How the Israeli National Character Shapes Our World
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An attempt “to forge a comprehensive, provocative, and accessible narrative about the Israeli mind.”

Israeli-American clinical psychologist Gratch (If Love Could Think: Using Your Mind to Guide Your Heart, 2005, etc.), based in New York, uses his background as a sabra (an Israeli Jew born in Israel), combined with humor and anecdotal evidence, to provide a useful exploration of Israeli national character traits, most of which he shares. The “outside-inside” approach is compelling, though admittedly, the author is wading into perilous waters; a fellow scholar warned him that “the very concept of national character could be racist.” Yet as a psychologist, Gratch is fascinated by group action and conflict resolution. First, he delves into the trauma and fragmentation inherent in the Israeli makeup: the endurance of cycles of war and peace, followed by immigrant arrival and absorption, dramatic change, instability, and forced adaptability. Israelis are hugely polarized along right-left lines and largely secular yet devoted to the national Jewish founding (i.e., biblical) myth, although Gratch shows how each side is passionately attracted to its opposite—a reflection of Freud’s concept of reaction formation. The author offers astute observations regarding the mind and actions of the narcissist. On one hand, the Jews’ self-identity as the chosen people allowed them a self-aggrandizing role in history; on the other hand, their “outsized” accomplishments in all fields over the ages have resulted from a “compensatory drive” to overcome their sense of insignificance. Another facet of Israeli narcissism, Gratch notes, is the lack of empathy, revealed in the inability to understand and experience the plight of their neighbors, the Palestinians. More troubling than the Israeli disrespect for authority and penchant for cutting corners is the deeply internalized sense of victimization that manifests in paranoia and defensiveness—a frightening mix vis-à-vis the Iran nuclear crisis and conflict with the Palestinians.

A solid overview of how psychology, rather than violence, might provide the way to peace.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-250-06780-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2015


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