THE TRAGEDY OF ZIONISM: Revolution and Democracy in the Land of Israel by Bernard Avishai

THE TRAGEDY OF ZIONISM: Revolution and Democracy in the Land of Israel

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Desperately seeking controversy, Avishai has chosen a misleading title for a book in which the subject matter is familiar and the conclusions, too frequently formed by a selective reading of history, are both unpersuasive and unprovocative. His principal thesis is that Israel is a failed democracy, in part because Zionist ideology carried anti-democratic tendencies within it. The bulk of the book consists of a retelling of Zionist and Israeli history, purportedly to define the logical structure of Zionism and lay bare its weaknesses. The conclusion, of course, is that Zionism ought to be abandoned, especially by American Jews, so that genuine Hebrew democracy can flourish in Israel. The central problem here is that there is no clear definition of what the author means by democracy, no list of its characteristics, and no other nation put forth to serve as a democratic exemplar. We are left with various minor examples of Israel's imperfections. Some readers will accuse the author of unfairness in this regard because Israel is not yet 40 years old, thus, perhaps, too young for its revolution to be justly evaluated, and also because Israel is, in fact, remarkably democratic considering its security situation. Indeed, a far more interesting book about the Middle East would have been one on the tragedy of Arab nationalism, which could not reconcile itself to an Israel ready to live at peace. Avishai's history section wavers between unremarkable competence and a tendency to seek out the embarrassing and atypical. Its potential value is to whet readers' appetites for the more balanced presentations available. The author's arguments, taken from one segment of the socialist left, will be recognizable to anyone who has followed the Middle East debate. Though sometimes insightful, and often quite readable, in sum irrelevant.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux