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The Founding Myths of Israel Paperback – December 7, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0691009674 ISBN-10: 0691009678

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (December 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691009678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691009674
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,088,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This comparative political study takes a revisionist historical approach, reinterpreting what it considers mythical to explain the origins of the state of Israel. Sternhell (Neither Right nor Left, Princeton, 1996) studies the ideological nature of the socialist-labor movement in Jewish Palestine under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion and sees the role of Zionism as a key bonding social feature and a politically divisive element. Ben-Gurion's goal, according to the author, was to create a state for Jews, with all organized efforts geared toward that end. This book will undoubtedly create discussion and debate for some time. An excellent companion to Simha Flapan's The Birth of Israel (LJ 8/87) and worthy reading for anyone interested in comparative political development. Recommended.?Sanford R. Silverburg, Catawba Coll., Salisbury, N.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

For decades, Israel's social-democratic Labor Party was the country's predominant political force, consistently holding a plurality of power against the right-wing ``revisionist'' and religious parties. Yet contemporary Israeli society has more social inequity than almost any other developed nation. Asks political scientist Sternhell (Hebrew Univ.): How can this be? Easy, he answers. From at least the 1920s and possibly earlier, the ruling elites of the Jewish settlement in Palestine were far more interested in increasing the Jewish population (about 75 percent of the total population was still Arab in 1947, the year of the UN's partition resolution) and in other forms of state- building than in redistributive socioeconomic policies. Sternhell exhaustively documents his thesis by quoting extensively from the writings and speeches of Labor Zionism's long-time political and ideological leaders, David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. As the latter put it in 1925, ``It is not the interests of class warfare that must determine the needs and strategy of the movement, but those of building up the land.'' Thus, the national workers' federation, the Histadrut, took on a strongly centrist orientation, in which a certain degree of antidemocratic tactics, as well as some financial corruption, were tolerated. The government was thus also uncompromising in staking Jewish claims to the land against those of Arabs. In general, this account is so focused on political ideology that it doesn't quite provide enough of a demographic, geopolitical, and historical context when it comes to issues of equity in Jewish-Arab relations or another matter he broaches, Zionism's commitment to rescue, rather than to internal issues, during the Holocaust. Still, for those fascinated by Zionist ideology and Israel's early history, this is one of the most provocative of the recent rash of ``post-Zionist'' studies that debunk earlier works on Israel's founding fathers and mothers. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Fermina Daza on November 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Sternhell makes a convincing case for the early leaders of Israel not at all being socialists of a universalist nature but merely exclusivist nationalists who created a state based on ethnicity and not on humanitarian values. This is crucial in light of the fact that most Israelis (and Americans) have grown accustomed to the myth of kibbutzim and their supposedly humanist nature being the essence of early Zionist settlers when in fact kibbutzim forbade the cooperation of the native peoples (Palestinians), allowing only Jews to till the soil and encouraging them to acquire Arab land, by force or by purchase, as much as possible.
If you are interested in an eye-opening account of the motives of the early Zionist leaders, particularly those in the Labour party - who are often painted as "doves", as compared to the "hawkish" members of Likud - this book is worth your while.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on April 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Zeev Sternhell is best known for writing several volumes on the origins of fascism. His controversial interpretation is that Fascism originated as a "pure doctrine," in France, as opposed to Italy and Germany, and that this idea was a heresy of socialism, a sort of nationalist socialism. Critics have challenged this opinion on the grounds that, among other things, Sternhell concentrates on a handful of intellectuals while the more serious movements like the Croix de Feu are ignored.
Sternhell's new book also concentrates on intellectuals and advocates. Much of it is therefore rather abstract, and relatively little is said about Mapai's relations with Israel. But it is better than has previous books for a number of reasons. First off, it is very clear that Aaron David Gordon, Berl Katznelson and David Ben-Gurion were vital to the development of Zionism, the Labor Party and the State of Israel. Here, the idea of Mapai ideology as a nationalist heresy from the universalist traditions of European Social Democracy is clearly on stronger grounds that with Barres and Deroulede.
What does Sternhell argue in particular? He argues that the ideal of the kibbutz worker and of agricultural labor was a nationalist idealization clothed in socialist rhetoric. It was believed more as an alternative to the urban diaspora Jew rather than as a serious and well thought model for a democratic worker's society. By being strong workers Israelis could overcome their diasporan selves, while actual issues of power and control were evaded. There was much hostility to individualism and many cliches of nationalist discourses were repeated, such as a "socialism of producers," an emphasis on "national spirit," and hostility towards cosmopolitanism.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on April 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This work was and is controversial but I found it simply useful and informative, an historical reminder, in the haze of journalistic sloganeering, as the telescoped image of the original labor movement in the history of Zionism fails to resolve the exact species of the socialist founders in the genus of nineteenth century socialisms. This was closer to Proudhon than Marx, and, really, the term socialism is egregious, if one was puzzled at the trickiness of chronic division amidst the claims for Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East. The portrait of 'nationalist socialism' which has nothing to do with 'national socialism' clarifies at once one aspect of the current confusion and turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. So Israel's state formation is anomalous 'socialism', now what?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. C. Bosma on January 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
If you want to understand :abor Zionism, ... you have to read this book!
There's a summary of it on Wikipedia.
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