Blind Spots in Portraiture: On Oz Almog's "Ha-tsabar: Dyokan, Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew"

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It is interesting to note that, despite his ideologically charged subject, [Oz Almog] seems to believe in "objectivity" as a scholarly value. Reading his book, however, reminds us, once again, that objectivity is only in the eyes of the beholder. Almog looks at the institutions that created the tsabar or, as he may term them, the frameworks of socialization where this collective subject developed. Focusing on the "typical sabra frameworks" that have created the "quintessential sabras" who "completely or almost completely fit the entirety of the characteristics described in the book," Almog discusses what he defines as an elitist "minority" or a "generational kernel." "The big gap," he writes, "between the sabras' low rate in the population [on the one hand] and their huge cultural weight [on the other] may very well be the key to their charm and significance in the history of Israeli society and culture" (14).

Almog goes on to unravel the features of the "quintessential sabra" that he defines in admiring essentialistic terms. Captured in the "charm" that he studies, Almog cannot be expected to be too critical. He opens his introduction by explaining the sabra's significance as a "cultural archetype" and moves on to discuss what he terms the "idealist inebriety," including "Zionist religion," "nationalist socialization," and patriotism in sabras' writings. The part on "Zionist religion" is probably the strongest in the book; in it Almog's criticism is at its best as he exposes the extent to which the culture of the "New Jew" was inspired by the very Jewish religious traditions it sought to negate and overcome. Subsequent chapters include discussions of the "myth of the chosen people" and the sabra as the "New Jew"; the significance of anti-intellectualism and ethnocentrism in sabra culture; sabras' relation to land and nature on the one hand and to the Arab East on the other; and asceticism, self-denial, and the significant role of group and collective frameworks in sabra culture.

The Palestinian is primarily the sabra's "enemy," as Almog makes clear in such phrases as "the sabra...defeats his enemy" (178) and "the sabra generation is (rightly) perceived as that which, by his own body, blocked the enemy who threatened to annihilate the Jewish Yishuv" (192). Sabra culture, in contrast, is not "militaristic"; sabras only fight when they must do so (202). When Almog directly discusses the figure of the "Arab" as a "blood-thirsty cruel enemy," he contributes to this view by describing the attack of "Arab mobs [characterized by] cruelty and excited feelings" on Jews in Safed and Hebron. He then goes on to talk about the attacks as "a proof of the Arabs' murderous and treacherous [nature]" and once again reminds his readers of "Arabs' cruelty in murdering old people, women, and children on various occasions" (295).
Original languageEnglish GB
Pages (from-to)167-174
Number of pages8
JournalJewish Social Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


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