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Terrorism and Political Tolerance Toward “Fellow Travelers”

July 26, 2022
Mark Peffley, Marc L. Hutchison, et al.


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Mark Peffley, a professor at the University of Kentucky, Marc L. Hutchison, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, and Michal Shamir a professor at Tel Aviv University, Israel, discuss the repression of “fellow travelers” in Israel and around the world.

During President Biden’s recent trip to Israel, he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967. Biden’s pledge, however, was met with silence from Israel’s prime minister, Yair Lapid. One could hardly blame Lapid. Israel is preparing for its fifth round of elections since 2019. And the opposition to Lapid’s coalition is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition is known for two things: opposing any concessions to the Palestinians to achieve peace, and curbing the democratic freedoms of Israel’s Arab citizens, about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

How did Netanyahu become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in history and why did political intolerance toward many domestic groups increase during those years? The answer is relevant for democracies everywhere. As we show in our recent article, chronic terrorism increased the Israeli public’s willingness to deny basic liberties to domestic groups alleged to be “fellow travelers” of the perpetrators of violence.

History is littered with examples of threats from war or terrorism stoking public support for repressing domestic groups who pose little objective threat—think about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the post-9/11 surveillance of American Arabs and Muslims. During the McCarthy era in the US, Samuel Stouffer and others coined the term “fellow travelers” to refer to groups on the left—socialists, atheists, pacifists—who were alleged by anti-communists to be philosophically supportive of communism despite no formal association with the US Communist Party. In our research, we used the term to refer to domestic groups whose sociological makeup—i.e., their national, religious or ethnic background—or political views are alleged to enable or support terrorism. While Stouffer and political scientists have studied political intolerance for many years, our study is the first to show how chronic terror attacks precipitate political intolerance toward several domestic groups alleged to be fellow travelers of the actual perpetrators.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.