This is a history of the idea of Israel as “the Jewish state”—the nation state of the Jewish people. But since there is no way to divorce the history of this idea from the political history of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel, it ends up being the history of an idea as it affects the world.
The book focuses on three things that are worth knowing about if you have any interest in Israel: First, the philosophical and political background that led Herzl to develop the idea of a Jewish state and advance it as a viable political option for the European powers as they tried to think through the future of the Middle East. Second, Ben-Gurion’s struggle, against both Jewish and non-Jewish opponents, to establish such a Jewish state along lines similar to those Herzl had proposed. And third, the abandonment of the idea of a Jewish state by many of Israel’s leading intellectuals and cultural figures, culminating in the trend that came, in the 1990s, to be called “post-Zionism.”
If you’re interested in political philosophy, the book also makes the argument that Herzl’s general political theory, which serves as the theoretical foundation for the state of Israel even today, is of significant interest in the history of political ideas.
There’s also quite a bit of pretty astonishing material on the political thought of leading Jewish intellectuals who opposed the idea of a Jewish state, and worked politically to prevent the state of Israel from coming into being—including Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Gershom Scholem, Albert Einstein, and Hannah Arendt.
About the Book…
“Quite simply the best guide to appear this year to the dominant ideological questions of our time….”
—Michael Gove, The Times (London)
“[Israel’s] ideological retreat raises serious doubts about why a Jewish state should survive. These doubts, and the relentless attempt by Israel’s intellectual elites to instill them in the mainstream of Israeli culture, has been chillingly catalogued….by Yoram Hazony. The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul lays bare the debate that has been raging in Israel…about the necessity of a state that defines itself as Jewish.”
—Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard
“Yoram Hazony’s new book is likely to be one of the most hotly debated publications on a Jewish theme this year….Because of its bold thesis, forceful presentation, and novel interpretation of the Zionist experience…few people who read this book will be neutral about it.”
—Walter Reich, The New York Times
“An enlightening and thorough analysis of the evolution of the idea of the Jewish state…. Hazony does a masterful job of situating the cardinal figures in their historical context…. An impressive overview of the intellectual history of Israel.”
“[A] Highly charged mixture of political and and intellectual history, cultural analysis, ideological exposé, moral polemic, and Zionist manifesto.”
—Alvin H. Rosenfeld, The New Leader
“Polemical and penetrating…. Hazony’s book crafts a vision of the Jewish state that cherishes its Jewishness and honors its liberal and democratic character.”
—Peter Berkowitz, The Wall St. Journal