Zionism and the Foundations of Israeli Diplomacy
by Sasson Sofer
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 449 pp. $59.95.
Reviewed by Efraim Karsh
King's College London
Middle East Quarterly
Sofer, associate professor of international relations at the Hebrew University, identifies the political, social, and economic foundations of the State of Israel in this meticulously researched and succinctly written book. He narrates their development in the pre-state (yishuv) era and demonstrates how they are reflected in present-day Israeli diplomacy. The author views the tradition of Israeli diplomacy as a combination of two conflicting trends—the Labor movement and the Revisionist right. The achievements of Zionism have not always been attained by precise adherence to one of these two schools of thought; however, it is one of the ironies of history that the Labor movement, whose ideological precepts were largely removed from the world of diplomacy, displayed astute diplomatic skills, whereas Revisionism, inscribing Realpolitik as it did on its ideological flag, proved less attuned to both domestic and international realities, and their attendant requirements.
By way of proving this thesis, the author offers a well-rounded discussion of the political world of the Zionist "founding fathers"—their personal and collective backgrounds, the origins of their socialist thinking, and their perception of the outside world. He then examines at length the political vicissitudes in the Labor movement during the fateful decades preceding independence, before discussing the main precepts of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's revisionist
doctrine and its implementation, both by Jabotinsky himself and by his disciples, notably Menachem Begin. And while the most important, and ferocious, ideological and political struggles have doubtless been waged between these two rival camps, Sofer does not fail to address the smaller and at times esoteric (e.g., Canaanite) streams and factions within the Zionist movement, some of which (e.g., religious nationalism) would come to play a bigger role in present-day Israeli politics.
Sofer is to be commended for writing a dispassionate and sober account of Zionist and Israeli foreign policy, one sensitive to detail without losing sight of the broad picture. At a time when the history of Israel and its fateful encounter with the Arab world is being rapidly turned upside down, casting the Jewish state in the role of the regional villain, such studies are more needed than ever.
Related Topics: Israel & Zionism | Efraim Karsh | December 1999 MEQ
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