Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV  Volume Sixteen   Number 6 (95)  ■  November  2003 ■ Kislev 5764 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research





The Scarlet Letter: Israel as Myth and Reality

Ilana Gomel

The article argues that the current wave of anti-Israeli paranoia in the West constitutes neither an outbreak of visceral anti-Semitism nor a legitimate response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, it stems from the need to present an overarching “explanation” of history. Western anti-Semitism is not an ethnic prejudice but a philosophy of history that uses the Jews as a metaphor for the underlying causes of historical events. The meanings attached to this metaphor are multiple and often contradictory. But what matters is that Israel can never be seen simply as a country, or the Jews simply as a people. Because of the long tradition of metaphysical speculations intertwined with references to the Jewish “enigma”, the Jews, and now Israel, are always read as a sign of some deeper historical processes and not merely in terms of their own actions. The article compares Israel to the heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 19th-century novel The Scarlet Letter, forced to wear a sign imbued with multiple meanings by her community. Israeli culture has lost its ability to cope with the metaphorical dimension of Jewish experience. Thus, it is incapable of understanding the complex ways in which Israel is being engaged in the contemporary debate over globalization and American hegemony.

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