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The Founding Myths of Israel

The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State

Zeev Sternhell
Translated by David Maisel
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The Founding Myths of Israel
    Book Description:

    The well-known historian and political scientist Zeev Sternhell here advances a radically new interpretation of the founding of modern Israel. The founders claimed that they intended to create both a landed state for the Jewish people and a socialist society. However, according to Sternhell, socialism served the leaders of the influential labor movement more as a rhetorical resource for the legitimation of the national project of establishing a Jewish state than as a blueprint for a just society. In this thought-provoking book, Sternhell demonstrates how socialist principles were consistently subverted in practice by the nationalist goals to which socialist Zionism was committed.

    Sternhell explains how the avowedly socialist leaders of the dominant labor party, Mapai, especially David Ben Gurion and Berl Katznelson, never really believed in the prospects of realizing the "dream" of a new society, even though many of their working-class supporters were self-identified socialists. The founders of the state understood, from the very beginning, that not only socialism but also other universalistic ideologies like liberalism, were incompatible with cultural, historical, and territorial nationalism. Because nationalism took precedence over universal values, argues Sternhell, Israel has not evolved a constitution or a Bill of Rights, has not moved to separate state and religion, has failed to develop a liberal concept of citizenship, and, until the Oslo accords of 1993, did not recognize the rights of the Palestinians to independence.

    This is a controversial and timely book, which not only provides useful historical background to Israel's ongoing struggle to mobilize its citizenry to support a shared vision of nationhood, but also raises a question of general significance: is a national movement whose aim is a political and cultural revolution capable of coexisting with the universal values of secularism, individualism, and social justice? This bold critical reevaluation will unsettle long-standing myths as it contributes to a fresh new historiography of Zionism and Israel. At the same time, while it examines the past,The Founding Myths of Israelreflects profoundly on the future of the Jewish State.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2236-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. A Note on the Transliteration of Hebrew Names and the Translation of Hebrew Book Titles
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Introduction Nationalism, Socialism, and Nationalist Socialism
    (pp. 3-46)

    In this book I seek to examine the nature of the ideology that guided the central stream of the labor movement in the process of nation-building and to investigate how it met the challenge of realizing its aims. In many respects, the purpose of the book is to analyze the way in which the ideology and actions of the labor movement molded the basic principles of Jewish society in Palestine (the Yishuv) and its patterns of development in the period before the War of Independence (1948–49). In this sense, this book is a study of the intellectual, moral, and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Primacy of the Nation: Aaron David Gordon and the Ethos of Nation-Building
    (pp. 47-73)

    Most national movements and parties that managed to translate their historical and cultural aspirations into political terms in the late 1800s and early 1900s viewed themselves as fighting not only for their nation’s liberation from a foreign yoke, for its unification, or for the return of its separated brethren but also for protection from assimilation, loss of identity, and cultural annihilation. Zionism was also of this nature. Physical danger, which was a real threat to Eastern European Jews, was not the only peril. The danger of a loss of identity—the result of a modernization process that had begun to...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Worker as the Agent of National Resurrection
    (pp. 74-133)

    On 20 January 1955 the Mapai Central Committee met in Petah Tiqwa to discuss the forthcoming party convention and the elections that were to take place that year: the elections to the Histadrut in the spring and the general elections in July. But this was not a normal gathering; the whole leadership of the party and the Histadrut were present, and among the dozens who were invited many people in the second and third echelons of the leadership were later to take their place at the top of the ladder. Although nothing on the formal agenda suggested it, this was...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Socialism in the Service of the Nation: Berl Katznelson and “Constructive” Socialism
    (pp. 134-177)

    Berl Katznelson has a unique place, not only in the history of the labor movement and its historiography but also in the collective memory of the Israeli political and cultural elite. His death in 1944 at the relatively early age of fifty-seven, at a time when all his friends of the Second Aliyah, from Ben-Gurion, Tabenkin, and Ben-Zvi to Eshkol, Remez, and Sprinzak were approaching the zenith of their careers, his reputation as an ideologist and educator who did not “soil his hands” with day-to-day politics, and his long and sentimental lectures called “discussions,” full of reminiscences of the early...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Ends and Means: The Labor Ideology and the Histadrut
    (pp. 178-216)

    The Histadrut, or the General Federation of Jewish Workers, was a unique phenomenon: an autonomous social, political, and economic institution unparalleled anywhere else in the free world. The Histadrut enjoyed full independence, as the colonial government did not interfere with its activities. The government of Palestine authorized it without difficulty to control the whole collective agricultural settlement, and the World Zionist Organization never succeeded in imposing its authority on it. Not even its control of public capital allowed the Zionist Organization to influence the use the Histadrut made of the money it collected. The Histadrut was not only a pure...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Triumph of Nationalist Socialism: “From Class to Nation”
    (pp. 217-263)

    At the beginning of the Third Aliyah, the labor movement still had two options: either to set itself up as an alternative society, first developing its own collective institutions and egalitarian forms of life and then seeking to transform society as a whole, or to accept the existing order. The second option was easier, as the economy being created in Palestine was capitalist. The role of private capital in the development of the country was decisive, and the national wealth that served as the basis of the Histadrut economy, although generally not private capital, could ultimately be traced to the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Democracy and Equality on Trial
    (pp. 264-317)

    The comprehensive nature of the Histadrut inevitably influenced the parties associated with it. Mapai was founded in 1930 as a composite party, from both an ideological and a social point of view. Mapai’s nationalist socialist outlook, the policy of class collaboration, and the principle of the primacy of the nation could be combined with revolutionary declarations, which Ben-Gurion saw fit to make when he thought it necessary. Everyone realized that these declarations had no basis in reality, but they sometimes had a political usefulness. Thus, Ben-Gurion could say he was “committed to a policy of seeking a national coalition in...

  12. EPILOGUE From the State-in-the-Making to the Nation-State
    (pp. 318-346)

    The people who brought the state into being also led it during the War of Independence and consolidated it during its first twenty years of existence. The power structures created before the state was founded proved their effectiveness; the state functioned as soon as it was established. The new state also fought a war, the longest and most difficult in its history. Six thousand died, representing 1 percent of the population. Among the fighters were Holocaust survivors who did not yet speak Hebrew and who scarcely understood the orders they were given. Jerusalem was besieged and cut off from the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 347-390)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 391-398)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 399-408)
  16. Index
    (pp. 409-419)