Customer Review

34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important account of how Mapai lost its way., April 26, 2001
This review is from: The Founding Myths of Israel (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. 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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in

Review Details


3.4 out of 5 stars (8 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
Used & New from: $19.88
Add to wishlist

Location: Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,161,869