THE MAKING OF MODERN ZIONISM: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State by Shlomo Avineri
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THE MAKING OF MODERN ZIONISM: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State

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No approach to Zionism is without its disputatious aspects; and to that extent Avineri--a noted political scientist (at Jerusalem University), author of highly-regarded studies of Hegel and Marx, and a member of the last Labor government--is true to form. He is out to challenge the consensus view of Zionism as a religiously-inspired movement triggered by fresh outbreaks of anti-Semitism (as well as the doctrinaire religious and secular variants of that view, which stress one or the other component) and to establish for the movement a rich, diverse intellectual lineage--relevant today. Why, he contends, did an active movement for Return to Zion arise when it did, and not in the preceding centuries of religious attachment and worldly persecution? He then reviews the Jews' situation in 19th-century Europe--confronted, after legal emancipation, ""with completely new dilemmas of identity, both internal and external"" and imbued, on the leadership level, ""with the current ideas of the European intelligentsia"" (a situation Avineri likens to that of American blacks a century later). The identity-crisis has been widely recognized; the influence of 19th-century liberalism, nationalism, and utopianism has not gone unnoted. In his anthology, The Zionist Idea (1959), Arthur Hertzberg presents the apposite writings of key Zionist thinkers. But there has not been, in English, any such exposition and analysis of their thinking as Avineri proceeds to provide. In a brief chapter apiece, he sets forth: Nachman Krochmal's Hegelianization of Jewish history (attributing to the Jewish spirit characteristics ""similar to those of other national spirits""; identifying its distinctive trait as ""universality""); Heinrich Graetz' presentation of Jewish history, in his eleven-volume opus, as a seesaw between political and religious forces--destined for eventual unification (the idea of messianism); Moses Hess' synthesis of revolutionary nationalism with a socialist vision in ""a call for a Jewish socialist commonwealth in Palestine"" . . . and so on, through the Zionist pantheon (Alkalai and Kalischer, Smolenskin, Lilienblum, Pinsker, Ben Yehuda), to Herzl (""The Breakthrough"") and the modern antipodes, Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion. Decrying Jabotinsky's equation of Zionism with ""European expansionism"" (and his disregard of the Arabs), lauding Ben Gurion's insistence on ""the social transformation of the whole Jewish people"" (foremost, through self-sustaining labor), Avineri is looking ahead to present-day Israel, and his conclusion: Zionism is a permanent, unfinished revolution against those forces in Jewish history (and ""within the Jewish people"") ""which have turned the Jews . . . into a community living at the margin of and sometimes living off alien communities."" The book thus becomes a polemic--against the policies of Begin and the Likud government, and against the claims of the religious bloc. Be that as it may, it is clear and forceful--a reflection of its origin in Avineri's course on Zionist political ideology and his own fervor. American Jewish readers--and interested others--will be enlightened and not, perhaps, unmoved.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Basic Books