The Impossible Dream
After reading Daniel Gordis’ magnificent biography of Menachem Begin, I looked forward to his history of Israel. Although I liked his new book, I was somewhat disappointed in that I don’t think it is as good as Ari Shavit’s , “My Promised Land.”
Nevertheless Gordis brings to life the idea of a national homeland for the Jews from the proto-Zionists of the mid-1800s to Zionism becoming a mass movement under the leadership of Theodor Herzl after the first Zionist Congress in 1897. To dream of a state after nearly 2000 years of statelessness was truly an impossible dream, but it came true 50 years later after the horror of the holocaust that befell European Jewry.
What Zionism did was that it transformed the cowering Jew of the shtetl to the muscular member of the Israel Defense Forces of today. This is truly a major accomplishment. However early Zionism was secular and socialist and along the way it lost some of its Jewish soul which it is now returning to.
Gordis highlights the role of David Ben Gurion and his labor socialism in building the institutions necessary for statehood. After all, a state cannot be created out of thin air. The stat he built was dominated by the Ashkenazi Jews of northern Europe to the detriment of the Sephardi Jews of Africa and the Middle East. This would come home to roost with Begin’s surprise victory of 1977 giving power to the Israeli right.
As with most histories of Israel Gordis discusses the Balfour Declaration, the White Paper, the war for independence, the 6-day war of 1956, the 1967 war and the 1973 war. Truly it is a history of conflict with the native Palestinian population and the neighboring Arab states. A conflict that continues to this day and in all likelihood it will not be resolved until the Palestinians accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish State.
What I found lacking in the book was the absence of any real discussion about the economy. To be sure you need institutions to have a state, but you also need an economy. There should have been more discussion on the role of agriculture in the early days and the shift to a modern high-tech economy. He also neglects the importance of German Reparations in the 1950s, contributions form worldwide Jewry and foreign aid from the United States. While few in 1900 would have predicted the arrival of a Jewish state, even fewer would have predicted the modern economy that Israel has created. That is an important story worth telling. That said Gordis’ work puts in one volume a very readable history of Israel.
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