To the Promised Land: A History of Zionist Thought
by David Goldberg
London, Penguin, 1996. 284 pp. Index. £7.99.
Reviewed by Efraim Karsh
King's College, London
Middle East Quarterly
Goldberg, senior rabbi of the Jewish Liberal Synagogue in London, claims to have written "the first full-length study of Zionist thought," but a glance at the book's superficial bibliography reveals several earlier and far superior works on the subject (by Ben Halpern, Walter Laqueur, David Vital). To the Promised Land neither uncovers new source material nor suggests fresh interpretations. Rather, it offers an eclectic compilation of secondary sources and well-chewed arguments. It is a pretentious, derivative, and biased account of Zionism.
It is also relentlessly partisan, as the author repeatedly displays ideological hostility to Zionism. The central premise of Zionism (that Jews, for all their diversity, are not just a religious community, but a people, and deserve a state of their own in their ancestral homeland) he dismisses as political myth. For Goldberg, there is no Jewish people, only "several Jewries, widely diversified culturally and geographically," and bound only by their religious identity.
Not being a people, Jews do not deserve a state of their own—a claim made eighty years ago by Anglo-Jewish opponents of the Balfour Declaration, then tirelessly reiterated by Arab, Soviet, and Western enemies of Jewish national aspirations. This overlooks the fact that Judaism, unlike Christianity and Islam, is a national, not a missionary religion: an inextricable package of religious doctrine and peoplehood. Hence the notion of the "chosen people" and the biblical promise of the Land of Israel to Abraham and his seed; hence the endless references to the "People of Israel" and the yearning for Zion in every Jewish prayer; hence the passing of Jewishness by birth.
That Goldberg rejects these facts a century after the advent of a vibrant Jewish national movement and a half-century after the establishment of Israel is astonishing and perhaps points to a desperate fear of being accused of dual loyalty. He cloaks his prejudices behind the euphemism of "sympathetic but balanced"; actually, the book is unsympathetic and unbalanced.
Related Topics: History, Israel & Zionism, Jews and Judaism | Efraim Karsh | June 1998 MEQ
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