The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State

By Zeev Sternhell; David Maisel | Go to book overview

Introduction
Nationalism, Socialism, and Nationalist Socialism

IN THIS BOOK I seek to examine the nature of the ideology that guided the central stream of the labor movement in the process of nation-building and to investigate how it met the challenge of realizing its aims. In many respects, the purpose of the book is to analyze the way in which the ideology and actions of the labor movement molded the basic principles of Jewish society in Palestine (the Yishuv) and its patterns of development in the period before the War of Independence (1948–49). In this sense, this book is a study of the intellectual, moral, and ideological foundations of present-day Israel and a reflection on its future.

Speaking of the Israeli model of nation-building, however, raises a question of general significance: is a national movement whose aim is a cultural, moral, and political revolution, and whose values are particularistic, capable of coexisting with the universal values of socialism? The leaders and ideologists of the labor movement used to answer this question unhesitatingly in the affirmative. They maintained that the movement's synthesis of socialism and nationalism was its main historical achievement and its claim to uniqueness among labor movements. From the beginning of their political careers, the founders persistently claimed that in Eretz Israel (Palestine) the aims of nationalism and socialism were identical, and that they complemented and supported one another.

In this book I examine this position and counter a number of current opinions. I ask whether a unique synthesis of socialism and nationalism was ever achieved in Palestine; I also examine a more complex and difficult problem, namely, whether the founders actually intended to create an alternative to bourgeois society, or whether very early on they realized that the two objectives were incompatible, and therefore, from the beginning, they renounced the social objective. Was equality a genuine goal, however longterm, or was it only a mobilizing myth, perhaps a convenient alibi that sometimes permitted the movement to avoid grappling with the contradiction between socialism and nationalism? Here I question one of the founding myths of Israeli society and its national epic.

Another fundamental question concerns the nature of Jewish nationalism as understood and developed by the founders. Was the nationalism of the labor movement and its practical expression, the pioneering ideology of conquering the land—first by means of a Jewish presence and Jewish labor and later by force, if necessary—in any way special? Did it have a universalistic,

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