significant in light of Germany’s history of the Holocaust and persecution of Jews and other minority groups. The new law will provide a climate for diversity and acceptance in a nation with an onerous legacy of xenophobia, where the concept of ‘us versus them’ will be replaced by a principle of citizenship for all.”(17)

There is no mention of analogous laws in place in Israel restricting immigration to Jews and the long-standing policy of rejecting the possibility of repatriation for Palestinian refugees wishing to return to Israel or the occupied territories. The prospective change in the “us versus them” attitude alleged to be characteristic of Germany is applauded, while the “us versus them” attitude characteristic of Israel and Jewish culture throughout history is unmentioned.

Recently, the Israeli Ministry of Interior ruled that new immigrants who have converted to Judaism will no longer be able to bring non-Jewish family members into the country. The decision is expected to cut by half the number of eligible immigrants to Israel.(18) Nevertheless, Jewish organizations continue to be strong proponents of multi-ethnic immigration to the United States.(19) This pervasive double standard was noticed by writer Vincent Sheean in his observations of Zionists in Palestine in 1930: “how idealism goes hand in hand with the most terrific cynicism… how they are Fascists in their own affairs, with regard to Palestine, and internationalists in everything else.”(20)

My view is that Judaism must be conceived primarily as an ethnic rather than a religious group. Recent statements by prominent Jewish figures show that an ethnic conceptualization of Judaism fits with the self-images of many Jews.

Speaking to a largely Jewish audience, Benjamin Netanyahu, prominent Likud Party member and until recently prime minister of Israel, stated, “If Israel had not come into existence after World War II then I am certain the Jewish race wouldn’t have survived… I stand before you and say you must strengthen your commitment to Israel. You must become leaders and stand up as Jews. We must be proud of our past to be confident of our future.”(21) Charles Bronfman, a main sponsor of the $210 million “Birthright Israel” project which attempts to deepen the commitment of American Jews, expresses a similar sentiment: “You can live a perfectly decent life not being Jewish, but I think you’re losing a lot—losing the kind of feeling you have when you know [that] throughout the world there are people who somehow or other have the same kind of DNA that you have.”(22) (Bronfman is co-chairman of the Seagram company and brother of Edgar Bronfman, Sr., president of the World Jewish Congress.) Such sentiments would be unthinkable coming from European-American leaders. European-Americans making such assertions of racial pride would quickly be labeled haters and extremists.

A revealing comment by AJCommittee official Stephen Steinlight (2001) illustrates the profound ethnic nationalism that has pervaded the socialization of American Jews continuing into the present:

I’ll confess it, at least: like thousands of other typical Jewish kids of my generation, I was reared as a Jewish nationalist, even a quasi-separatist. Every summer for two months for 10 formative years during my childhood and adolescence I attended Jewish summer camp. There, each morning, I saluted a foreign flag, dressed in a uniform reflecting its colors, sang a foreign national anthem, learned a foreign language, learned foreign folk songs and dances, and was taught that Israel was the true homeland. Emigration to Israel was considered the highest virtue, and, like many other Jewish teens of my generation, I spent two summers working in Israel on a collective farm while I contemplated that possibility.

More tacitly and subconsciously, I was taught the superiority of my people to the gentiles who had oppressed us. We were taught to view non-Jews as untrustworthy outsiders, people from whom sudden gusts of hatred might be anticipated, people less sensitive, intelligent, and moral than ourselves. We were also taught that the lesson of our dark history is that we could rely on no one…

It must be admitted that the essence of the process of my nationalist training was to inculcate the belief that the primary division in the world was between “us” and “them.” Of course we also saluted the American and Canadian flags and sang those anthems, usually with real feeling, but it was clear where our primary loyalty was meant to reside.(23)

Assertions of Jewish ethnicity are well-founded. Scientific studies supporting the genetic cohesiveness of Jewish groups continue to appear, most notably Hammer et al. (2000). Based on Y-chromosome data, Hammer et al. conclude that 1 in 200 matings within Jewish communities were with non-Jews over a 2000 year period. [The following sentence does not appear in the printed version of MacDonald’s book, only in the online version:] This is a link to a report discussing the article by Hammer et al., “Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences May 9, 2000.

In general, the contemporary organized Jewish community is characterized by high levels of Jewish identification and ethnocentrism. Jewish activist organizations like the ADL and the AJCommittee are not creations of the fundamentalist and Orthodox, but represent the broad Jewish community, including non-religious Jews and Reform Jews. In general, the more actively people are involved in the Jewish community, the more committed they are to preventing intermarriage and retaining Jewish ethnic cohesion. And despite a considerable level of intermarriage among less committed Jews, the leadership of the Jewish community in the U.S. is not now made up of the offspring of intermarried people to any significant extent.

Jewish ethnocentrism is ultimately simple traditional human ethnocentrism, although it is certainly among the more extreme varieties. But what is so fascinating is the cloak of intellectual support for Jewish ethnocentrism, the complexity and intellectual sophistication of the rationalizations for it—some of which are reviewed in Separation and Its Discontents (Chs. 6-8), and the rather awesome hypocrisy of it, given Jewish opposition to ethnocentrism among Europeans.


Notes [the Bibliography appears in the 10th entry]

11 . Burton, M. L., Moore, C. C., Whiting, J. W. M., & Romney, A. K. (1996). Regions based on social structure. Current Anthropology, 37: 87-123.

12 . Barfield, T. J. (1993). The Nomadic Alternative. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

13. Support for this classification comes from several places in my trilogy on Judaism and in turn depends on the work of many scholars. Besides the sources in this preface, special note should be made of the following: Evolutionary history: MacDonald 1994, Ch. 8; Marriage practices: MacDonald 1994 (Chs. 3 and 8); Marriage psychology: CofC (Chs. 4, 8); Position of women CofC (Ch. 4); Attitude toward outgroups and strangers: MacDonald 1994 (Ch. 8), MacDonald 1998a (Ch. 1); Social structure: MacDonald 1994 (Ch. 8), MacDonald 1998a (Chs. 1, 3-5), CofC (Chs. 6, 8, and passim as feature of Jewish intellectual movements); Socialization: MacDonald 1994 (Ch. 7), CofC (Ch. 5); Intellectual stance: MacDonald 1994 (Ch. 7), CofC (Ch. 6 and passim); Moral stance: MacDonald 1994 (Ch. 6), CofC (Ch. 8).

14. Grossman et al. and Sagi et al., in I. Bretherton & E. Waters (Eds.), Growing Points in Attachment Theory and Research. Monographs for the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1-2), 233-275. Sagi et al. suggest temperamental differences in stranger anxiety may be important because of the unusual intensity of the reactions of many of the Israeli infants. The tests were often terminated because of the intense crying of the infants.

Sagi et al. find this pattern among both Kibbutz-reared and city-reared infants, although less strongly in the latter. However, the city-reared infants were subjected to somewhat different testing conditions: They were not subjected to a pre-test socialization episode with a stranger. Sagi et al. suggest that the socialization pre-test may have intensified reactions to strangers among the Kibbutz-reared babies, but they note that such pre-tests do not have this effect in samples of infants from Sweden and the U.S. This again highlights the difference between Israeli and European samples.

15 . A halachic difference refers to a distinction based on Jewish religious law.

16. The following comment illustrates well the different mindset that many strongly identified Jews have toward America versus Israel:

While walking through the streets of Jerusalem, I feel Jewish identity is first and foremost about self-determination and, by extension, the security and power that comes with having a state. I am quite comfortable in Israel with the sight of soldiers standing with machine guns and the knowledge that even a fair number of the civilians around me are probably packing heat.

The seminal event in my Zionist consciousness, despite my being born after 1967 and having serious misgivings about Israel’s control over the territories, is still the dramatic victory of a Jewish army in the Six-Day War. Put me in New York, however, and sud-denly the National Rifle Association symbolizes this country’s darkest side.

It’s as if my subconscious knows instinctively that the moment we land at JFK Airport, it becomes time to stash away those images of Israeli soldiers taking control of Jerusalem’s Old City, of Moshe Dayan standing at the Western Wall, and to replace them with the familiar photograph of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching by the side of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (A. Eden, “Liberalism in Diaspora.” The Forward, Sept. 21, 2001)

17. ADL Hails Passage of New Immigration Law in Germany (http://www.adl.org/presrele/dirab%5F41/3396%5F41.asp).

18. Jerusalem Post, March 5, 2001.

19. See, e.g., the ADL Policy Report on the prospects of immigration legislation in the George W. Bush administration and the 107th Congress [this document has been removed from ADL page].

20. In, Boyle (2001), p. 160. As recounted by Boyle, Sheean was hired by the Zionist publication, New Palestine, in 1929 to write about the progress of Zionism in that country. He went to Palestine, and after studying the situation, returned the money the Zionists had paid him.

He then wrote a book (Personal History; New York: Literary Guild Country Life Press, 1935)—long out of print—describing his negative impressions of the Zionists. He noted, for example, “how they never can or will admit that anybody who disagrees with them is honest” (p. 160). This comment reflects the authoritarian exclusion of dissenters noted as a characteristic of Jewish intellectual and political movements in CofC (Ch. 6). His book was a commercial failure and he passed quietly into oblivion.

The subject of Boyle’s book, George Antonius, was a Greek Orthodox Arab from what is today Lebanon. His book, The Arab Awakening (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1938) presented the Arab case in the Palestinian-Zionist dispute. The appendices to his book include the Hussein-McMahon correspondence of October 24, 1915, between Sharif Hussein (who authorized the Arab revolt against the Turks) and Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt.

The correspondence shows that the Arabs were promised independence in the whole area (including Palestine) after the war. Also in the appendices are the Hogarth Memorandum of January 1918 and the Declaration to the Seven of June 16, 1918, both of which were meant to reassure the Arabs that England would honor its earlier promises to them when the Arabs expressed concern after the Balfour Declaration. Britain kept these documents classified until Antonius published them in The Arab Awakening. Antonius was pushed out of the Palestine Mandate Administration by British Zionists and died broken and impoverished.

21. Daily Pilot, Newport Beach/ Costa Mesa, California, Feb. 28, 2000,

22 . “Project Reminds Young Jews of Heritage.” Washington Post, Jan. 17, 2000, p. A19.

23. Steinlight tempers these remarks by noting the Jewish commitment to moral universalism, including the attraction to Marxism so characteristic of Jews during most of the 20th century. However, as indicated in Chapter 3, Jewish commitment to leftist universalism was always conditioned on whether leftist universalism conformed to perceived Jewish interests, and in fact Jewish leftist universalism has often functioned as little more than a weapon against the traditional bonds of cohesiveness of Western societies.

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