A thematic one-volume survey of Israel delineating the evolution of late-19th-century Zionism through the tumultuous defense of the nascent state to today’s rise of the religious right.
Fair-handed in dealing with the Palestinian question though definitely written with an Israeli bias, this solid work by Israeli author Gordis (Senior Vice President/Shalem Coll; Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel's Soul, 201, etc.) thankfully keeps concision in mind, but the author does not sacrifice veracity. By asking big questions—e.g., what was behind this “grand human story”—he gets at the broad contours of the founding of the state of Israel. Gordis begins with the importance of the writings of Moses Hess, Leon Pinsker, and Theodor Herzl in articulating the need for a Jewish homeland to combat perennial anti-Semitism. The dream entailed the pursuit of a secular political plan—sparked, in part, by the Russian pogrom at Kishinev in 1903—financed by well-connected Jews of the Diaspora, sanctioned by the Balfour Declaration, and followed by the “entirely legal” purchase of land in Palestine, which “aroused the concern of both the Ottomans and the local Arabs.” Gordis crafts an elegant, personal narrative, and he ably captures the existential crisis during the Nazi era with the tragic stories of three different refugee ships full of Jews fleeing Europe. From the challenges of early statehood, including its cast of colorful characters like David Ben-Gurion, and combating rivalrous Arab neighbors with the buildup of a massive military, Israel became an international player. Yet the 1967 Six Day War brought euphoria as well as the long-term burden of the occupation of Palestinian territories, which would alter the founding vision irreparably. Gordis gives a good bit of space to the marginalized Mizrahi “revolution” of the 1970s, culminating in Menachem Begin’s Likud victory of 1977. Moreover, the author concludes that “the ideology of classic Zionism was beginning to crack,” allowing the more religious Jews to find their place.
A readable, concise history that effectively captures the sense of grand ideas in Israel’s identity.