Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal

st. martin's press  2016


In his most recent and ambitious work, Milton Viorst provides a thoroughly-researched insightful work of Zionism's earliest thinkers and leaders, extraordinary men who were often in conflict with one another each attempting to shape concepts akin to their own way of thinking.

The book is chaptered by the different leaders of modern and contemporary Zionism: Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion, the Rabbis Kook, Mencahem Begin, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Each of these extraordinary men deserves a nuanced characterization of the complex, often contradictory beings they were. Viorst gives them their due, providing the context of world events which inevitably affected the genesis, direction, and outcomes of their thinking and development, including the Enlightenment, World War I, World War II the rise of Socialism, anti-antisemitism, the fall of the USSR, and ultimately, the Holocaust. Whether they lived in Germany, Italy, England, Turkey, or America, these powerful thinkers interestingly had ongoing need for support and patronage from their places of origin.

Viorst writs of Herzl as an assimilated Austro-Hungarian writer, a student of the Enlightenment later considered the "Father" of modern Zionism; Chaim Weizmann's influence directly enabled the formation of the 1917 Balfour Declaration; Jabotinski developed a philosophy of Revisionism, reconfiguring Zionist ideology into a militaristic, ofttimes violent form of defense; Ben-Gurion is credited with his realistic, formative vision of a Jewish state—it was on his watch that Israel became a nuclear power; both Rav Kooks created the movement of Religious Zionism, confirming as well Jabotinski's use of force and violence; and finally, Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel in the critical position of carrying forth a workable synthesis of all the history and thinking that has preceded him.

Viorst now shows that Jabotinsky's [and Rav Kook's] earlier "Revisionism" became Israel's ongoing rationale for violence. He writes of the current ongoing militaristic domination of the occupation of Palestine today in the West Bank and Gaza. The anger continues, leading to ongoing violence on both sides showing no sign of abating.

Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal draws on the early history of Israel to the present, giving ample attention and detail to the significance of the Balfour Declaration; the Likud, Labor, Kadima and Religious Zionists political parties; the Irgun and Lehi resistance groups; the IDF, and others.

In spite of their profound conflicts, these unusual men held in common the tenet that for the first time in two thousand years they had in their hands the opportunity of creating a Jewish state. Today that "creation" stands as a small but extraordinary country of industrial, agricultural, scientific, intellectual accomplishment. Viorst voices his concern that the Palestinians’ hatred of the dominant Israeli state, the ill will of the countries surrounding Israel and the fierce internal conflict within, and Netanyahu’s current leadership places the country’s future on a precarious and uncertain footing.

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