Israel Middle East

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Promised Land, Crusader State: The Rise, Fall and Return of the Covenant Nation

A dissertation submitted by 58126 to the Department of Government, the London School of Economics and Political Science, in part completion of the requirements for the MSc in Comparative Politics (Conflict Studies)

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September 1st, 2008

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Several prominent comparativists claim that Israel is an ‘outlier case’ – a unique case study that generally defies most conventional forms of categorization. Such an allegation naturally assumes Israel to be exceptional and its behavior inexplicable. The assumption of Israel’s uniqueness was born during the marked epistemological shift from behavioral crossnational inquiries to more contextually and historically-derived theories, and has undermined Israel’s place in comparative politics. This dissertation seeks to place Israel and its behavior squarely back into the mix and up against much of the same scrutiny faced by other nation-states. By shifting again from a contextually and historically-derived theory of nationalism towards a more cognitive and tradition-based approach, centered on the ethno-symbolic approach professed by Anthony D. Smith and John Hutchinson, elements of Israel’s nationalism and national identity are analyzed as contributing to its existence as a ‘zone of conflict’ and to its violent behavior. An analysis of the Covenant Nation as a new comparative category that presupposes the idea of; (i) a chosen people, in (ii) a Promised Land, that uses (iii) blood sacrifice in order to fulfill a redemptive destiny and a commitment to worldly salvation, is highlighted. Limited comparisons to other covenant nations are drawn where applicable.


Since 1948, Israel has been regarded by some as an occupying force in the Middle East. That Israel, and Jews in general, could be a conquering and occupying people given their fate in the first half of the twentieth century – as a nation without a home, victims of anti-Semitism and persecution – is confusing to many. For reasons such as this, Israel has long been considered an outlier case by political scientists (Barnett 1996, ch.1). To the point of emphasis, it is argued that Israel defies most categorization, which has become the methodology employed by comparativists in order to understand states and state behavior. Categorizing usually requires classifying a case study under dichotic, or opposite, adjectives; Israel – being neither East nor West, developed nor underdeveloped, capitalist nor socialist, Third World nor First World – therefore, becomes difficult to study (Barnett 1996, 7). Furthermore, Israel has routinely been excluded from geographically specific studies – or regional studies, since it is often considered an alien entity in the Middle East. However, despite Israel’s historical particularity, Israel is not an alien entity in the Middle East and its behavior is not inexplicable. While differences certainly exist categorically between Israel and other states, they both nevertheless share many of the same traits and concerns –

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