Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: The Founding Myths of Israel
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on November 25, 2000
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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on April 26, 2001
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. Sternhell is quite clear on the consequences of this ideology of class unity. By 1948 only 5% of Jews lived in kibbutzes. Mapai was an oligarchic institution with infrequent elections (in the thirties perhaps once every six or seven years). Katznelson and Ben-Gurion claimed that they disliked the very concept of leaders, but in fact a narrow elite controlled Labor Zionist institutions. Here we see a firm application of Michels' Iron Law of Oligarchy. Corruption and economic incompetence were tolerated: what was truly unforgiveable was political and organizational dissent. The gap in wages among Jewish construction workers in 1928-31 was the fifth highest in twenty-five countries studied. Similar figures were the same for metalworking and printers. Talk of a "family wage" to equalize matters in Histadrut was mostly talk, while Ben-Gurion lived a rather comfortable lifestyle with Histadrut picking up much of the tab.
Once the new state was established, the nationalist reality continued, leading the Labor Party to make the unforgiveable mistake of occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in complete disregard of the wishes of its inhabitants. Sternhell believes that Israel must now try to recover the pluralism and liberalism that Ben Gurion and his allies have so long neglected. "Today, more than ever, settlement in the territories endangers Israel's ability to develop as a free and open society. But like all previous attempts at colonialism, the one the Israeli Right wishes to impose on the Palestinians is sure to come to an end. The only uncertain factor today is the moral and political price Israeli society will have to pay to overcome the resistance that the hard core of the settler is bound to show to any just and reasonable solution." With the election of Ariel Sharon this message now has greater urgency than ever before.
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on April 28, 2002
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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on January 12, 2015
Useful but tendentious, and plagued by repetition of the same point--Ben Gurion and his fellow "labor Zionists" were more nationalist than socialist. Fair enough, but judging them on the purity of their commitment to democratic socialism is not the most relevant standard today..
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on January 7, 2009
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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on November 22, 2010
I think it's frightening that a country could be sobold as to ' create " it's history and that it's people fight for a justice based on lies
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on December 22, 2001
This book is egregiously superfluous. Sternhell, who has written good monographs on integral nationalism and the birth of fascism in Europe, suddenly finds that the Zionism which underpins his native land, Israel, is nationalist socialist -- hence a form of integral nationalism and perhaps proto-fascist if not actually fascist. Is this a revelation? Hardly. It has been clear from the work some forty years ago by Carl Schorske that Zionism had the same roots as Viennese anti-semitism, that Zionism was the Jews' finally adoption of a nationalism that every other European people had already adopted. It was defensive and a recognition that only Jewish nationalism could protest Jews from the nationalisms of their host peoples. Herzl wanted to make Jews like everyone else: a people with a land; and Zionism succeeded in giving the Jews a form of militant nationalism. Sternhell has suddenly discovered that all other isms in Israel -- socialism, Marxism, liberalism, Judaism -- have been fronts for nationalism. Well, where other peoples have had to invent integral nationalism -- a modern religion of nationalism -- the Jews actually invented integral nationalism in the Old Testament before anyone else. What Europe contributed to this was 1) rejection of Jewish emancipation and 2) Rousseau, who invented the religion of the modern world, what Sternhell calls nationalist socialism but might as well call National Socialism (pace, Hitler) which is more or less the same thing. Thus with his untimely revelations Sternhell feeds Arab and black paranoia about Zionism being racist, when all nationalisms are racist or ethno-centric. This book serves no purpose.
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on October 24, 2000
A very poorly written, and ill reasoned book. Very biased against Israel. I would not recommend it at all.
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on December 13, 2000
Sternhell brings no new news, as Hertzberg correctly states above, just his spin on the already known facts. Sternhell is one of the gang of 'new historians' and as such brings the already debunked 'original sin' libel to the table again. This is tiresome and repetitive.
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