Zion­ism: An Emo­tion­al State

June 14, 2022

Emo­tion lies at the heart of all nation­al move­ments, and Zion­ism is no excep­tion. For those who iden­ti­fy as Zion­ist, the word con­notes lib­er­a­tion and redemp­tion, unique­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Yet for many, Zion­ism is a source of dis­taste if not dis­gust, and those who reject it are no less pas­sion­ate than those who embrace it. The pow­er of such emo­tions helps explain why a word orig­i­nal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with ter­ri­to­r­i­al aspi­ra­tion has sur­vived so many years after the estab­lish­ment of the Israeli state.

Zion­ism: An Emo­tion­al State expert­ly demon­strates how the ener­gy pro­pelling the Zion­ist project orig­i­nates from bun­dles of feel­ing whose ele­ments have var­ied in vol­ume, inten­si­ty, and dura­bil­i­ty across space and time. Begin­ning with an orig­i­nal typol­o­gy of Zion­ism and a new take on its rela­tion­ship to colo­nial­ism, Penslar then exam­ines the emo­tions that have shaped Zion­ist sen­si­bil­i­ties and prac­tices over the course of the movement’s his­to­ry. The result­ing por­trait of Zion­ism recon­fig­ures how we under­stand Jew­ish iden­ti­ty amidst con­tin­u­ing debates on the role of nation­al­ism in the mod­ern world.

Discussion Questions

Zion­ism: An Emo­tion­al State is an illu­mi­nat­ing analy­sis of the com­plex­i­ties of the Zion­ist project, from its incep­tion to the present, through the lens of emo­tions. By plac­ing emo­tions at the cen­ter of the sto­ry, Derek Penslar offers a mas­ter­ful read­ing of the his­to­ry of Zion­ism (of the word, the idea, and the move­ment). He cap­tures the many emo­tion­al respons­es that are elicit­ed by Jew­ish sov­er­eign­ty and by the real or per­ceived threats to the Jew­ish State that have emerged since its cre­ation in 1948. The book elo­quent­ly explains why Zion­ism has prompt­ed (and con­tin­ues to prompt) emo­tion­al tsunamis, both among its cham­pi­ons and detrac­tors. Not unlike oth­er forms of nation­al­ism, Zion­ism, too, is sus­tained by neg­a­tive polit­i­cal emo­tions like fear, hatred, and anx­i­ety about safe­ty, as well as pos­i­tive emo­tions such as love, hope, and pride. At cer­tain times, these emo­tions serve as con­struc­tive forces in the forg­ing of the nation­al project, while at oth­ers, as in the case of the con­tro­ver­sial rela­tion­ship between Zion­ism and set­tler colo­nial­ism, they can poi­son that same project, gen­er­at­ing destruc­tive ways of think­ing and act­ing. This book is a must-read for any­one who is inter­est­ed in ful­ly under­stand­ing the emo­tion­al response to the mas­sacres of Octo­ber 7 and the ensu­ing war between Israel and Hamas.