The Rise of Israel: A His­to­ry of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary State

Jonathan Adel­man
  • Review
By – January 11, 2012
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.

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