Elaine Hagopian Reviews Israeli Exceptionalism

Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Palgrave Macmillan, November 10, 2009). Publisher’s link.

by Elaine Hagopian

Cover Image GIFFor those unfamiliar with the extraordinary evolution of Israeli exceptionalism emanating from its Zionist narrative and assuring Israel’s incredible success as a colonial settler state, M. Shahid Alam’s book is the one to read.  He has recorded a compelling, uniquely comprehensive and enlightening historical analysis of the inherently destabilizing dynamic of Zionism.  Of particular note are his detailed Chapters Nine and Thirteen.

In Chapter Nine, he documents the constellation of Jewish factors that came together in the 19th century which assured Zionist success: the spread of Jewish intellectuals and professionals across major cities in Europe; Jewish population growth to 16.7 million in 1939 which could root a nationalist movement; business acumen and ownership of major banks and a strong media presence; growth of interchange with other Jewish leaders contributing to a sense of community – important considering that Jews had not previously formed a sense of nation according to Alam; and as European nationalism grew, Jews were affected by the idea though they had no majority presence in any one state which could be claimed by them.  Historical anti-Semitism prodded the Jewish elites toward formulation of the Zionist project even as Jews were moving out of the ghettos of a liberalized Europe.  Given their distribution throughout Europe and without a territorial base of their own, the Zionist sought and captured the needed “mother” country to implement their colonial settler state in Palestine.  This they found in the U.K initially and then in the U.S. with periodic support by other countries such as France.

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