Academic journal article Shofar

The Invention of a Nation: Zionist Thought and the Making of Modern Israel

Academic journal article Shofar

The Invention of a Nation: Zionist Thought and the Making of Modern Israel

Article excerpt

The Invention of a Nation: Zionist Thought and the Making of Modern Israel, by Alain Dieckhoff, translated from the French by Jonathan Derrick. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 297 pp. $30.00.

Israel is one of the few states to be founded on the basis of an idea. Precisely because the Jewish nation did not live in its traditional homeland for nearly two millennia, it was necessary to invent the idea of the state. That process required commitment to what was a revolutionary concept over 100 years ago and to the organizational structure that would do the political work. An understanding of contemporary Israel requires knowledge of the ideas that motivated the builders of the state and of the political process leading up to 1948. Alain Dieckhoff admirably provides a guide to the former.

Actually Dieckhoff combines two books into one. The first is basically an intellectual history of Zionism and Zionist thought up to 1948. It is a worthy successor to earlier efforts of this genre, notably those by Arthur Hertzberg and Shlomo Avineri, as well as those by Walter Laqueur, David Vital, and Ben Halpern. Is there a need for another book like this? It should be especially valuable to readers of the original French version, but fills a need for English readers as well. Dieckhoff most impressively incorporates modern scholarship from diverse disciplines into his erudite analysis of Zionist ideas. As a result he presents much more than a routine recital of the giants of Zionist thought.

The second book is much shorter, just the two final chapters. In it he analyzes the state of contemporary Zionist ideology in an attempt to relate today's Israeli politics to the great debates of the Zionist past. This part, while warranting our attention, would be more valuable were it more fully developed. It is certainly a project that deserves fuller treatment.

The first part of the book reflects careful and thorough scholarship and deep knowledge of both major and minor works of Zionist thought. Throughour this part, the author stresses both historical and intellectual context in order to assist the reader in understanding how and why Zionist ideas developed. There is not much that is radically new here, but his synthesis is both valuable and effective. Moreover, he simplifies the subject (though his work is hardly simplistic) by collapsing categories in order to facilitate comparisons between the various thinkers and to explicate the connections to contemporary political concerns. Thus he has fewer chapters than the earlier books on the subject, limiting himself to the more general political Zionism of Herzl and then the three specific types: socialist, religious, and nationalist Zionism. He adds a valuable chapter on the significance of the Hebrew language, which is not typical in books of this type, stressing the critical role that the revival of Hebrew played in the development of Zionism during the decades leading up to independence. Dieckhoff's approach facilitates the understanding of Israeli politics since 1948 because the intellectual origins of all three political camps are treated in depth. …

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