A new history of Israel, warts and all

GAINING PERSPECTIVE ON ISRAELI HISTORY

Gordis begins his tale with a lucid account of Zionism’s early years. “Zionism was a movement,” he writes, “but it was also a collection of competing dreams. . . Israel’s fractious politics and turbulent political life are, in many respects, the result of these early, unresolved Zionist debates.” Gordis expands on this theme throughout the book, tracing the conflicting ideals that animated successive waves of immigrants throughout the 20th century. In those ideals, he finds the roots of the shifting currents of Israeli politics that confuse so many observers.

ISRAEL: A CONCISE HISTORY OF A NATION REBORN BY DANIEL GORDIS (2016) 398 PAGES ★★★★★

An impromptu street celebration celebrating the announcement of Israeli independence on May 14, 1948. Notice the faces of the men and boys in this picture. Almost all are Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European origin. Israel would become much more diverse in the decades that followed. Image: Ynetnews

FOUR DOMINANT THEMES

Gordis adroitly weaves four themes into the fabric of his account:.

  • Immigration’s enormous impact on the ethnic and political makeup of Israeli society. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews dominated in the early years. They were succeeded by enormous waves of Mizrachi (Middle Eastern), Russian, and Ethiopian Jews. All the later waves shifted the country’s politics steadily to the Right.
  • The rising importance of religion as Ultra-Orthodox and other intensely religious Jews entered politics through the settler movement that has proven to be such an irritant in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
  • And the ongoing debates about the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, with powerful forces on the Right opposing those on the Left who advocate trading land for peace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Daniel Gordis. Image: Matthew Mishory — The Times of Israel

FOR MORE READING

You might also enjoy The Jews in America by Max I. Dimont (A brilliant account of Jewish history in America).

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