Jonathan Adelman’s book is one of the few works that attempts to seriously address two interrelated questions: how, against all obstacles, was the Jewish state created, and how and why did it flourish? How could the Jews, who were expelled from Israel over 1800 years ago and lacked military experience or traditions, achieve statehood and flourish in a hostile environment? How could former Yeshiva students, ghetto residents, and marginal economic traders become farmers, soldiers, and statesmen? How could the Zionist movement, which was essentially a failure in its first thirty years (1882 – 1916), succeed when other national movements had floundered? Was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 inevitable and was its remarkable growth and flourishing against great odds merely an accident of history? Adelman thinks not. Using a variety of comparative methodologies, he presents a case to help explain Israeli success against formidable obstacles. It has not only survived but has done extremely well. It has won six wars and outlasted two intifadas. It is one of the leading countries in satellite systems, foreign intelligence services (Mossad), military power (IDF), hightech and biotech startups, companies in the NASDAQ (80) and arms exports ($4 billion). More Israel patents were granted in the United States in 2006 (1188) than Chinese, Indian, and Russian combined. Israel has also pioneered in new social and economic experiments such as the kibbutz and moshav and has devised methods for integrating millions of immigrants from over fifty countries speaking many different languages. Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, Technion and Weizmann Institute are among the best universities in the world. The Israeli healthcare system is superb leading to life expectancy and infant survival rates that exceed those in the United States. Israel has also been able to create a vibrant and authentic Hebrewbased culture.
It has been able to achieve these milestones, Adelman claims, through the power of revolution, one socialist and the other capitalist. The revolutionary nature of the state produced a revolutionary party, state, and government which has transformed Jewish history and changed a weak and dispersed, largely petty-bourgeois people into a first world power with significant capabilities. The twin Israeli revolutions are compatible, he believes, in societal impact to the great English, French, American, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. Secondly, there was the power of human will, leadership, and sacrifice. The Israelis were more willing to struggle, fight, sacrifice, and die for their cause than their Arab enemies. The democratic nature of Israeli society proved vital to its ultimate success and enabled it to ally itself with democratic nations like Great Britain, France, and, most importantly, the United States. Finally, Israel flourished in large part because of the creativity, drive, and determination of the Jews, a highly literate and educated people.
There is much in this book to admire. It marshals a great deal of data and historical interpretation to support its thesis. It utilizes a comparative historical approach that is refreshing and suggestive. This allows Adelman to set the creation of Israel in the context of dozens of other national liberation movements in the post-World War II era, for example, and evaluate it as compared to other new societies such as Australia, New Zealand, and the emerging countries in Africa and Asia. Its general tone is a bit too exceptionalist, however, focusing far too much on Israeli successes and not enough on the internal divisions, failures of leadership, and excesses in politics, diplomacy, military policy, and relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Given so much contemporary scholarship on Israel that is negative and anti-Zionist, seeing Israel as a tool of colonialism and imperialism, it certainly provides a needed corrective and is, therefore, highly recommended.
Michael N. Dobkowski is a professor of religious studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He is co-editor of Genocide and the Modern Age and On the Edge of Scarcity (Syracuse University Press); author of The Tarnished Dream: The Basis of American Anti-Semitism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.