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Promised Land, Crusader State: The Rise, Fall and Return of the Covenant Nation

Info: 12322 words (49 pages) Dissertation
Published: 5th Nov 2021

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Tagged: HistoryPolitics

A dissertation submitted to the Department of Government, the London School of Economics and Political Science, in part completion of the requirements for the MSc in Comparative Politics (Conflict Studies).


Several prominent comparativists claim that Israel is an ‘outlier case’ – a unique case study that generally defies most conventional forms of categorization. Such an allegation naturally assumes Israel to be exceptional and its behavior inexplicable. The assumption of Israel’s uniqueness was born during the marked epistemological shift from behavioral crossnational inquiries to more contextually and historically-derived theories, and has undermined Israel’s place in comparative politics. This dissertation seeks to place Israel and its behavior squarely back into the mix and up against much of the same scrutiny faced by other nation-states. By shifting again from a contextually and historically-derived theory of nationalism towards a more cognitive and tradition-based approach, centered on the ethno-symbolic approach professed by Anthony D. Smith and John Hutchinson, elements of Israel’s nationalism and national identity are analyzed as contributing to its existence as a ‘zone of conflict’ and to its violent behavior. An analysis of the Covenant Nation as a new comparative category that presupposes the idea of; (i) a chosen people, in (ii) a Promised Land, that uses (iii) blood sacrifice in order to fulfill a redemptive destiny and a commitment to worldly salvation, is highlighted. Limited comparisons to other covenant nations are drawn where applicable.


Since 1948, Israel has been regarded by some as an occupying force in the Middle East. That Israel, and Jews in general, could be a conquering and occupying people given their fate in the first half of the twentieth century – as a nation without a home, victims of anti-Semitism and persecution – is confusing to many. For reasons such as this, Israel has long been considered an outlier case by political scientists (Barnett 1996, ch.1). To the point of emphasis, it is argued that Israel defies most categorization, which has become the methodology employed by comparativists in order to understand states and state behavior. Categorizing usually requires classifying a case study under dichotic, or opposite, adjectives; Israel – being neither East nor West, developed nor underdeveloped, capitalist nor socialist, Third World nor First World – therefore, becomes difficult to study (Barnett 1996, 7). Furthermore, Israel has routinely been excluded from geographically specific studies – or regional studies, since it is often considered an alien entity in the Middle East. However, despite Israel’s historical particularity, Israel is not an alien entity in the Middle East and its behavior is not inexplicable. While differences certainly exist categorically between Israel and other states, they both nevertheless share many of the same traits and concerns – characteristics that might have similar origins.

It will be argued that in order to understand Israel, both as a nation-state and as it behaves, one needs to understand Israeli nationalist sentiments. Nationalism in itself is a difficult thing to define. Where does it come from? What does it entail? How deeply is it entrenched? The answers to these questions, and many like them, could explain why a nation-state behaves in the way that it does. There are two major competing schools of thought when it comes to understanding nationalism, (a) the modernists, and (b) the primordialists.

The modernists would date nationalism to industrialism, the development of capitalism, or to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The primordialists, on the other hand, see nationalism as dating back much farther – possibly to even before history was recorded. Under this train of thought, Israel might date its nationalism back to the Hebrew Bible. Essentially, it all depends on where in history one chooses to draw the line.

This paper will primarily argue that in order to understand Israel as an inherently violent and conflict-laden nation-state it is necessary to move away from the established contextually-derived theories of nationalism and move to one that is more cognitively based. In so doing, this paper will show that Israel is in fact a state like all others. It is not an anomaly, nor methodologically suspect – its behavior not inexplicable. Regardless of its ancient historic roots, and despite its recent induction as a state among the family of nations, Israel’s nationalism should not be analyzed according to the dates of its borders, citizens, infrastructure, or institutions. In a more cognitive approach, Israel’s nationalism should be understood by the borders, beliefs and people themselves. As such, it will be shown that Israel is the archetypical Covenant Nation – a category that exists free from both time and space. Such a theory of nationalism can thus draw on elements from either modern or pre-modern periods/approaches and need not be based on regional developments or similarities.

Israel, like all covenant nations, is inherently conflict-laden. As will be laid out in much greater detail, covenant nations have a strategic culture born of three identifying features/beliefs that make them violent and militaristic in nature. Covenant nations are under a seemingly contractual obligation to defend and secure the idea of; (i) a chosen people, in (ii) a Promised Land, using (iii) blood sacrifice. When the covenant nation theory is highlighted as the root cause of violence, it becomes clear that a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict becomes much more difficult to ascertain. Conflict becomes unrelated to geopolitical realities or existing/imagined security dilemmas, but to an embedded sense of national superiority, a contractual obligation to fulfill the prophecy of the covenant and, derivatively, a commitment to worldly salvation.

Thus, while many scholars claim Israel is an outlier case like no other, they are wrong from the outset by trying to assign Israel to conventional and contextual comparativist categories. Israel and its behavior can and should be understood much the same as other states – as reactive to its nationalist sentiments, wherever derived. As will be shown, Israel has always been a conquering and occupying nation. It was true of Israel’s ancient past, it is true of its present and unless a drastic change occurs deep within the embedded (and sacred) structure of Zionism, it will be true of its distant future.

The Nation – General Definitions and Theories

Qu’est ce-qu’une nation? Renan’s question still echoes after more than a century. In recent decades – throughout the historical milieu referred to as the post-colonial era – a copious amount of interest and attention has been dedicated to the study of nationalism. While no singular definition is agreed on by scholars, for the purpose of this paper a nation will be defined generally as a group that defines itself or is defined by others as sharing common descent and culture […] that also has political consciousness, claiming collective political rights in a given territory (Mann 2005, 11). A nation-state can thus be defined as an entity wherein a nation has its own sovereign state, situated within enunciated and politically defined territorial borders – be they universally recognized or not.

Scholars of various disciplines have attempted to provide an explanation for the rise, meaning and development of nationalism in human history and societies. The phenomenon of the constitution of nations and national identities, the emergence of national sentiments, the construction of nationhood and nationalist ideologies, appear to all be interrelated constituents of a single phenomenon. Nevertheless, competing theories of nationalism exist – the major schism existing between modernists and primordialists.

Modernists, such as Gellner and Anderson, assume that the origins of nations and nationalism lie in the structural changes that affected economic and social systems during the industrial revolution at the end of the eighteenth century (Gellner 2006, 48-49), implicitly denying cultural factors. In the opinion of the modernists, the introduction of new means of production and the division of labor caused a restructuring of social relations and the polarization of class interests. Nationalism emerged as a means to promote and direct change through the creation of a popular solidarity as well as a means to protect and promote class interests (Anderson 1991, 113-114). The prevalence of one intention over another brings about the constitution of different political organizations depending on the nature the political system. So to speak, nationalism is identified by the modernists with the process of nation-building – a nation being a mere artificial construction fuelled by class interests.

The primordialist notion of nationalism contrasts with that proposed by the modernists. Scholars such as Hastings, Smith and Geertz, believe that nations are natural givens (Hastings 1997, 5). Consequently, it is possible to find traces of nationalism and nationhood in ancient times. The feeling of belonging, the acknowledgement among a group of people sharing common cultural, racial, linguistic traits, a common ancestry, history or religion, is a documented fact in history (Smith 1994, 40). Groups tended to bind together by these ties. The proclivity to coalesce around these shared traits, or focal points, brought about the rise of politically and socially organized nations claiming sovereignty over a territory.

In fact, it is Anthony D. Smith’s many contributions to the theory of ethnosymbolism in particular that figure most prominently in a discussion of Israeli nationalism, and upon which I have based my initial observations and thesis. Ethnosymbolism is founded on the historical origins of nations – particularly to their roots in premodern times – and focuses its attention on perceptions, beliefs, symbols, rituals, and shared myths and memories. Although the ethnosymbolic approach focuses on subjective cultural and symbolic rudiments, their long term patterning produces a structure of relations and processes […] which can provide a framework for the socialization of successive generations of ethnic and national members (Smith 1999, 14). In more basic terms, the origin and descent of the community are recollected and transmitted to new members of the group by memory – as interpreted by earlier generations. This subjective version of a nation’s origins is understood through ethnohistory rather than any official historian’s lens (Coughlan 2001, 160).

Before turning to the difference between history and historical traditions on Israeli national identity and behavior in the following section, allow me to first part ways with Anthony D. Smith and highlight our major difference. In War and Ethnicity: the Role of Warfare in the Formation, Self-Images and Cohesion of Ethnic Identities, Smith argues in sum that war has been a powerful factor in shaping certain crucial aspects of ethnic communities and nationhood. He points to Georg Simmel’s ‘cohesion’ thesis, which asserts that external armed conflict – or the imminent threat thereof – produces all internal group solidarity (Smith 1981, XX). In so doing, Smith turns war and its variations into an independent variable that moulds the ethnic community, and invariably the nation. Though I do agree that war and conflict certainly have the ability to accentuate and exacerbate group identity and cohesion, I contend to the contrary that group cohesion is the primary cause of war and conflict. As such, war is the dependent variable that finds its existence and explanation in the more common ‘group aggression’ theory. Thus, it is not war that creates a sense of belonging and community, but a sense of community and belonging that leads to war and conflict – and the sense of belonging and community within the Covenant Nation typifies that.

The Rise of the Nation-State: Context vs. Cognition

To suggest that Israel is in fact an inherently violent nation-state on account of the Covenant, it is necessary to first dispel the myth that all nation-states are violent, and to trace Israel’s legacy back beyond its establishment. A long-standing assumption among several prominent political theorists suggests that all nation-states are inherently violent because they are forged in warfare. Richard Bean, in War and the Nation State, argues that beginning in the fourteenth century changes in the art of war inextricably led to the rise of centralized states for the purpose of raising taxes (Bean 1973, 220). It is possible, however, that the nation-state – by general concept, if not by definition – predates medieval changes in the art of war, and certainly Westphalia. Greek city-states, like Sparta, can be seen as examples of very homogeneous societies with developed political structures, taxation, and mutual obligations between government and citizens. Regardless, ancient historical cases such as these would likely only serve to highlight the linkage between warfare and the birth of the nation-state. On the other end of the spectrum, what can be said about nation-states that have emerged contemporarily? Taking Israel as an example, a state that came into being by means of a vote in the United Nations, it is easy to suggest that the Arab-Israeli wars following its establishment have played a prominent role in the shaping of modern-day Israel. However, shaping by definition is not synonymous with forging.

In the first instance, it is my intention to show that nation-states are not forged explicitly in warfare, but on traditions of warfare – wherever derived. The purpose is to rephrase the hypothesis that nation-states are forged in warfare into one more universally applicable. For this, it is necessary to first presume that the nation, with its sense of community and belonging, existed prior. It will be shown that; from (i) a nation’s strategic culture, come (ii) traditions of warfare, which (iii) lead to a greater sense of national identity, on which (iv) nation-states have been forged. In so doing, I move the discourse away from a contextually derived theory of nationalism to a more cognitive-based approach, in which Anthony D. Smith’s contributions to ethnosymbolism (as outlined above) figure prominently.

A nation-state’s strategic culture is the obvious place to look for evidence of a war-born society. Strategic culture is defined by Alistair Iain Johnston as an ideational milieu which limits behavior choices. This milieu consists of shared assumption and decision rules that impose a degree of order on individual and group conceptions of their relationship to their social, organizational or political environment (Johnston 1995, 34). Essentially, it all comes down to security. A strategic culture is shaped from a shared sense of self-perception and threat perception of a specific group of people. It is necessary to assume that if a national group has a strong historical sense of war, aggressiveness, victimization, and/or persecution, that these sentiments would play out in their strategic culture, and would limit behavior choice and influence decision-making. Once forged into nation-states these strategic cultures continue to exist, and therefore become good indicators of how groups view warfare – and how their states came into being.

In order to analyze a nation-state’s strategic culture properly, it is important to consider that the study of strategic culture itself has two distinct epistemological approaches – context and cognition. Those that believe a strategic culture is based in context would claim that the historical record of the nation, even before its conception as a nation-state, is important to study. Basically, the nation-state expresses its national identity based on its national character. Therefore, a state’s strategic culture is based on its past – it is path dependent.

On the other hand, cognitivists see strategic culture as an integrated system of symbols (Johnston 1995, 35). Included in this integrated system of symbols are structures, languages, analogies, myths, metaphors, etc. In this approach national identity, as related to strategic culture, is more easily discernable through the study of a nation-state’s wartime symbols than a nation state’s wartime history. Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle, in their book Blood Sacrifice and the Nation, also argue that symbols (like a flag) can be very telling indicators that lead one to uncover the nature of nationalism that exists within a state. In Fallen Soldiers, George Mosse looks to nation-states’ war memorials: cemeteries, songs, poems and commemorations, for clues. Essentially, a nation’s sentiments regarding warfare might differ from its experience; they might have been shaped or molded. When trying to find the link between the birth of a nation-state and warfare, symbols offer yet another variable to consider.

Due to the fact that there are two different ways to approach the study of strategic culture, and by association an element of a nation-state’s national identity, a clear distinction can be made between proper warfare and traditions of warfare. Traditions, like symbols, need not be based on truth or historical accuracy. There is a tradition of Santa Clause bringing presents to nice children despite there being no assumption of truth behind such a practice – and certainly no historical record to legitimize it. Traditions are sometimes developed more because they serve a purpose, than because they truly commemorate something.

When considering nation-state formation it is important to properly choose which traditions are worth investigating. Relating to strategic culture, or any issue that shapes a nation-state’s identity, it is important that a tradition have; (i) solid national support, (ii) outlived the era that gave it birth, (iii) entered the permanent lexicon of national discourse, and (iv) continued to resonate with a portion of public opinion even at a time when it was not directly affecting public policy (McDougall, Ch.1). As will be shown with the case of Israel, traditions of warfare that have passed the scrutiny of the limitations listed above have played a role in developing national identity, and ultimately forging a nation-state.

Modern day Israel is a good example of a nation-state forged on traditions of warfare, and not explicitly in warfare. As suggested above the first place to look for evidence of the link between warfare and state formation would be in a nation-state’s strategic culture. Israel’s strategic culture has long been dominated by the realist tradition (Dowty 1998, 84). The realist view of security has solid national support in Israel, it has outlived the era that gave it birth, it has entered the permanent lexicon of national discourse, and even during times of relative peace it continues to resonate with a portion of public opinion. Israel’s strategic culture is not only realist with regards to self-defense, but also in its offense.

The leftist scholars who would date Zionism to Theodor Herzl’s avowedly socialist ideals of establishing a free, humanitarian and egalitarian state in the Jewish homeland to escape the increasing anti-Semitism of late-nineteenth century Europe (Avineri, 1981, 88-89) are shortsighted in their efforts. There is no such thing as nineteenth and twentieth century Zionism – it is only Zionism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The bleak and destructive history of the Jews in Europe plays little significance in Israeli mamlachtiyut, or statism. The traditions that have forged the Israeli nation-state and limit its behavior choices can and should be dated back to the Hebrew Bible. For example, one might choose to examine the myth of the Covenant Nation, and how that played out during the Hebrews first experiment with forging a state following Joshua’s invasion of Canaan, as evidence. The invasion represents a realist tradition of conquering and occupying. Whether or not the Hebrew Bible represents an accurate historical rendition – or whether it has any academic merit at all – is outside the scope of discussion. After all, when providing an account for Israel’s strategic culture, the scriptures can be analyzed as being contextually historical or as a symbol of cognition. Either way – fact or fiction – they provide a tradition from which to inherit a strategic culture from, and on which to forge a nation-state.

Thus, the argument that Richard Bean makes; that nation-states developed out of the need for a strong central authority to levy taxes due to changes in the art of war, is unconvincing. To the point of emphasis, most modern economic-dependent nationalist arguments are limited when one considers ancient examples of national groups coming together to forge polities within defined and enunciated borders. Cases such as these simply highlight the fact that the forging of a nation-state draws more on myths, sentiments and symbols of collective fear, threat, pride, angst, aspiration, victimization, xenophobia and so forth when grouping together to organize politically. The above sentiments combine to form a strategic culture, from which traditions, national identity and greater cohesiveness are born. The nation-state was born as a response to a need for security; the traditions that transmit that feeling – be they contextually or cognitively derived – are what inevitably forge nation-states and determine how violently they will behave. Though it may be true that many nation-states are forged explicitly in warfare (and are established using means of warfare), it is not a universal truth. Instead, it should be argued that nation-states are forged on traditions of warfare – traditions that once were prescriptive and later become predictive.

Covenant Nations

As mentioned above, a strategic culture is shaped from a shared sense of self-perception and threat perception of a specific group of people. It is my assertion (to the contrary of international relations theorists) that Israel’s strategic culture has nothing to do with threat perception; geopolitical realities and security dilemmas are but moot points. Israel has adopted and further developed a strategic culture based solely on a particular tradition of self-perception – that of the Covenant Nation.

Defining the term Covenant Nation is not as simple as it may appear; its definition is hard to come by because it involves describing a process more than an entity. Simply put, the covenant is a tradition of ethnic election. The process of ethnic election is a multi-staged process requiring; (i) a sense of being singled out – or chosen – for a special purpose, (ii) a divine promise – whether absolute or conditional – made to the chosen people, and (iii) a belief that fulfillment of the covenant leads to worldly salvation (Smith 2003, 48-49). In short, the covenant is a tradition of a contractual agreement between God and His people. Simply put, the Covenant Nation, therefore, is the nation that enters and embodies the covenant. As stated above, traditions need not be based on historical truth or reality; in the ethnosymbolic approach traditions, myths and metaphors offer much the same credence to a debate on nationalism and national identity – and thus can serve as an explanation for how nation-states behave.

Let me begin by acknowledging that although the term Covenant Nation is rife with religious connotation, I do not intentionally seek to obscure the already blurred lines between religion and nationalism. In fact, I seek to avoid entering the scholarly debate about their ambivalent relationship entirely; I steer clear from scholars like Mark Juergensmeyer, whose work – albeit fascinating – seeks to compare and contrast the two phenomena and chart their historical interplay (Juergensmeyer 2006, 182). Instead, I point to a recent trend in thinking that sees nationalism itself as a form of belief-system – or as a new religion of the people (Smith 2003, 42). George Mosse, in Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars, discusses how during the interwar period in Europe a civic religion of nationalism was born based on the cult of the fallen soldier (Mosse 1990, 104). If in Germany, for example, a civic religion of nationalism was born based on ‘the cult of the fallen soldier’, it can be said that for Israel a civic religion of nationalism is born based on ‘the cult of the chosen people’ and ‘the cult of the Promised Land’.

The Covenant has always been the cornerstone of Israel’s national identity dating back to primordial times. The Hebrew Bible first marks the covenant that God makes with Abram in Genesis 12:2: I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you. It is important to note that this verse not only represents the birth of the covenant, but at the same time the birth of the nation – highlighting their interconnectedness. The nation and the covenant are thus co-determining and mutually implicating; the two entities are defined by their internal relationship, such that the two entities derive their meaning through their relationship and have no meaning or basis without the other. No reason is given as to why Abram (later Abraham) is selected to head the nation that will come to be known as the chosen people, but we are told that his progeny shall; (i) inherit the land of Canaan, and (ii) outnumber the dust of the earth (Gen. 12:7 and 13:6) – outlining the divine promise.

In return the covenant nation is obliged to circumcise their children (Gen. 17:7-10) and – post-exodus – to keep the laws and commandments that God gives unto his chosen people, the holy nation, at Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:4-6). Such are the terms of the covenantal contract; if the Chosen People follow Yahweh’s rules, he will give them virtue, peace and prosperity [in the Promised Land]. If they are his holy servants, the scriptures say, he will bless them (Akenson 1992, 16). Furthermore, not only do God’s chosen people benefit from fulfillment of the covenant – the whole world does. By fulfilling the covenant it is believed that God’s plan of salvation is advanced; so to speak, the salvation of all hinge[s] on the conduct of a special few (Smith 2003, 51).

Therefore, it is to the conduct of the special few that we now shift our attention. If the renowned ‘modernist’ scholar on nationalism Elie Kedourie is correct when he asserts that nationalism produces a kind of religious fanaticism that lends to conflict (Kedourie 1971, XX), the same must certainly hold true of covenantal nationalism – and likely to an even greater degree. As stated earlier, covenant nations come under a seemingly contractual obligation to defend and secure the idea of; (i) a chosen people, in (ii) a Promised Land, using (iii) regular blood sacrifice. Furthermore, the fulfillment of the covenant sets the chosen people apart from other peoples both ethically and ritually: Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev. 19:2). If fulfillment of the covenant – that is following the laws and commandments within the Promised Land – makes one holy and will lead to worldly salvation for all, than any/all efforts to attain that credo become morally indisputable. A self-righteous and realist strategic culture develops whereby any actions taken in fulfillment of the covenant become necessary, justified and self-vindicating.

The strategic culture associated with the covenant has thus permeated throughout time in much the same way it was born – manifested from a belief in choseness, holiness, and obligation. The Jewish nation has always found its grounding in the covenant whether in the times of Elijah or Hezekiah, Josiah or Nehemiah, the Maccabees or the Talmudic Sages […] all of these looked back to the founding charter of the covenant, not just as legitimation but as the grounding for their conception of the community of Israel and the unity of the Jewish people, which they sought to restore or deepen (Smith 2003, 63).

It is on this sacred foundation that modern day Israel was also established. Nineteenth century political Zionism can be broken down into three competing schools of thought; (i) the Revisionist Zionists, (ii) the Labor Zionists, and (iii) the Religious Zionists. In many ways revisionist Zionism epitomizes what it means to be a covenant nation. Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of revisionist Zionism, believed that people are naturally born into nations and inherit its cultures and values. So to speak, individuals have very little choice regarding which nationalities they belong to. It was Jabotinsky’s belief that the Jews represent a particularly strong nation because – despite the pressures of the Diaspora – they always maintained their originality and distinctness(Dowty, 37). Furthermore, he insisted that the Jewish state be established in Palestine and trans-Jordan because it was the historical legacy of the Jews.

On the other hand, Labor Zionism – the most influential branch of Zionism at the time – considered itself to be totally secular in nature. Aaron David Gordon, founder of Hapoel Hatzair, saw the Jewish life in the Diaspora as dependence and a lack of self-reliance. Building on German-Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s I and Thou, he sought to create a new covenant by reconnecting with the land using the religion of labor (Dowty, 39), and by replacing the old exiled Jew with a new self-reliant Jew. However, under the secular garb of Labor Zionism the language and intent of the original Abrahamic Covenant can be discerned (Smith 2003, 93). Ber Borochov, ideological founder of the Poalei Zion labor movement wrote that class struggles exist within national groups as well as between them, clearly acknowledging a difference between the Jewish nation and other peoples, and advocating an ‘ethnic’ nationalism, rather than the more open and tolerant ‘civic’ kind (Howe 2000, 236). For reasons such as this he sought to establish a Jewish socialist state. It is important to note, however, that not any state would do for Labor Zionists – the state was to be established in the Jewish homeland. To the point of emphasis, upon establishment of the state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, the first Labor Prime Minister of Israel declared the uniqueness of the Hebrew people and the redemptive destiny of Israel on its own soil (Smith 2003, 92-93). In so doing he acknowledged Labor and Religious Zionism to be not only compatible, but complimentary.

Religious Zionism was headed by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. While it is the usual view that Zionism is a sin and alien culture, a non-Jewish way of life, and that Jews should only return to the Promised Land after messianic redemption, Kook claimed that enhancing attachment to the land is an obligation (Dowty, 44). Essentially, Kook is advocating preparing the land for redemption and salvation and suggests that the secular Zionists are doing holy work by settling the Promised Land.

Clearly in all three branches of Zionism the tradition of the covenant remains critical - the four deep seated cultural resources that define the covenant nation, namely; community, territory, history and destiny, permeate all of their raisons d'être. By 1948, the underlying dimensions of the covenant nation return to fruition and again form a unifying and legitimizing tradition - like in times past. From this tradition a realist strategic culture was born that has; (i) solid national support, (ii) outlived the era that gave it birth, (iii) entered the permanent lexicon of national discourse, and (iv) continued to resonate with a portion of public opinion even during times of relative peace. Biblically, historically and contemporarily - time and again - the covenant has come to be embodied in settlements, sieges, control systems, subjugation and occupation. On account of the myth of the Covenant Nation the Israeli nation-state - and its supporters in the west who await worldly salvation - see Israel as justified using whatever means necessary to protect and promote the lives and the mission of the chosen people in the Promised Land.

However, it should be noted that Israel is not the only covenant nation. Several other nations have developed strategic cultures based on modified covenantal myths of ethnic election. American Puritan's sought to establish Sir John Winthrop's vision of America, as 'a city upon a hill', using any and all means available to push the American frontier westward. A common belief in a providential and manifest destiny was extended from chosen people to the land and landscapes of America (Smith 2003, 138). The Puritans alleged that by pursuing their mission they brought mankind to its peak. Michael Mann comments extensively on the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans that occurred whist pursuing this mission in his book The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. He notes that, whatever [the Puritans] did to the natives could be justified ideologically (Mann 2005, 85).

Late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Afrikaners offer yet another example of a covenant nation committing unconsciousable acts against other peoples. The myth of ethnic election central to the Afrikaner nation finds its origins in the Calvinist interpretation of the Boer treks of 1834-1838 (Du Toit 1983, 920). The wandering of the Boers from British oppression to the freedom of a promised land on the high veldt echoed, indeed re-enacted, the biblical story of the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians (Smith 2003, 78). Future generation of the white Afrikaner voortrekkers furthered the myth by suggesting that God had chosen the Afrikaner people for a special destiny (Moodie, 1975, 12). The destiny was apparently to either expel or rule over the native black populations - ultimately leading to a regime of Apartheid.

Japan also experienced a mythic revival of sacred origin. In Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identities, Anthony D. Smith discusses the nativist Shinto revival that relied on early mythology, Kojiki,to relate the history of Japan from its creation - when the emperor descended from the sun-goddess Amaterasu - to the reign of then emperor Suiko. Myths such as these helped to revive concepts of Japanese exclusiveness, even superiority to foreigners, in reaction to the prevailing Sinophile trends (Smith 2003, 164-165). Exclusiveness, according to another noted scholar, was in turn associated with the old myths of creation - in particular the myth of Japanese chosenness, natural superiority and glorious destiny. Central to these myths was the splendor of the Japanese Islands, the land of the gods (Lehman 1982, 133-135). Whether or not these myths of superiority contributed at all to any of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the first half of the twentieth century has yet to be the focus of any serious study.

In all of the cases of covenant nations referred to above, as well as in many more that unfortunately had to be omitted on account of space restraint, a single commonality pervades. At their core of the Covenant Nation lies the assumption that human destiny - and its divine form, providence - is reliant/conditional upon; (i) a chosen people, (ii) a Promised Land, and (iii) blood sacrifice - to which now turn our attention.

The Cult of the Chosen People

The idea of a chosen people is not easily reconciled within traditional political studies. MacGregor Knox notes that nationalist fervor, such that hit France immediately prior to the revolution in 1989, brings politics down from the aristocracy and gives it to la nation - the masses, or 'the people' (Knox 2001, ch.4). Conceptions of The People - we the people, the people of the revolution, the People's Republic of China, even the people's Princess - have become trite clichés designed to express, shape and mould the feelings, desires and emotions of the group - a multitude of individuals. Describing the people as a group offers modernist theorists the opportunity to study the nation as a structure - thereby isolating the nation from other social or political institutions (Freeman 1980, 72). It is likely from such an observation that Benedict Anderson came up with his theory of the nation as a socially constructed and imagined community - one that is both inherently limited and sovereign (Anderson 1991, 6-7). Anderson's theory certainly has merit when we consider that the strategic culture of a nation is based largely on its self-perception. However, Anderson's modernist theory fails to account for the contractual dimension of the Covenant Nation, which has several serious consequences.

The Covenant Nation represents a divine relationship - and is thus drastically different from modern nationalism. Whereas in modern nationalism a relationship exists between the nation and the state; in covenantal nationalism a relationship exists between the nation and God. Thus, when speaking of the Covenant Nation one can not speak of the nation as 'the people', but must instead refer to the nation as 'a people' - or, an organic solidarity that presupposes agency over structure. After all, admission into the nation is not only a matter of birthright, but a promise by every member of the community to uphold the covenant, as symbolized through its sign - circumcision.

Once a group recognizes itself as a people - rather than the people - it automatically assumes itself to be a people amongst others. Dialectic reasoning insists that if there is an us there must also be a them - for one half of a dichotomy can not stand alone. Thus even without using the word chosen, or analyzing its impacts on the covenant nation, we nevertheless come face to face with concepts like distinctness, uniqueness and otherness. The word chosen, therefore, is not used to imply different; it is used to imply special and holy.

For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all the people that are on the face of the earth [...] because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers...

(Deut. 7:6-8)

This leads to a critical distinction between two types of peoples, a stratified and an organic people (Mann 2005, 55). Michael Mann notes that if a group is conceived of as being diverse and stratified then it becomes necessary for the state to mediate, pacify and appease competing interest groups. In this situation, the stratified people tend to compromise their differences instead of eliminating or cleansing them. On the other hand, if the people is conceived of as organic, as one and indivisible, as ethnic, then this purity may be maintained by the suppression of deviant minorities, and this may lead to cleansing (Mann 2005, 55).

It is highly contestable whether or not ethnic cleansing has occurred in Israel/Palestine in the twentieth century. What can be agreed upon, however, is the fact that the nation of Israel - and subsequently the Israeli nation-state - is highly organic. As already mentioned, Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism believed that people are naturally born into nations and inherit its culture and values. Furthermore he believed that individuals have very little choice regarding which nations they belong to. For reasons such as this Jabotinsky and his revisionists were distrusting of others and feared human nature as ill-willed (Avineri 1981, 99). This is a classic realist concern. Realism believes that politics is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature (Morgenthau 2005, 21), and it is with this strategic culture - based of the organic tradition of the Covenant Nation - that the state of Israel was ultimately established. Jabotinsky's revisionists eventually became the Herut Party in 1925, which later became the Likud Party that traded power with the Labor Party intermittently throughout recent history. The domination of the realist paradigm has come to mean that Israel (or any covenant nation for that matter) can never be fully trusting of others. It therefore follows that if the only people you can trust are those in your own ethnic group, the only state you can build is an ethno-national state. Israel today is often referred to as the 'archetypical ethnic democracy' (Smooha 1997, 198), furthering distinguishing Israel as an organic - and exclusive - nation state.

Michael Mann notes that organicism supports the idea that minorities - or other political opponents - might be excluded from full membership in the nation. He contends that organic nationalists came to believe in (i) an enduring national character, soul, or spirit, distinguishable from that of other nations; (ii) their right to a state that would ultimately express this; and (iii) their right to exclude out-groups with different characters, who would only weaken the nation (Mann 2005, 64). Mann's idea seems to apply biblically to the Covenant Nation as well:

No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of the LORD; none of their descendents, even in the tenth generation, shall ever be admitted into the congregation of the LORD, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt. (...) You shall never concern yourself with their welfare or benefit as long as you live.

(Deut. 23: 4-7)

In the verse above, the congregation of the LORD served as a national governing body, akin to a popular legislature. According to Judges 20:2, this legislature was charged with a broad range of judicial, political, and policy matters. This restriction on access to Israel's national assembly did not entail denial of residence rights. Those named retain the protection afforded by the legal status of 'resident alien' (Berlin 2004, Deut.23: 4-7). However, the minorities are never fully incorporated into the nation. It is likely on account of such passages that Jabotinsky felt that Palestinian Arabs can have full rights as individuals, but as a collective get nothing (Dowty 1998, 57). A very similar arrangement exists in the Knesset today, wherein Palestinian groups are barred from running lists of candidates because they do not have the same resident rights that Israeli-Arabs do. Regardless of the treatment given to Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, or Arabs in general in Israel today, the simple distrusting of others on account of the organic conception of the nation-state can also trace its tradition to the Hebrew Bible and to the covenant.

The Cult of the Promised Land

Start with mann... organic....

Christianity vs. Judaism - transterritoriality.

There is a belief that in historic warfare people were killed for WHERE not WHO they were... the covenant nation turns that on its head!

-if I forget Jerusalem

As we saw earlier with Richard Bean, [f]or modernists, the nationalist demarcation of territory as a homeland stems from the activities of the centralizing and reflexive state (Smith 1991, 131).

Doron Mendels, in his book The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism, suggests that Jewish nationalism in primordial times arose with time out of four things - temple, territory, kingship, and army (Mendels 1992, 1). While all four figure prominently even today to varying degrees (with perhaps the exception of kingship), critically important in Jabotinsky's primordial view - which I suggest is the correct one for understanding Israel's realist military strategy - is the importance of land.

Mendels offers three variant definition for borders; (a) natural borders, which correspond to mountains, rivers, deserts and oceans, (b) ethnic borders, which relied on the identity of the nation and its territory, and (c) political borders, which were usually created in an artificial manner by conquering or occupying states (Mendels 1992, 81). Since the revisionists insist on a Jewish state in Palestine and trans-Jordan because they see it as the historical legacy of the Jews, it would suggest the second definition to be the correct one. Mendels would seem to agree when he states that, in many instances the ethnic border received its justification from tradition (Mendels 1992, 81). Clearly, you must go back much farther in time than the sixteenth or eighteenth century to validate the land there as the historical legacy of the Jewish nation.

The Hebrew Bible cites in numerous passages the land that was promised to the Jews; the land for which territorial integrity must be maintained according to the realists. The interesting thing to note is that the biblical concepts of the Promised Land show variations - no exact border can be drawn from the literature.

Gen. 13: 14-15

And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had parted from him, 'Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever.

This is a clear example of an instance where no exact border is drawn. Furthermore, it is interesting to follow the logical path of the argument and suggest that the progeny of Abram also includes Ishmael, son of Hagar too. That supposition would suggest that the land was also given to the father of the Muslims, and not just to Isaac's descendents.

Exodus 23: 27-33

I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you. I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out before you the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites. I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and possess the land. I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not remain in you land, lest they cause you to sin against Me; for you will serve their gods - and it will prove a snare to you.

Note the giving of borders to the land. Starting at a line running from the Sea of Reeds (the Gulf of Eilat) to the Sea of Philistia (the Mediterranean off the coast of Philistia - roughly the Gaza Strip today), Israel's territory will extend from the (Sinai-Negev) wilderness in the south to the Euphrates in the northeast. Another much more detailed account of the borders can be found in Numbers 34: 1-12; this account places Israel's northern border in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

The above passage also adds weight to the realist / revisionist argument of fearing strangers and distrusting others. The revisionists believed that a nation should reject all alien influences. Lastly, this passage also suggests that the process of clearing the land of others is an ongoing process, and can possibly be interpreted as continuing into modern times.

Leviticus 26: 3-45

This chapter of the Hebrew Bible reminds Israel of the covenant that God made with Abraham and how it may or may not be played out. Essentially it states that if Israel is faithful to God, then God will be good to the people, the land, the beasts etc. Furthermore, Israel will give chase to its enemies - five will chase one hundred, one hundred will give chase to ten thousand, and their enemies will fall before their sword. However, if the Israelites are not faithful to God and respectful of his laws and commandments, then they will be punished, slaughtered, sent into exile, where they will mourn their land and their existence. God finishes by saying that he will eventually remember his covenant with the people and will never destroy them totally. He maintains that he will eventually bring them back to the Promised Land.

One must question whether or not this chapter is foresight into the Babylonian exile, the Roman expulsion, The Holocaust and ultimately the establishment of the state of Israel - in the Promised Land.

Numbers 32

Numbers 32 is a very interesting chapter for understanding Israel's primordial nationalism and its current realist power-hungry incentives. It is in this chapter of the Hebrew Bible that the Reubenites, Gadites and half the tribe of Menasseh request permission from Moses to settle the land east of the Jordan River. Moses eventually agrees that the women and children may settle, on condition that the men continue to fight along with their Israelite brethren in order to occupy the rest of the land. Thus, in essence, this narrative serves to legitimate Israelite occupation of land outside of Canaan proper.

Note specifically verses 17 and 18 in this chapter for further proof that modern Israeli nationalism found its roots in the Hebrew Bible:

And we will hasten as shock-troops in the van of the Israelites until we have established them in their home (...) we will not return to our homes until every one of the Israelites is in possession of his portion.

The term Shock-troop suggests that Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Menasseh are accepting Moses' condition and are committing themselves to frontline action as vanguard troops. It is particularly interesting to note that the Modern Hebrew word halutz - a pioneer who settled in the land of Israel in the early 20th century - is derived from this verse; specifically from the idea that they are the vanguard of settling the land.

Clearly the land, however defined, plays a prominent role in Jewish nationalism. The land takes on a certain ownership quality - something that belongs to a group by divine right, something that is sacred, something that is worth fighting to maintain. Israel's realist physical security issues date back primordially when one considers Mendels' concept of an ethnic border; one which is not exact and is transmitted through tradition. The impreciseness of the ethnic borders allows for different interpretations as to the actual physical borders, and in that the realists in Modern day Israel get their justification to sometimes move beyond their 1948, or even 1967 borders to ensure security.

Blood Sacrifice and War

whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me (Smith 61) - 1 Macc 2: 27

makes it non-temporal...

The drama of the nation has three climatic moments, each of them glorious: its golden age, its ultimate national destiny, and the sacrifice of its members. But, since the ultimate destiny of a nation can never be known, though many may hope to divine it, all we can be sure of is that it will come about only through the commitment and self-sacrifice of its members, and that is what the nation must continually uphold, remember and celebrate. What we might term 'destiny through sacrifice', therefore, forms the final sacred foundation of national identity... (Smith, 218)

The sign of the covenant - circumcision

The covenant and thus the nation as Blood sacrifice.

Sacrifice: Isaac... Israel relates, prepare to sacrifice children (pg 74)

No nation without sacrifice, the flag represents the sacrifices made

Myths and violence.... Myths without violence do not bind, violence without myth has no order

Myth and violence fuse in blood sacrifice

Myth of blood sacrifice organizes the meaning of violent event after the fact

Totem myth includes the flag: Israel = star of David from an episode of violence

Patriotism is a religion of the borders organized around a myth about the violence that begets them

The borders that a group will defend with blood ritually produce and re-produce the nation

Nation = shared memory of the sacrifice

Always the last war, with every war and new test, comes new memories of sacrifice

The flag functions like a cross (myth of border between world and heaven) Christ's sacrifice. Soldiers too become redemptive and sacred figures

Page 80... On the enemy. We must not shoot first, we do not willingly sacrifice, we are forced to

Look up other sacrifices in the bible!!!

Marvin and Ingle Idea of the totem myth

Flag symbolizes the sacrificed body of the citizen

Citizen - only matters to the group that defines it, the nation

Blood sacrifice links the citizen to the nation. It is a ritual in the most profound sense, for it creates the nation from the flesh of its citizens.

Myth and violence fuse in blood sacrifice

Through a system of group forming rituals, a myth of blood sacrifice organizes the meaning of violent events after the fact.

Totem myth The retrospective creation of the sacrifice story that gives meaning to violent events. Myth transforms disordered violence into ordered violence that engenders a group..

Transformative violence that creates a border

The flag that signifies this transformation

The border so engendered.

Group formation episodes:

Sacrificial crisis that sets in motion a quest for boundaries, the ritual journey to death's border

The crossing where insiders and outsiders exchange identities

Resolution of the crisis.

Healthy modern societies are thought to be cohesive without violence, and it is assumed to have no useful role in their maintenance. By contrast, primitive societies are said to practice violence shamelessly. In popular mythology blood sacrifice is a feature of primitive societies, but not our own. We argue that blood sacrifice is our defining feature.

Blood sacrifice in war No other ritual so transforms the group.

Blood must touch every member of the group:

Sacrifice has no permanent value as an idea

Stakes are measured in bodies

The value of a sacrificial episode depends on how many bodies touch blood directly and how many other bodies are linked by personal ties of blood and affection to them.

Enough bodies must suffer and die so many families will feel the pain of sacrifice that constitutes the stuff of social kinship.

E.g. World War 2 and the American Civil war

The large number of civil war dead accounts for the enduring historical memories of combatants, family members and descendants of the identity-producing sacrifices.

The sacrificial victim must be willing:

While unwilling sacrifices may be reconstructed in death as having been willing, the most useful sacrifices declare in advance of leaving that they face death willingly. Unpopular and divisive, without an enemy convincing to a large portion of the citizenry.

Vietnam war was a failed ritual sacrifice.

Victimage must be unanimous:

A credible enemy is the most reliable producer of unanimous victimage.

The more credible the enemy, the more enthusiastically the group sends the surrogate victim to die amidst general lamentation for the loss of its young, the more group members believe they are not the cause.

In the best rituals, devotees feel group survival is at stake.

Ritual uncertainty is greatest when both sides in a dispute make credible claims to enforce killing power.

Outcomes must be definite. Borders must be re-consecrated. Time must begin again.

The greater the ritual uncertainty, the more satisfying the resolution when it comes.

Dramatic structures frame outcomes best.

Only another ritual can repair a failed one:

Successful rituals require blood stakes, unanimous victimage, and willing sacrifice. The anticipated outcome must be uncertain and the result must be clear.

Failed rituals produce disunity. The greater the failure, the larger the division

Since all rituals eventually fail to elicit renewing sacrifice from devotees, what counts is the duration for which they succeed, and the intensity of the sacrificial commitment.

Successful rituals engender new rituals, and only another ritual can address a failed ritual. This could be another war, etc...

The above excerpts neglect entirely the role the Hittites, Philistines and Ammorites played as enemies of the Israelites. Above and beyond one could even look at the Babylonians, the Romans, and other Hellenistic enemies in books like 1 and 2 Maccabees and to an extent in Jubilees. However, perhaps the most shocking example of Israelites dealing with their neighbors can be found in the infamous War Scroll. The War Scroll calls for Jews to be situated in a vast region of the Mideast and would then eliminate all other nations from their national territory (Mendels, 92). This scroll is essentially calling for conquest and subjugation. The intention of the writer is vague as to whether he wishes Jews are to exterminate others, forcibly relocate them, or Judaize them.

While the books of Ruth, Judith and Daniel deal with individual judaizing, this scroll seems to call for a more collective phenomenon. Mendels suggests that perhaps Edomites, having ancestral family ties with Jews might potentially make them eligible to be included in this Jewish nation (Mendels, 97). This might also explain the rights of the Samaritans who see themselves as descendents of Ephraim and Manasseh, and potentially might also explain the current debates in Israel to allow immigration to certain African groups who claim ancestral ties.


There is no such thing as 19th and 20th century Zionism. It is only Zionism
in the 19th and 20th centuries. Zionism started with the Exodus from Egypt,
when Joshua returned to the land of Canaan with what had become of Jacob and
his sons: the nation of Israel. It was not the same place that Jacob had
left generations before. Many new people had settled and prospered there.
(Is this sounding vaguely familiar?) And Zionism was inculcated into the
liturgy of Judaism and invoked daily for two thousand years through one
expulsion from Zion after another.

Is this getting old? Stop buying into the leftist propaganda about what
Zionism is. Or what so called modern Zionism is. It has always been
predicated on the rule of law based on a code of ethics and an egalitarian
society. Jews were always free in ancient Israel. Zionism's roots are not
at all like those of modern nationalism, with its origins in Napoleon's
attempt to get rid of a ruling autocratic monarchy and entrenched ruling

That Israelis today are a conquering and occupying nation is certainly true - it is part of Israeli engrained nationalism. Israel should be studied by scholars in relation to its long and rich history. What was true of Israel's past will be true of its future. As stated in the Book of Ecclesiastes, There is nothing new beneath the sun. Only when scholars begin to consider this, will they realize that Israel is not an outlier case, not exceptional, and its behavior certainly not without reason.

The nation transcends temporal dimensions...

The future and the way forward.....

Nationalism becomes a religion...

A sense of right and wrong become subjective... this is about salvation for all. Fulfilling

God's will. --- king Jeroboam.... Expanded the borders!!! - hero!

Warfare is a religion... the cause is sacred.

Nationalism is the religion of the nation... when the religion is warfare, then how do u escape it. Israel's religion is of warfare, conquering and being conquered....

Chosenness, set borders, enemies, allies, war... war is Israel's religion, it's their history, it's their language, it's their symbols,

... it's something they sacrificed for. Jews in general began with a sacrifice (Isaac) proving faith.

Judaism is Israel's philosophy.... Its ethics... it came at a later stage... no mention of Judaism in the bible. They are the warrior's of YAW-H... war is Israel's religion.

Japan, Afrikaans vs. Israel.... Economy solved problems.... So maybe doesn't develop all nationalism, but can be a way to cure.

Nation State and Violence

During the 19th century, rights to national independence became linked closely to warfare

Global diffusion of the nation-state has been accompanied by violence

Four interpretations of the relationship between violence and the nation state:

Martin and Ingle Regular blood sacrifice is required for the reproduction of the nation state. Violence is a necessary mechanism for the rebirth of the state. Violence is a primitive ritual. The nation state is a much more primitive entity than we presume.

Nationalism produces a kind of religious fanaticism which lends to conflict (Kedourie, etc.) Monarchy is seen as a breach of fit between state and people. (*Knox article). The total character of warfare generated by the French revolution

Third focuses on the interstate system in Europe. Argues that the territorial states were the areas where national identities emerged, resulted from systemic war in Europe. This argument focuses on the development of the central state as having a monopoly on violence.

This type of institution (the state) emerges out of wars with neighbors, etc.

Europe became divided into large territorial states. In this sense, the set of institutions are soaked in blood.

Fourth Weaker explanation. Neither nationalism nor nations are inherently violent. They have inherited some of the pressures of a hierarchical system.

According to Akenson, the covenant of the ancient Hebrews forms the single most powerful cultural construct yet built by humankind (Akenson, 349).

Christian scriptures move to transterritorial.... the people of God... instead of a people

Page 224, why America still helps the chosen people, despite the transterritoriality of the people of god.

Land is not just a stage on which the drama is played out. It become a constitutive actant in the drama , having both material and didactic functions. (conclusion)

For Christians, the community of god's people knows now ethnic or territorial limits

Axis of evil - unholy alliance: Apartheid South Africa, Israel and US


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