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

Zeev Sternhell, Author, David Maisel, Translator
Zeev Sternhell, Author, David Maisel, Translator Princeton University Press $57.5 (464p) ISBN 978-0-691-01694-8
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Every national history has its myths. In this political/intellectual history, Sternhell, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, targets the Israeli myths that its founders were socialists committed to building a just society. The author argues that leftist Zionist intellectuals and political leaders in the first half of the century--icons such as Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as well as lesser-known figures--subsumed whatever socialist principles they had to the goal of creating a Jewish state. ""Socialism was never an aim in itself but a tool for the advancement of national objectives, an incomparably effective mobilizing force,"" he writes. Those who are familiar with, and believers in, standard Zionist history will feel challenged--while those who are less familiar will probably be a bit lost given the lack of a larger context. Sternhell's (Neither Right nor Left) method of comparing early labor Zionist leaders with their European counterparts comes across as a matter of opinion and an unfair comparison: the Zionists worked, after all, in a vastly different historical context. One also wishes that more attention was paid to the links between early Zionist thought and the extreme nationalism of the post-1967 era. If this book is any indication, the battle over the history of Zionism is far from finished. (Jan.)
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