The story of a unique nation as it grew from a dream to a world presence.
Brenner (Chair, Israel Studies/American Univ.; A Short History of the Jews, 2010, etc.) cogently sketches the unlikely achievements and unexpected trials of the State of Israel as it celebrates its 70th anniversary. At the First Zionist Congress, just 50 years before the Jewish state was established by the U.N., Theodor Herzl brought prayers of millennia down to Earth. As the author shows, there were certainly diverse places for a homeland to be (Africa, South America, Tasmania, as well as the Holy Land) and divergent paths it might take. Some favored autonomy after centuries of anti-Semitism, while others urged assimilation; labor had its proletarian views, and others stressed politics. Visionaries foresaw a land, different than any other, that would fulfill the ancient mission to be “a light unto the nations,” while some simply wanted a nation like any other. Unlike Herzl, some saw that displaced Arabs would not be pleased with the Jewish return to the biblical land of their fathers. The atrocities of the Holocaust clarified the urgency of a Jewish homeland, but who would be considered Jewish? Would it be a secular or religious land? An independent nation or a commonwealth? Brenner answers these questions and more in this concise text. The Six-Day War gave some Israelis the notion of a greater Israel, and religious settlers moved across the latest borders. The Yom Kippur War engendered an Arab summit’s adamant “three no’s”: no peace, no negotiation, no recognition. American evangelicals, anticipating the “end of days,” fell in love with Israel, and Russian immigrants and African lost tribes became Israelis. Startup technology and skyscrapers thrive in secular Tel Aviv, while world religions are at home among Jerusalem’s ancient stones; throughout the land, tourists mingle with soldiers on patrol.
A lucid, valuable text about a homeland that may not yet be a light unto the nations but is surely unique.