Israel: A History

Brandeis University Press  2012


In Israel: A History Anita Shapira attempts to create an accessible one-volume history of the modern state of Israel, beginning, as one must, in the year 1881.

Most general histories are stymied by too many facts. They roll from fact to fact anddeluge their readers with an overwhelming amount of detail that, while important, is too dry to enjoy and eliminates any pathos or real discussion of the significance of the topics.

Shapira brilliantly weaves together her his­tory of Israel. She may be the narrator, but she allows history and historical characters—lead­ers and the people—to speak for themselves.

In a way, this history reads like a novel and is as compelling as a mystery. Any reader to pick up this work knows how it ends. And yet, through her mastery of the subject matter and her passion for the history, Shapira sustains her readers’ interest as she takes them along a road full of twists of destiny that unfold in the miraculous story called Israel.

Shapria specifically did not want to write a history that went from war to war, which is the way the history of Israel is usually recounted. Shapira lays out a chronological tale and while she cannot help but deal with the wars, the work does not devolve into a history of the wars that Israel fought. The book becomes as much a history of why the wars were fought as what happened between the wars.

In short, this is a truly creative and exciting history of Israel.

Discussion Questions

  • Does Israel: A History focus more on the cultural, political or military aspects of Israel’s past?
  • Is the Zionist ideology described in the first chapter of Israel: A History applicable to Israel’s situation today? What do you suppose Theodor Herzl would do if he were Israel’s current prime minister?
  • Did the mass immigration that took place in the 1950’s strengthen or ultimately hurt Israel?
  • In light of what Professor Shapira writes about the changing attitudes of Diaspora Jews, does it seem like Jews outside Israel will care more or less about Israel’s welfare in the coming years?
  • Is Professor Shapira making any over-arching argument concerning Israel, or is Israel: A Historya purely objective survey? Stated otherwise, does Professor Shapira appear to take a specific position on Israel, and if so, what is it?
  • Which U.S. Presidents were most sympathetic to Israel? Which were the least? Which U.S. Presidents’ actions resulted in the most good for Israel? The least?
  • Looking at Chapter 13 of Israel: A History, could the Six-Day War have been avoided? What had each side gained and lost by the end of it? Consider the same questions about the Yom Kippur War (Chapter 15).
  • Is the growth of secularism something that should be resisted or allowed to happen in Israel today? According to Israel: A History, have secular influences done Israel more harm or good over the years?
  • Which Israeli Prime Ministers were most willing to compromise with Israel’s enemies? The least?
  • Does Israel: A History seem ultimately optimistic about Israel’s future? Did you feel hopeful or worried after finishing the book?

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