THE FOUNDING MYTHS OF ISRAEL

NATIONALISM, SOCIALISM, AND THE MAKING OF THE JEWISH STATE

For decades, Israel's social-democratic Labor Party was the country's predominant political force, consistently holding a plurality of power against the right-wing ``revisionist'' and religious parties. Yet contemporary Israeli society has more social inequity than almost any other developed nation. Asks political scientist Sternhell (Hebrew Univ.): How can this be? Easy, he answers. From at least the 1920s and possibly earlier, the ruling elites of the Jewish settlement in Palestine were far more interested in increasing the Jewish population (about 75 percent of the total population was still Arab in 1947, the year of the UN's partition resolution) and in other forms of state- building than in redistributive socioeconomic policies. Sternhell exhaustively documents his thesis by quoting extensively from the writings and speeches of Labor Zionism's long-time political and ideological leaders, David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. As the latter put it in 1925, ``It is not the interests of class warfare that must determine the needs and strategy of the movement, but those of building up the land.'' Thus, the national workers' federation, the Histadrut, took on a strongly centrist orientation, in which a certain degree of antidemocratic tactics, as well as some financial corruption, were tolerated. The government was thus also uncompromising in staking Jewish claims to the land against those of Arabs. In general, this account is so focused on political ideology that it doesn't quite provide enough of a demographic, geopolitical, and historical context when it comes to issues of equity in Jewish-Arab relations or another matter he broaches, Zionism's commitment to rescue, rather than to internal issues, during the Holocaust. Still, for those fascinated by Zionist ideology and Israel's early history, this is one of the most provocative of the recent rash of ``post-Zionist'' studies that debunk earlier works on Israel's founding fathers and mothers.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-691-01694-1

Page Count: 407

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1997

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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