THE SIEGE: The Saga of Israel and Zionism by Conor Cruise O'Brien
Kirkus Star

THE SIEGE: The Saga of Israel and Zionism

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Big, enlightening history of the roots of modern anti-Semitism, its flourishing in the Dreyfus Affair, which gave birth to the Zionism of Theodor Herzl and other charismatic Zionists, and of the state of Israel from its agonized inception to the embattled present, by a former UN ambassador and Irish parliamentarian as well as respected historian. The Siege centers, as it must, on the tragically unresolvable Arab-Israeli conflict, with great sympathy for both sides, but never turning a blind eye to the fanaticism or ambitions that sharpen the dilemma. The background to it all still astounds, with secularist Jews devising a nation based on a religious text and with today's Israelis trying to separate their nation from its religious orientation--a knotty business much like Ireland's bloody religious/nationalist battles. Even so, Siege is less about the inward experience of Zionism than about the play of forces ""around the Jews, around the Zionists, and then around the Israelis."" At times the text sends a sting through the reader, as when Herzl says, ""Anti-Semitism continues to grow--and so do I."" ""Does Israel have a right to exist?"" O'Brien asks, then repeats an even earlier question, ""Do the Jews have a right to exist?"" Early Jewish nationalism fed right into anti-Semitism: if the Jews had their own nation, they would not be merely a religion. Jews were, in fact, undesirable aliens in Britain, and Britain's Balfour Declaration carving their ""national home"" out of Arab Palestine was a piece of odious hypocrisy by which the British deflected the Jews into the Middle East ""under the specious pretext of humanitarianism. ""What does O'Brien suggest for today's Israel, which in the words of Moshe Dayan has ""no foreign policy, only a defense policy?"" What can Israel do to establish peace when it supports a policy of massive reprisals for minor attacks (huge Arab numbers will win by attrition if reprisals are set merely at one for one)? O'Brien studies the comprehensive Middle Eastern settlement that seems most likely but is not sanguine about it. He sees no likelihood of a Palestinian State ever being founded. He is more hopeful that Palestinian leaders will have their hubris sobered and chastened, as was Sharon's over the invasion of Lebanon. But he sees no lifting of the siege, only an abatement. Grippingly clear from the start and borne along on emotional currents that never allow for a dull page.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster