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Examining the Zionist Vision and the Reality of Contemporary Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2018

By Michael Brenner.  
Princeton University Press.  
371 pages.  
The goal of the 19th century founders of Zionism was to create a Jewish state in order to “normalize” the Jewish people. In their view, Jews constituted a national or ethnic group, rather than a religious community. This was a minority view and the early Zionists were rejected by the overwhelming majority of Jews, Orthodox as well as Reform. Slowly, with the advance of Nazism in Europe, and the resulting Holocaust, the Zionist movement gained strength. Its vision became reality with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  
This important book takes the reader from the original vision of Theodor Herzl to the present. The author, Michael Brenner, is Chair in Israel Studies at American University and is Professor of Jewish History and Culture at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. His many books include A Short History of the Jews (Princeton University Press).  
In the Introduction he starts with the story told by Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin about a party he attended in the 1930s in London, where the Zionist leader and later president of Israel Chaim Weizmann was asked by an aristocratic British lady admirer, “Dr. Weizmann, I do not understand. You are a member of the most cultured, civilized, brilliant and cosmopolitan people in history and you want to give it all up to become — Albania?” According to Isaiah Berlin, Weizmann pondered thoughtfully and slowly on the question, then his face lit up. “Yes!” He exclaimed: “Albania! Albania!”  
A people like any other  
The goal of the early Zionists is set forth by Brenner in these terms: “To become a people like any other people! That was the idea that many Zionists had in mind when they set out to realize their project to create a Jewish state … Only by ending the ‘abnormal’ situation of their dispersion in a worldwide diaspora and by re-establishing their own state after two millennia would ‘normality’ be regained in the form of a small Jewish state. Thus, the Jews would become ‘a nation like all other nations’ and their state a state like all other states — an imagined Albania.”  
This Zionist desire for “normality,” Brenner points out, challenges the traditional idea of Jewish uniqueness: “The image of the Jews as the ‘other’ was of course used by Jews themselves … and this from earliest times. It originated with the biblical notion of a ‘chosen people’ and is repeated in various forms throughout the books of the Bible and later in rabbinical literature and Jewish liturgy. The daily Alenu prayer contains the passage, ‘For God did not make us like the nations of other lands, and did not make us the same as other families of the Earth. God did not place us in the same situation as others, and our destiny is not the same as anyone else’s.’”  
Zionism aimed to overcome the Jewish sense of “otherness” and uniqueness by forcing Jews to fit into the categories valid in the 19th and early 20th centuries. “Seventy years after the establishment of the State of Israel,” notes Brenner, “Israel has achieved many goals of the Zionist movement, but the plan to become a state ‘like any other’ has not been fulfilled. If the Jews were the archetypical ‘other’ in history, ironically, Israel — which so much wanted to avoid the stamp of otherness — has become the Jew among the nations. The Jewish state is rarely conceived as just a state like any other state, but rather as unique and exceptional: it is seen either as a model state or a pariah state.”  
Trading one “abnormality” for another  
Northwestern University economist M. Shahid Alam suggests that, “A deeper irony surrounded the Zionist project. It proposed to end Jewish ‘abnormality’ in Europe by creating an ‘abnormal’ Jewish state in Palestine … Clearly, the Zionists were proposing to trade one ‘abnormally’ for a greater, more ominous one.”  
In contrast to other modern states, Brenner writes, Israel remained unique in a number of ways: “… ‘in contrast to other modern states, most of Israel’s first generation citizens did not originate in the territory that would later become their state.’ Neither did their immediate ancestors. Israel has the unique distinction of being what we might call an almost completely ‘imported nation.’ … They (the founders) aspired … to create a model state and thus to fulfill the goal of the ancient prophets that Israel becomes ‘a light unto the nations.’ It was this internal contradiction between an aspired normalcy and a claimed uniqueness that constituted and continues to constitute an enormous challenge for the self-definition of the Jewish state.’”  
Today, Brenner points out, it is almost forgotten that Zionism was just one of several paths European Jews sought to take in order to “normalize” their situation. This book opens with a chapter on a critical year in Jewish history, 1897. The first Zionist Congress convened that year. Within a few months, four distinct new paths for a projected “normalization” of Jewish history were proposed. These were: radical assimilationist, diaspora Autonomism, socialist Bundism, and political Zionism.  
Divergent Jewish Views  
The divergent Jewish views in 1897 are described this way: “In Berlin, the future German foreign minister Walther Rathenau wrote a passionate essay arguing for the thorough assimilation of German Jews. In Vienna, the editor of the liberal newspaper, the New Free Press, Theodor Herzl, planned the first Zionist congress, which took, place in Basel in the summer of that same year. It was followed by the first meeting of the new Jewish socialist movement, the Bund, in Vilna in the fall of 1897. In Odessa, Simon Dubnow, the leading Jewish historian of his time, formulated the theoretical foundation for the cultural autonomy of the Jews within the diaspora. Thus, within a few months, the major concepts of Jewish modernity were laid out. Zionism was only one of these responses to modern anti-Semitism and delayed integration.”  
Theodor Herzl, who led the emerging Zionist movement, drew a gloomy picture in his pamphlet, The Jewish State. He tried to relieve European Jews of their belief that integration into their respective homelands was possible. Himself an assimilated Jew with little knowledge of Judaism or association with it, he was driven toward his negative assessment of the Jewish future in Europe while he served as a correspondent in Paris for his Vienna newspaper in the early and mid-1890s. He covered the trial of Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely accused and convicted of high treason, resulting in widespread anti-Semitism. Herzl concluded that if anti-Semitism was popular in France, the homeland of Jewish emancipation in Europe, then Jews were not safe anywhere. In fact, Dreyfus was later exonerated and his commission restored, and large numbers of prominent people in France such as Emile Zola, rose in his defense. But Herzl now felt that Jewish life in Europe was untenable.  
Herzl’s emerging Zionist ideas were largely rejected by prominent Jews in Europe. Brenner writes that, “Sigmund Freud was an attentive reader of Herzl, but like most Viennese Jews had little sympathy for what Herzl proposed in his pamphlet Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, or literally, The State of The Jews) in 1896. Indeed, Herzl’s idea of a Jewish state was met mainly with disbelief and scorn. The two Jewish publishers of his own newspaper refused the bare mention of Herzl’s Zionist movement in the New Free Press, even though its founder was one of their most important editors … Stefan Zweig observed, ‘What foolishness is this that he has thought up and writes about? Why should we go to Palestine? Our language is German and not Hebrew, and beautiful Austria is our homeland.’”  
Vienna’s chief rabbi  
Herzl tried to convince Vienna’s chief rabbi Moritz Gudemann of his views, but without success. It seems, Brenner reports, that Gudemann understood how little Herzl’s views had to do with any real knowledge of Judaism: “Perhaps this was related to a visit Gudemann paid to Herzl’s home in December of 1895. As he entered the living room, the rabbi witnessed Herzl lighting the candles on his Christmas tree. What is perhaps most astonishing from today’s perspective is the fact that the future leader of the Zionist movement did not even sense how deeply upsetting this scene must have been to the rabbi. Herzl wrote in his diary, ‘I was just lighting the Christmas tree for my children when Gudemann arrived. He seemed upset by the ‘Christian’ custom. Well I will not let myself be pressured! But I don’t mind if they call it a Hanukah tree — or the winter solstice.’“  
Herzl, of course, did not invent the idea of Zionism. Jewish religious sentiments had long been directed toward the Land of Israel, and Jews still prayed for a return to Zion. At Passover, Jews uttered the hope to meet next year in Jerusalem. By the 19th century, Brenner notes, “… these yearnings were directed toward a heavenly Jerusalem and toward messianic times, in which a third Temple would be built. Only … in the context of the rise of nationalism was the heavenly Jerusalem transformed into a worldly Jerusalem.” When Herzl lived, most Jews in Western democratic countries viewed Judaism as their religion, just as their fellow citizens of England, France and other countries were Protestant or Catholic.  
Herzl was not alone in his thinking. In Russia and Eastern Europe, where Jews had not achieved equality in citizenship, there was growing sympathy for such views. In Russia, Leo Pinsker published his pamphlet Autoemancipation! In 1882, it was, in many respects, a forerunner of Herzl’s Jewish State, but also quite different. Pinsker sought to raise the status of the Jews from their “abnormal” existence of homelessness: “Since the Jew is nowhere at home, nowhere regarded as a native, he remains an alien everywhere.” Unlike Herzl, who thought that their return to an idealized normality would result in the dissolution of the diaspora and that ultimately all Jews remaining in the diaspora would assimilate, Pinsker’s “normalcy” envisioned the dual existence of Jewish diaspora alongside a projected Jewish state.  
Zionist congress  
Reporting from the Zionist congress in Basel, Abraham Liessen, the correspondent for the American Jewish newspaper the Forverts (now the Forward) questioned the very basis of Zionism, the assumption that the Jews constituted a nation. The discourse of the existence of a Jewish people, he argued, played into the hands of anti-Semites. Jews, he pointed out, had no common language, no common tradition and no common goals for the future. Thus, they should not be considered a nation. The normalization of the Jews, in the view of the Forverts, could only become a reality in the New World.  
What kind of state did Theodor Herzl have in mind? He presented his blueprint in the book Altneuland. His was a utopian vision, with no discernible Jewish content. Herzl called his state the “Seven-Hour Land,” for in his proposed state no one should work more than seven hours a day, which was a revolutionary idea for his time. He drew the flag of the new state with seven stars, symbolizing the Seven-Hour Land. His projected state was not to be just another state but an “experiment for the well-being of all humanity.” It would not only offer a safe haven for persecuted Jews but would become a model for the improvement of people from all nations and religions.  
Where this state would be located was of little concern to Herzl. He rejected Hebrew as the official language. He said: “We cannot converse with one another in Hebrew. Who amongst us has a sufficient acquaintance with Hebrew to ask for a railway ticket in that language?”  
In his state, the rabbis would stay in their synagogues and have no involvement in politics. The power of the generals would be restricted by the creation of a small professional army. The arch villain of Herzl’s book is an Orthodox rabbi called Dr. Geyer, who wants an exclusive Jewish state. His hero, David Littwak, says, “Neither I nor my friends make the least distinction between one man and another. We don’t ask about anyone’s race or religion. It is enough that he is human.”  
Indifferent to the indigenous population  
Herzl was largely indifferent to the existence of an indigenous population in Palestine. Brenner writes: “Although Herzl was not free of colonialist fantasies, he refused to be identified with colonialist concepts as practiced for example in South Africa. ‘After all, we don’t want to be a Boar state but Venice.’” Still, Brenner cites a June 12,1895 diary entry in which Herzl seems to lay out the expropriation and perhaps even the expulsion of the local population.  
Another early Zionist thinker was the Russian Jewish philosopher Ahad Ha’am. He sought the creation of a “spiritual center,” rather than a sovereign state in Palestine, and was critical of what he saw as the mistreatment of the local Arab population by the early Zionist settlers. He wrote that, “after two thousand years of untold misery and suffering, the Jewish people cannot possibly be content with attaining at last the position of a small and insignificant nation … An ancient people, which was once a beacon to the world, cannot possibly accept … a thing so trifling … It was not for nothing that Israel had Prophets whose vision saw Righteousness ruling the world at the end of the days.”  
The views of Ahad Ha’am are described by Brenner: “The main task of Zionism in his view was to build a spiritual center. … While Herzl tried to solve only the crisis of the Jews, Ahad Ha’am came to solve the crisis of Judaism as well. Instead of a ‘Society of Jews’ or a ‘New Society’ based mainly on economic advances, he demanded a center for the Jewish spirit … In his view, Herzl’s state of the Jews resembled collective assimilation. There was nothing there that was Jewish, only the imitation of European culture in a Middle Eastern context. Ahad Ha’am stood in the tradition of the Eastern European Hebrew Haskala (Enlightenment), which had as its primary aim not the fight against anti-Semitism, but the renewal of Judaism and Jewish culture.”  
Messianic fervor  
The Israel which has evolved in recent years, with its ultra-Orthodox government-appointed chief rabbis, and its growing messianic fervor, was the opposite of what the early Zionists thought they were creating. Brenner notes that, “The main protagonists of the early Zionist movement agreed on one principle when it came to the future Jewish state. Despite their differences on many other issues, they all rejected any form of theocracy and advocated a clear-cut division between state and religion. State laws should not be based on religious laws (Halakah). Non-Jews should enjoy equal status in every respect … For them, any attempt to hasten the coming of the messiah was contrary to God’s will.”  
As Zionist settlement in Palestine grew, diverse points of view emerged. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement, called for Jewish control of all of the historic Land of Israel. David Ben-Gurion, who emerged as leader of the Yishuv (the Jewish population of Palestine) was inclined to support a two-state partition. Of particular interest is a group now largely forgotten, but perhaps prophetic in its outlook. The group, Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace), consisted of a group of intellectuals, mainly of German-speaking backgrounds, who favored the establishment of a joint Jewish-Arab commonwealth. Among them were scholars like Gershom Scholem and Hans Kohn, journalists like Robert Weltsch, and high ranking Zionist officials like Arthur Ruppin . They rejected the traditional nation-state model and preferred a cultural center. According to Ernst Simon, who later became professor of education at the Hebrew University, Zionism offered an opportunity to topple “the idol of the state, that means the misbelief that there is no form of peoplehood and community without the forced institution of the state.”  
When Israel was established in 1948, it did not adopt a constitution, in part because the Orthodox demanded that it embody, halakah, Jewish religious law. The new state did, however, make it clear that Palestinians would not be equal citizens. Brenner shows that “among the distinctions between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority” were two laws that “retroactively sanctioned the seizure of Palestinian property: the 1950 Absentee Property Law, which ‘rendered permanently the ostensibly temporary expropriation,’ and the 1953 Land Acquisition Law that legalized the seizure of any land not cultivated since 1948 by the ‘non-absentee’ Palestinian population. By 1954, one third of Jewish Israelis were living or working on land appropriated through the absentee law. Most of Israel’s Palestinian citizens were under martial law, which lasted until 1966 … Moreover, not all citizens of Israel had identical obligations. Palestinian citizens were not (and are not) conscripted to army service, and with few exceptions … do not serve in the army. Those who fled or were expelled from Israel after its independence did not receive permission to return … .And finally, there is the symbolic value of the Star of David in Israel’s flag, the phrase of ‘a Jewish soul’ in its national anthem, and the dominance of the Hebrew language, which made and makes it difficult for non-Jews to emotionally identify with the Jewish state.” (This was written before Israel’s passage of the Nation-State law, which, among other things, eliminated Arabic as an official language).  
Occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem  
After the 1967 war and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has now continued for 51 years, the nature of the state — and of Zionism itself — underwent dramatic change. The writer, A.B. Yehoshua expressed serious concern over the fact that many Israelis viewed their 1967 victory as the beginning of the messianic age and retroactively interpreted the establishment of the state as yet another part of a divine plan. For him, this religious interpretation of Zionism constituted a “betrayal of Zionism, which sees settlement in all the territories of Greater Israel as a value that is messianic and sacrosanct, which sees not the Jewish people’s survival and normalization as the main thing, but a situation of expansion and territorial settlement and a life in continuous conflict with the Arabs and hence with the entire world.”  
Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the Orthodox Jewish thinker and professor at the Hebrew University, argued that Israel had transformed the military triumph of the Six Day War into a historical disaster on the seventh day: “On the seventh day we had to decide — and we were free to decide — whether that war was one of defense or of conquest. Our decision turned into a war of conquest, with all that it implied. Not only was the character of the state altered: the very foundation of its existence assumed a new aspect. The change was not simply of quantity but of character.”  
Leibowitz, Brenner notes, “belonged to the declining faction of the national religious camp that clung adamantly to the original Mizrahi position. For him, the State of Israel solved practical problems for the Jewish people, but should not be regarded as a tool advancing the redemption of the Jewish people and the advent of the messianic age. He argued that the Jewish religious laws, halakah, were shaped in a time when Jews had no state. They were appropriate for a diaspora people but could not be applied as state law without major adaptations. Thus, for him, Israel was ‘a state of the Jews’ rather than a ‘Jewish state.’”  
Concept of Greater Israel  
In this book, the author cites many Israelis who were concerned with the direction in which their country was moving. The Hebrew University’s best known historian, Jacob Talman, a prominent opponent of the concept of a Greater Israel, remembered how Prime Minister Levi Eshkol had assured him personally that he had no interest in keeping these territories: “He was happy that at last we have something we can bargain with.” Talmon prophesied in 1970: “Should this state of war between Jews and Arabs, which has lasted already 50 years continue for another 50 years … there will be no victors and no vanquished, but mutual general destruction.” And he continued: “The preoccupation with security, however natural and justifiable, so often becomes a self-defeating obsession. Which state in the world has ever enjoyed security and particularly now in the age of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare? The axiom of the eternity of Arab hatred and active hostility is suicidal.”  
The writer Amos Oz warned early on of the consequences of occupation: “For a month, for a year, or for a whole generation we will have to sit as occupiers in places that touch our hearts with their history. And we must remember, as occupiers, because there is no alternative. And as a pressure tactic to hasten peace. Not as saviors or liberators. Only in the twilight of myths can one speak of the liberation of a land struggling under a foreign yoke. Land is not enslaved and there is no such thing as a liberation of lands. There are enslaved people, and the word ‘liberation’ applies only to human beings. We have no liberated Hebron and Ramallah and El-Arish, nor have we redeemed their inhabitants. We have conquered them and we are going to rule over them until our peace is secured.”  
Immediately after the Six Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol entrusted a small committee consisting of four military intelligence officials with the question of what to do with the newly acquired lands. On June 14, 1967, the committee came to the conclusion that there should be two main guiding principles: “‘the security of the state of Israel’ and. ‘achieving peace.’” The ideal solution that they recommended required achieving “both security and peace … the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, under the Isrrael Defense Forces, and in agreement with the Palestinian leadership.” The committee endorsed withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines with the exception of East Jerusalem. The document summarized its proposals as follows: “We repeatedly emphasized that if we wish to arrive at a peace agreement … and an agreement that (will) last for long, we must be generous and daring as we approach the Palestinians. Any other way — even if it leads to achievements in the present — would only sow the seeds of destruction for the future.”  
Emergence of the settler movement  
Israel, of course, decided on a different path. The settler movement which emerged, Brenner shows, was inspired less by Theodor Herzl than by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Palestine’s first Chief Rabbi, who, in contrast to most Orthodox Jews of his generation, interpreted the establishment of a Jewish state as the advent of the messianic age. “Although he himself died in 1935 and did not live to see the founding of the state,” writes Brenner, “his disciples and especially his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, invoked his legacy when referring to the holiness of the land.”  
On the eve of the Six Day War, the aged Zvi Yehuda Kook delivered a speech in which he recalled his emotional state after the U.N. Partition decision of 1947: “Where is our Hebron — are we forgetting it?! Where is our Shechem — are we forgetting it?! And our Jericho … Our East Bank?! Where is each and every clod of earth? Every last bit, every four cubits of the Land of Israel? Can we forego even one millimeter of them? God forbid! Shaken in all my body, all wounded and in pieces, I couldn’t, then, rejoice.”  
This speech, Brenner notes, “set the tone for the settler movement’s notion of the holiness of the complete land of Greater Israel … Zvi Yehuda Kook became the spiritual father of the movement, which rebelled against both the passivity of traditional Orthodoxy and the secularism of the Zionist movement.  
The sacred and the mundane  
The new reality was described by sociologist Baruch Kimmerling: “With the conquest of the West Bank and its redefinition as ‘Judea and Samaria,’ the situation changed dramatically. The encounter between the sacred and the mundane provided several advantages for groups capable of exchanging ‘holiness’ for participation in the system, and these advantages continued to increase given the primordial components of the state’s identity … Thus, the settlers of ‘Judea and Samaria’ pushed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s teachings to their logical extreme. The reunion of the ‘People of Israel’ with the whole ‘Land of Israel’ meant the termination of the first part of the redemption process. All that remained was to create a society based on halachic law …”  
Other views were also being heard. While he was still labor minister under Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin made clear his view that the occupied territories were negotiable. To a settler who was concerned that the Etzion Block would not remain under Israeli control, Rabin replied: “It won’t be terrible if we go to Kfar Etzion with a visa.” And to an Israeli who asked him about the holiness of the biblical Land of Israel, his answer was: “For me, the Bible is not a land registry of the Middle East. It is a book that provides education in values.” In an interview given in 1976, but only published in 2015, Rabin expressed his view of the settler movement: “I see in Gush Emunim one of the gravest threats to the State of Israel … It is not a settlement movement, it is a cancer in Israel’s social and democratic fabric, a manifestation of an entity that takes law into its own hands.” Elsewhere, he warned that an annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and the resulting large numbers of Arabs in a Jewish state would lead to an apartheid state.  
Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a member of Israel’s right-wing religious nationalist movement. The country’s right-wing has now been in power for many years. The result, Brenner declares, is that “attacks against Israel’s core understanding of a democratic state increased. Political parties came into being that questioned the equal status of the Arab population in a Jewish state. The Moledet Party … openly promoted a population transfer of Israeli Arabs, while the much more radical and openly racist Kach Party, led by American-born rabbi Meir Kahane legitimized violence as a political means!”  
New messianic vision  
The new messianic vision of a Jewish state, Brenner writes, “found fertile ground not only in Israel but in America’s Bible Belt. For evangelical Christians, the State of Israel was and is anything but a normal state. They have adopted it as the savior of the world. The connection between the return of the Jews to their historic land and apocalyptic Christian readings of the Bible in fact has a long history. … Already in Herzl’s time there were millenarian Christians who regarded the founder of Zionism as a trail-blazer on the Christian road to salvation … Hal Lindsay, one of the most popular evangelicals, and the founder of the Campus Crusade for Christ, claimed in his popular book The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), that the nations of the world be measured according to their treatment of Israel and that the return of Christ to earth could only happen after the Jews had established their state in Palestine.”  
Israel’s embrace of its American evangelical supporters was swift. For Menachem Begin, Jerry Falwell and his followers were welcome allies. “It is telling,” writes Brenner, “that after the widely condemned Israeli air strikes against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, Begin called Falwell before calling President Reagan. Falwell’s statement that a possible return of ‘Judea and Samaria’ by Israel to the Arabs would be as outlandish as a return of Texas by the United States to Mexico, and similar comments made him the first non-Jewish recipient of the Vladimir Jabotinsky Medal and a close friend of later Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”  
The chapter on “Global Israel” begins with a quote from author Philip Roth: “The so-called normalization of the Jew was a tragic illusion from the start.” The author describes some of the current dynamics that were not predicted by the prophets of Zionism — among them, the emigration of large numbers of Jews from Israel, and the immigration of non-Jews and recently converted Jews from Africa and Asia to Israel. These are part of a changing society in the 21st century. Today, expat Israelis form a global community from Los Angeles and Melbourne to Germany and Poland, where many descendants of immigrants have returned to their ancestral homes. The Israeli historian Jacob Talmon points out that, “Israel has been seen as the fulfillment and ultimate denouement of Jewish history, but it has also been seen as the greatest deviation from the course of that history.”  
Jewish life in the diaspora  
The Zionist ideal of ending Jewish life in the diaspora, Brenner shows, was always an ideological construct with widespread opposition: “The Reform movement turned the negative connotations of the destruction of the Second Temple and the end of Jewish statehood into a virtue: only in dispersion could the universal mission of Judaism develop and the idea of monotheism spread. To be a minority among other nations had become a core element of Judaism. In Eastern Europe, historian Simon Dubnow developed his theory of Jewish history centering around the idea of the Jews as a diasporic people. Palestine was just one of the centers of Jewish existence in history, followed by Babylonia, Spain and Eastern Europe. What was ‘normal’ in Jewish history for him was not the return to Palestine, but the coming into existence of ever-new centers of Jewish life.”  
Brenner cites the many Jewish voices who have challenged the Zionist narrative. One is the philosopher and literary critic George Steiner, who is convinced that the home of the Jews is a “portable home,” an expression he borrowed from the 19th century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine. In Steiner’s view, it is the unique existence of the Jews, whose home is the book and not the soil that is responsible for their unusual creativity, which in turn has become an example for all humanity: “One need be neither a religious fundamentalist, nor a mystic, to believe that there is some exemplary meaning to the singularity of Judaic importance, some sense beyond contingent demographic interest to the interlocking constancy of Jewish pain and Jewish preservation … The State of Israel … would make the Jew level with the common denominator of modern ‘belonging.’ It is at the same time an attempt to eradicate the deeper truth of unhousedness or an at-homeless in the world, which are the legacy of the Prophets and of the keepers of the text.”  
For Steiner, Brenner notes, “… the return of the Jews to a tiny state in the Middle East means the parochialization of a community that had bred a Freud and an Einstein and a Kafka, and from which 20 per cent of Nobel Prize winners have emerged, even though it comprises less than one percent of the world’s population. Thus, in his view, the ultimate home of the Jews is their homelessness.”  
Re-thinking of Zionism  
Within Israel, there is much re-thinking of Zionism. The former speaker of the Knesset and former president of the Jewish Agency, Avraham Burg, has called for a complete re-thinking of the Zionist enterprise: “We seek to add humaneness and universalism to the old equations and new dimensions of value-based content and national existence. We propose a life of trust, not a reality composed of nothing but endless trauma. He called for the cancellation of the Law of Return and encouraged Israelis to get a second citizenship if they could meet the requirements. His idea of Israel envisions several Jewish centers: “We were raised on the Zionism of Ben-Gurion, that there is only one place for Jews and that’s Israel, I say no, there have always been multiple centers of Jewish life.”  
The most radical view among Israel’s “post-Zionist” intellectuals cited by Brenner is that of Tel Aviv historian Shlomo Sand. In his book The Invention of the Jewish People, Sand argues that the very idea of the “Jewish people” is a fiction. If the Jews are not a nation, but only a religion, Sand declares, they have no right to establish a national home. He proposes the following future path for Israel: “The Jewish supra-identity must be thoroughly transformed and must adapt to the lively cultural reality it dominates. It will have to forego a process of Israelization, open to all its citizens. It is too late to make Israel into a uniform, homogeneous nation-state.” In a second book, published in 2012, The Invention of the Land of Israel, he set out to “deconstruct the concept of the Jewish ‘historical right’ to the Land of Israel and its associated nationalist narrative, whose only purpose was to establish moral legitimacy for the appropriation of territory.”  
In contemporary Israel, Brenner writes, the forces of peaceful accommodation with the Palestinians are in retreat and the forces of religious nationalism and ultra-Orthodoxy are growing: “… support for the ‘Clinton parameters’ (a demilitarized Palestinian state without settlement blocs and full Palestinian security control of the West Bank, and a Jerusalem divided and serving as the capital of both states), has steadily declined from 59 per cent in 2005 to 29 per cent in 2017. Acceptance of Arab equality among Jewish Israelis has also dropped, with the greatest rejection of Arab equality coming from the Orthodox. In 2016, 97 per cent of Orthodox Jews believed that Jews deserved preferential treatment in Israel, and a majority of Orthodox Jews in Israel were in favor of expelling or transferring Arabs from Israel.  
Different from Herzl’s Zionism  
Zionism has turned into something far different from what Theodor Herzl envisioned. If Herzl were alive in Israel today, notes Brenner, “He would have to study Hebrew, to confront the strong role of the army in ’his’ state, and come to terms with the fact that the religious element is steadily growing. This was not his vision. Herzl hoped to found a miniature version of Europe in the Middle East. … What is certain though is that his legacy is being claimed by a variety of political camps, and that he is interpreted by the right as a nationalist and by the left as a cosmopolitan.”  
What the future will hold is impossible to know: “As the State of Israel enters its eighth decade of existence, different segments of its population offer very different paths into the future. Will there be two states west of the Jordan River or one state? Will it be a democracy with equal rights for all its citizens or an ethnocracy that favors one group over another? Will the society remain a dominantly secular one or will religious groups make more inroads? … it is a place of hope and a place of despair. It is unique and it is normal. It is a state like any other state and it is a state like none other.”  
As Brenner shows, many Zionists advocated the creation of a Jewish state envisioned as a nation like any other. Yet, the state that emerged was anything but ordinary. Israel was conceived to be unique, a model society. It is this paradox that shapes Israel’s ongoing struggle to define itself. This book examines that struggle from the late 19th century to today.  
Departure from Jewish thinking  
Political Zionism, as Brenner shows, was a departure from traditional Jewish thinking. If it had not been for the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, it may well have remained a minority view. It is possible that it will once again become a minority view in the future.  
One shortcoming of this otherwise notable history is its lack of consideration of the history and experience of American Jews, living in an open society with religious freedom for all. The Eastern European Zionist thinkers knew little of this experience, which may be a more positive and constructive example for the Jewish future than narrow nationalism.  
Michael Brenner has provided us with a thoughtful and absorbing exploration into Zionism and the larger Jewish community and treats them with objectivity and fairness. There were many different views of the Jewish future when Zionism began in the 19th century and Brenner shows that this is equally the case today. •  

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