Baruch Kimmerling: Controversial critic of Israel's origins and its role in the Middle East

Historians in the News

Baruch Kimmerling, who has died aged 67, was probably the first Israeli academic to analyse Zionism in settler- immigrant, colonialist terms. He described his homeland as being "built on the ruins of another society". A devoted atheist, he lamented Jews' and Arabs' failure to "separate religion from nationality".
Though associated with the "new historians" who question the official narrative of Israel's creation, Kimmerling was a sociologist by training. In his book, The Interrupted System: Israeli Civilians in War and Routine Times (1985), he began anatomising what he saw as the deleterious, if disguised, militarisation of Israeli civil society. Challenging the notion of Israel as a beneficent "melting pot", he called on fellow citizens to embrace their multiple origins - Arab and Jewish, oriental and western, religious and secular.

In 1993, he co-wrote (with Joel Migdal) what Library Journal in the US called "the best descriptive treatment of the Palestinians to appear in decades". The book, Palestinians: The Making of a People, noted how Israel's victory in the six-day war of 1967 paradoxically reunited and politically revived Palestinians, and returned the Middle East conflict to its pre-1948 inter-communal cockpit.
The book's publication coincided with the apparently successful Oslo peace accords. Ten years later, with the peace process in ruins, Kimmerling released his controversial Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians. What began as a biography became an analysis of "a gradual but systematic attempt to cause Palestinians' annihilation as an independent social, political and economic entity".

To his adversaries Kimmerling was a tendentious polemicist who let ideological bias overrule academic sobriety and gave succour to Israel's foes. Yet he called himself a patriot, and while decrying the "monstrous practices of Zionism" he valued Israel's "islands of marvellous humanism and creativity". He feared that a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine dilemma would just cause further Balkanisation and bloodshed in the Middle East, and he opposed boycotts of Israeli universities....

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