Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Milton Viorst Discusses His Latest Book: Zionism

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Milton Viorst Discusses His Latest Book: Zionism

Article excerpt

"At the 19th century's end, Theodor Herzl, an assimilated Viennese writer, founded Zionism, a movement to provide Jews with a refuge from Europe's abuse, in a land of their own," began Milton Viorst, at a Nov. 13, 2016 book reading in the Brentwood, CA home of Dr. Joan Beerman. The author cited two reviews of his book. According to the first, "Viorst's Zionism is a smart, analytical, engaging history of the people and ideals that built the state of Israel." The second critic called Viorst "an octogenarian American polemicist who blamed two hawkish Zionists for the absence of Middle East peace."

"This book is basically my effort to understand how Zionism evolved from Herzl's noble desire to rescue a beleaguered people into a rationalization for wars and military occupation," Viorst explained. "As a journalist and author, I've been studying the subject for most of my adult life. My aim has never been to examine how Zionism's major thinkers... some known to you, others probably not...shaped and transformed the debate. Sure, I'm a polemicist. I have a viewpoint but I learned much from the research in writing this book. I have tried to convey this learning to the book's readers."

The story that Viorst tells emerges out of the 18th century enlightenment movement, which offered Europe's Jews the promise of emancipation, the right to be treated as equals in society. With Jews striving for assimilation, the movement reached its apex during the French revolution, when philosophers and armies spread the idea of freedom across the continent. But Napoleon's endless wars sparked a reaction in favor of the old ways, including anti-Semitism.

Predictably, many Jews who preferred assimilation into European society were suspicious. One of Herzl's close friends was Moritz Gudemann, Vienna's chief rabbi, who accused him of exchanging the struggle against anti-Semitism in his homeland for growing tomatoes in Palestine.

This was a time when Germany, France, England, Russia and Austria were gearing up for what became the Great World War, and Gudemann warned that a state based on Jewish nationalism, relying on cannon and bayonets, might well turn out like the Christian states from which Jews needed refuge. …

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