Sunday, June 20

Zeev Sternhell, ‘Super Zionist’ Wary of Extremism, Dies at 85

Zeev Sternhell, a Holocaust survivor and an expert in 20th-century European fascism and the kind of extreme nationalism that he viewed as a threat to democracy in Israel, died on Sunday in Jerusalem. He was 85.

His death was announced by the Hebrew University, where he had taught political science from 1966 until his retirement in 2003. No cause was given.

An author and public intellectual, Professor Sternhell was awarded the Israel Prize in Political Science in 2008, a prestigious award that West Bank settlers and their supporters had unsuccessfully petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to block.

That same year, his leg was slightly injured when a pipe bomb exploded shortly after midnight as he walked out of the front door of his home in Jerusalem to shut a courtyard gate.

A 37-year-old Florida-born religious Jew, Jack Teitel, who had resettled in the West Bank, was arrested. He was later sentenced to two life terms after being convicted of killing a Palestinian taxi driver and a West Bank shepherd and of committing a number of attempted murders, including the pipe bomb attack.

While Professor Sternhell described himself as a “super Zionist,” in his books, speeches and regular columns for the liberal newspaper Haaretz he vigorously opposed the proliferation of settlements in the occupied West Bank. He called them “a cancer,” propagated by people he characterized as religious Zionists. He argued that Israel lacked a moral imperative to retain West Bank land seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“Whereas the conquests of 1949 were an essential condition for the founding of Israel, the attempt to retain the conquests of 1967 had a strong flavor of imperial expansion,” he wrote in his book “The Founding Myths of Israel,” first published in 1996. (An English-language edition was released two years later.)

Among his fundamental arguments was that the Labor Zionist founders of Israel had proved to be much less committed to instilling socialist ideology than to imposing political control over the new nation.

After an escalation in hostilities in recent years between Israeli forces and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, Professor Sternhell again identified what he considered the precursors of fascism in Israeli society: “deification of the nation,” “ethnic determinism” and, as a recent editorial in Haaretz put it, “making the supremacy of the society and the interest of societal redemption a central value, at the expense of the individual and of equality among the participants in societal activity.”

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