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Marginal at the Center

Marginal at the Center: The Life Story of a Public Sociologist

Baruch Kimmerling
Translated by Diana Kimmerling
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 258
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  • Book Info
    Marginal at the Center
    Book Description:

    A self-proclaimed guerrilla fighter for ideas, Baruch Kimmerling was an outspoken critic, a prolific writer, and a "public" sociologist. While he lived at the center of the Israeli society in which he was involved as both a scientist and a concerned citizen, he nevertheless felt marginal because of his unconventional worldview, his empathy for the oppressed, and his exceptional sense of universal justice, which were at odds with prevailing views. In this autobiography, the author, who was born in Transylvania in 1939 with cerebral palsy, describes how he and his family escaped the Nazis and the circumstances that brought them to Israel, the development of his understanding of Israeli and Palestinian histories, of the narratives each society tells itself, and of the implacable "situation"-along with predictions of some of the most disturbing developments that are taking place right now as well as solutions he hoped were still possible. Kimmerling's deep concern for Israel's well-being, peace, and success also reveals that he was in effect a devoted Zionist, contrary to the claims of his detractors. He dreamed of a genuinely democratic Israel, a country able to embrace all of its citizens without discrimination and to adopt peace as its most important objective. It is to this dream that this posthumous translation from Hebrew has been dedicated.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-751-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgment
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Guerilla Fighter for Ideas
    (pp. 1-4)

    I did not pave roads and I did not dry up swamps. I was not a pioneer, a warrior, or even a military officer. I did not establish settlements and I did not build industrial plants. I wasn’t exactly a Holocaust survivor or a secret agent. I neither founded nor wrecked political parties. I was never even a member of one or a public figure. I wasn’t a pop star, a cultural hero, an actor in the theater, or a player in a stadium. I am not a poet, an author, a sculptor, or a painter. I am certainly not...

  5. Part One: And This Is the Story

    • 1 So That the Child Would Not Understand
      (pp. 7-16)

      Passover, 2000. As usual, I woke up well before Diana and even if I could, I would not have moved in bed. I knew that once I woke up, I would not be able to fall asleep again and thus decided to use the time to compose in my mind the lecture awaiting me at the conference in Beer Sheva, whose date was fast approaching and for which I still did not have a clear and definitive topic. On the whole, early mornings and the wee hours of the night when I cannot fall asleep are hours of grace during...

    • 2 Fleeing
      (pp. 17-22)

      Today we use the term “modern Orthodox” and indeed this describes my grandfather Adolf—a believer, but one who was also involved in both the large and small world. He was an impressive man who hated the rabbinate and loved to work. Fervent about his religion, he never missed a single prayer service in the synagogue. He also kept all the precepts, both minor and major, according to his own interpretation. My grandmother Estie (Esther) was also a very devout person. Nevertheless, my grandfather refused to play any role in the Jewish community and at home he used to mutter,...

    • 3 Fantasies
      (pp. 23-28)

      My outstanding achievement in eleventh grade was winning the “President’s Prize” in a short story competition between high schools for “The Occupier,” which I wrote in 1960. The story describes a young Israeli soldier patrolling a miserable Arab refugee camp (I didn’t know then about the existence of the Palestinians) in Gaza after its conquest in 1956. The protagonist was deeply affected by the sense of power that his weapon, his uniform, and his status as a victorious soldier gave him. The climax of the story occurs when the hero meets a young Arab girl and feels both sexually attracted...

    • 4 Ariel and Michael
      (pp. 29-43)

      Before I left for a sabbatical in Toronto, a well-known British publisher approached me with the proposal to write a book about Ariel Sharon’s war crimes. I refused since I am not an expert on the laws of war and international treaties, but we ultimately agreed on a political and military biography of the man. During a period of several months, I read all the material I could obtain about this fascinating person. The actual writing of the book did not take more than one month. After I had consolidated the conception of the book in my mind, I wrote...

    • 5 The Transylvania Was Not the Roslan
      (pp. 44-60)

      It is very difficult to say that a twelve-year-old boy madealiyahor “ascended” to Israel. My parents did not ask my opinion, and even if they had, I would have gone along with their wishes, especially knowing how much they suffered until they received a Romanian exit visa. This was also a wonderful adventure for me. Sailing on a ship. Perhaps meeting pirates. Who knows? It sounded to me like an interesting opportunity that was not to be missed. In retrospect, being uprooted from Romania added one more dimension to my identity that I have never been able to...

    • 6 The Library
      (pp. 61-76)

      My father’s business began to take off. He discovered a kibbutz somewhere in the north which had established a firm called Neeman that manufactured plates, cups, and other household items from ceramic. My father was able to persuade the factory manager, who was among the senior founders of both the kibbutz and the factory, to add electrical products to their lines. Like a certified economist, my father warned him that the market in plates was limited and not profitable enough. The industry required a good deal of raw materials as well as investments in new lines, product finishes, marketing and...

  6. Part Two: Campus

    • 7 At the Dormitories
      (pp. 79-90)

      In any event, I entered public life. One day, a quite tall, thin, mustached, and muscular young man suffering from a very mild case of cerebral palsy (C.P.) showed up at our house. I don’t remember how he learned of my existence, but he introduced himself as follows: “I am Uri Brill. I am studying agriculture at Rehovot and I served in the Nahal.”¹ Uri was the only child of a couple, German in origin, who lived in one of the cooperative settlements (moshavim) in the Sharon region. They were rigid, stubborn people who, apart from earning their living by...

    • 8 Adam
      (pp. 91-94)

      My brother Adam skipped a grade and at the age of seventeen finished the science track at the Ohel Shem Gymnasium. He was accepted into the military’s academic reserve and registered for mechanical engineering studies at the Technion. He was very disappointed when he found out that he was only on the Technion waiting list and that it was not certain he would be studying there that year. I had never seen my brother as depressed as he was when he received this news. Having friends who studied economics and statistics in Jerusalem (Azriel, for example), I thought these fields...

    • 9 My Body’s Betrayal
      (pp. 95-103)

      If there is anything new I have taught myself over the last two decades, it is to be tolerant and patient with myself, my body, and all the people around me and to accept my almost absolute dependence on them, especially on Diana. From the beginning of the 1980s, my physical condition deteriorated slowly but perceptibly. Not only free movement in space but even actions previously taken for granted like holding a book and leafing through it or picking up an object that has fallen on the floor have become difficult and require time and patience. My body is already...

    • 10 Diana
      (pp. 104-116)

      Fanny was actually my first real girlfriend. She had a quiet, classical beauty, fragile and gentle. Her left hand was partially paralyzed from polio. She was of Columbian origin, lived in the opposite corridor of the dormitory, and studied library science. We met many times in the dormitory kitchen, but it was difficult to start a conversation with her. At first I attributed this to the shyness of a girl who grew up in an aristocratic home. After she finally responded to my courtship, I even took her home for a weekend and my parents liked her a lot. However,...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  7. Part Three: The Struggle over the Paradigm

    • 11 March 6, 1969
      (pp. 119-129)

      During the 1967 war, I stayed in the dorms. I convinced my parents that it was safer in Jerusalem and I promised them I would be in a bomb shelter the whole time (a promise that of course I did not keep). My parents were more worried about Adam’s fate than mine, and rightly so. Adam was called up almost at the beginning of the big military mobilization. Thinking back on it now, I should have been at home to calm them down, but I preferred to stay with the young people at the dorms. Indeed, women, foreign students, and...

    • 12 The Department
      (pp. 130-134)

      From the end of the 1960s onward, the Department of Sociology, later known as the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, became my second home. My spouse even used to complain sometimes that it was my primary home. And it is in fact difficult for a young lecturer to have an academic career if research and teaching do not become his whole world and eventually, at least for some of us, a kind of “second nature.”

      I still love coming to the department because I love being among so many young, attractive people who are full of energy and hope and,...

    • 13 On Zionism
      (pp. 135-152)

      After the outbreak of the 1973 war, the university gave serious thought to whether or not to begin the academic year while most of the students were mobilized and the war had not yet ended. It was finally decided that “the show must go on” and the year would begin, but that the docents would send detailed outlines of their lectures to every soldier requesting them (a decision that, to the best of my knowledge, was never implemented). I was left with a “research seminar” in which about twenty young women participated, and we were all depressed and frustrated. During...

    • 14 Between Boston and Toronto
      (pp. 153-164)

      After the completion of my doctorate, my marriage, and the birth of two babies, employment and career issues became once again more pressing. Although I usually felt that most of the members of the department appreciated my work, my position there was far from secure and the road to tenure seemed longer than ever. Doing a post-doctorate at one of the best universities in the world was considered indispensable, especially for a person like me who had obtained all of his degrees at the same institution which, with all its pretensions, was and remains to a large extent parochial. The...

  8. Part Four: Entering the Public Arena

    • 15 On One Hand and on the Other Hand
      (pp. 167-177)

      My entrance into the public arena was gradual, and I became aware of its full significance only with hindsight. As mentioned earlier, I wrote articles inMaariv for YouthandIn the Gadna Campand, later on, also radio plays. For me, writing was easy and it flowed smoothly. I love to see my ideas take shape into words, sentences, and ultimately into a self-contained text incorporating some kind of statement with a beginning and an end. Writing for the general public is addictive and when time passes without my name appearing in print, I begin to feel a certain...

    • 16 Ancestors’ Sepulchers and Sons’ Graves
      (pp. 178-182)

      I remember being outraged by the buffoonery of those who claimed a historical right and the cult that developed around them. It was then that I wrote a series of three quite sharp and ironic articles entitled “Ancestors’ Sepulchers in Exchange for Sons’ Graves.” However, my articles were difficult to swallow, even for a liberal newspaper likeHaaretz, and for the first time they were rejected by an assistant editor. I sent the articles toDavarwhich, to my surprise, published them. But this too was not that easy, as I was told later. The paper’s editor, Chana Zemer, phoned...

    • 17 About the Nuclear Issue
      (pp. 183-185)

      Two additional niches in which I could express my opinions and ideas were the “Culture and Literature” section (where, as mentioned, I first began writing) and later the “Books” supplement. My writing for the literature section ended at some point, and I do not know exactly why. Beni Tzifer, the editor, broke off contact with me. I very much like reviewing theoretical books, mainly because struggling with the ideas of whoever thought about them and took the trouble to write a book or a monograph constitutes a challenge in itself. Every writer should be treated with respect, even if disagreements...

    • 18 This Constitution is Prostitution
      (pp. 186-190)

      I devoted several articles and numerous lectures to the constitution’s structure and to the verdicts of the High Court, mainly regarding the status of Arab citizens in the state and that of the residents of the occupied territories. In one lecture (the date of which I do not recall) during a conference held at Bar-Ilan University in honor of Justice Aharon Barak, I claimed,inter alia, that the judicial activism shown when ruling on the rights of the Jewish population stands in sharp contrast to the extreme restraint exercised by the Court when intervening in matters regarding the rights of...

    • 19 The Mouse that Roared
      (pp. 191-194)

      In the wake of the 1967 war, an additional phenomenon in the form of an ethno-national revival and protest by Soviet Jews emerged and attracted public attention both in Israel and abroad. Groups of Jews sent open letters to the Israeli government and to humanitarian organizations worldwide declaring that they regard Israel as their historic homeland and demanded that action be taken to secure their permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union to Israel.

      Meanwhile, the Soviets did allow the departure of a limited number (about 100,000 between 1968 and 1973) of Jews. They became the foundation on which Russian...

    • 20 The Mini-State Option
      (pp. 195-199)

      For a long time, I didn’t publish any further articles in newspapers. I had already decided in any case that I would publish only when I felt I had something to say that no one else could. My next article, which appeared almost a year after the 1973 war, on August 1, 1974, bore the misleading headline given to it by some editor: “A Palestinian State Will Exacerbate the Conflict in the Middle East.” It seems to me that this article presented a more detailed plan than any piece I have ever written, even though today it would not sound...

    • 21 The Right to Resist the Occupation
      (pp. 200-204)

      Before I get into this painful and complicated issue, it’s worth clarifying several points even though they look obvious at first sight: the project of colonizing the territories conquered in 1967 could not have been implemented at all without the approval and massive support of the state and all of its governments. If this had not been carried out under the aegis of the military (and the General Security Service) and if huge amounts of funds had not been invested in building infrastructure and subsidizing, directly and indirectly, both the public and private needs of every settlement, not a single...

    • 22 Kulturkampf
      (pp. 205-211)

      I have published many articles on the separation of religion and state as a necessary condition for the normalization of the Israeli government’s domestic policies and the settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians. At the same time, I pointed out the difficulty stemming from the fact that, although Zionism originated as a secular national movement, the choice itself of Zion as the target destination that would solve the national problem and the use of religious symbols par excellence—which were meant to encourage mass immigration in order to colonize the territory and build the state—introduced into Zionism archetypal...

    • 23 Politicians
      (pp. 212-218)

      Both research on and writing about academic subjects, as well as about current political and public issues, are based upon a number of similar fundamental principles and qualities, although each one of those fields uses them in different degrees. The first component is intuition, the nature of which I find difficult to define; I can only testify that I often use this ability to understand things with out conscious reasoning, despite the hidden risks. A related component is empathy, i.e., the ability to get inside the head and walk in the shoes of an individual or social group and understand...

    • 24 Between Despair and Hope
      (pp. 219-224)

      The real problem was that the more I learned about the conflict with the Palestinians and its history, the more skeptical I became about the possibilities of finding a real solution that would satisfy the minimal demands of both people through a territorial partition according to the “two states for two peoples” formula. Even if the Palestinians were to succeed in establishing an independent state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and without Jewish settlements in it (which at the moment appears to be a slim possibility)—and this is the maximum that even the most...

  9. In Lieu of a Conclusion: Question Marks
    (pp. 225-228)

    The story of my life has been told here in terms of three main interlinking circles: my personal history and that of part of my family; my education and professional activity as a sociologist; and a small portion of my work as a “public” sociologist. The question that the reader is likely to ask and perhaps has already asked himself while reading, is what the interrelationships between these circles are and more precisely, how the events of my life and my physical condition influenced my positions and activities in the professional sphere and what impact those in turn had over...

  10. Selected Publications
    (pp. 229-232)
  11. Index
    (pp. 233-240)