Zion Before Zion­ism: 1838 – 1880

Arnold Blum­berg
  • Review
By – March 2, 2012

This is the sec­ond edi­tion of a book by a pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Tow­son Uni­ver­si­ty. Arnold Blum­berg, who died in Israel in 2006, wrote exten­sive­ly on the Mid­dle East, and was sym­pa­thet­ic to Zion­ism and Israel. The author regard­ed the mid to late 19th cen­tu­ry as a vital peri­od which estab­lished the foun­da­tions for mod­ern Pales­tine and the future Jew­ish state. Run­ning through the nar­ra­tive is the theme of momen­tous change, with even greater change ahead. 

Already there was increased immi­gra­tion— Chris­t­ian, Jew­ish, and Mus­lim with asso­ci­at­ed insti­tu­tions on the ground. Agri­cul­tur­al progress, sub­urbs beyond the walled cities, empire-build­ing, and war served to rouse Pales­tine from iso­la­tion and pover­ty. New forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as steamship lines, the tele­phone, and the tele­graph, offered speed­i­er access to those who held real pow­er, the Ottoman Turk­ish rulers and the inter­ven­ing Euro­pean nations — Britain, France, Prus­sia. Var­i­ous fea­tures of the time and region are suc­cinct­ly explained — capit­u­la­tions; Euro­pean con­suls who became pet­ty rulers and often very wealthy; Ottoman gov­er­nance of Turkey and occu­pied lands; alliances of nations and nation­al reli­gions to mis­sion­ize and to fight missions. 

The author intro­duces a parade of vivid his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters, includ­ing British For­eign Office Sec­re­tary Lord Ash­ley, a Chris­t­ian Zion­ist; the ras­cal­ly British con­sul James Finn; and Viceroy Mehmet Ali, whose rebel­lion against the Sul­tan in Con­stan­tino­ple appeared to promise reform. Blum­berg is an adept inter­preter of con­di­tions in the Old Yishuv and of con­di­tions in the Dias­po­ra, which brought Jews to Palestine. 

This work is well-researched and well-writ­ten. The re-pub­li­ca­tion of oth­er titles by Blum­berg would be a gift to read­ers and schol­ars. Acknowl­edge­ments, bib­li­og­ra­phy, glos­sary, index, illus­tra­tions, notes.

Lib­by K. White is direc­tor of the Joseph Mey­er­hoff Library of Bal­ti­more Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty in Bal­ti­more, MD and gen­er­al edi­tor of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries Newsletter.

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