An examination of Zionism through its most influential proponents.
Former New Yorker Middle East correspondent Viorst (What Shall I Do with This People?: Jews and the Fractious Politics of Judaism, 2002, etc.) takes a largely objective approach to a controversial subject: the quest for a Jewish state. The book will be especially useful to those new to the idea of Zionism and its historical implications while also providing food for thought to readers more engaged with the topic. After setting the stage with a succinct prologue, Viorst discusses Theodor Herzl, widely considered the father of modern Zionism. The author then moves on to Chaim Weizmann, who was influential in bringing about the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the creation of a Jewish state. Next up is Vladimir Jabotinsky, whose militant brand of Zionism was dubbed Revisionism. Viorst takes a subtle stance against Revisionist Zionism throughout the rest of the book, believing that it has left an intractable legacy of violence and of Arab subjugation. David Ben-Gurion, certainly a soldier at heart but not of the Revisionist brand, brought Zionism to a new level of reality with his declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. Revisionism would be taken up in the Israeli leadership by Menachem Begin and given religious sanction through Rav Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. Viorst concludes with an examination of the events leading up to the current regime of Benjamin Netanyahu. The author echoes the sentiments of Herzl that once a Jewish state was created, Jews would find it difficult to live with differing points of view. “The chief conflict among Zionists today,” he writes, “focuses on whether Israel will make the concessions needed to reconcile with its neighbors, or continue indefinitely to use force to dominate them.” Indeed, Viorst’s greatest lesson is that the Zionist movement is anything but singular in character.
A well-written, balanced, and intriguing reference.