Gideon Shimoni, The Zionist Ideology. Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press, 1995. xvi + 506 pp.
Gideon Shimoni's book appeared just before the centenary of the World Zionist Organization, and to some extent its contribution relates directly to that event. However, while not ignoring the historical circumstances in which the Zionist movement was born, the political and social conditions under which it operated and the present cultural reality in which it still struggles for survival, Shimoni's basic argument is that Zionism originated in an idea. Thus his book sets out to describe and analyze the guiding force within Zionism—its ideology—in all its variants.
Divided into three sections (a methodological introduction; a section on the various trends within Zionist ideology; and an analysis of the fundamental problems common to all the factions within Zionism), this is the product of many years of intensive effort, and it is worthy of praise for its contributions on a number of levels. First, it is a panoramic work. These days, with the increasing tendency toward narrowly focused research, it is all the more important to present the “trees” as part of a large and colorful “wood. ” Shimoni does this, and hence his book is of value not only to the general public, to students and to teachers, but also to fledgling researchers.
A second particularly welcome feature of this book is its systematic, methodical structure, which combines horizontal description with vertical analysis. In the former, Shimoni describes the various divisions of Zionist ideology: the forerunners of Zionism; general Zionism; religious Zionism; socialist Zionism; and revisionist Zionism. In the latter, he analyzes the position of these ideological trends with regard to two central questions: Zionism as a secular identity; and the struggle over the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Such a structure enables the reader to learn about each of the factions in a focused manner, while at the same time following the confrontations among them over these two central questions. There is one problem with this method—although effective from a didactic point of view, it is flawed in a historical sense, failing to examine comparatively the reactions of the different groups to historical changes. This is particularly problematic because the ideology of the Zionist movement was anchored in reality, and there was mutual influence between the two. Nonetheless, Shimoni's discussion of the ideology is in itself a significant contribution, since ideology is too often pushed to the fringes of academic research by the exaggerated emphasis on policy, social processes, political struggles and interests, and the personal drive of historical actors. Without denying the role played by these forces, the few who still believe that ideas count cannot but pay tribute to Shimoni's work.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is Shimoni's intellectual and methodological contribution in presenting Zionism as a national movement within the context of recent academic research on the question of nationalism.