The Question of Zion
by Jacqueline Rose
Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005. 202 pp. $22.95
Reviewed by Jonathan Spyer
Middle East Quarterly
Rose, a Jewish British academic, seeks in this book to "plumb some of the deep components that make up the imaginative world of Zionism." In so doing, she conflates Zionism with the movement of Shabtai Tzvi in seventeenth-century Europe. She sees Israeli society as trapped in an unreal, messianic fervor. She is critical of Zionism for forming an army to protect Jews in Israel, a project she dates back to the foundation of the first Jewish self-defense units in the early twentieth century. Her book concludes with an attempt to explain what she earlier calls the "collective insanity" of Zionism as a sort of suppressed shame deriving from the Holocaust.
The Question of Zion leaps from minimal evidence to grand assertion, perhaps in part because Rose does not know Hebrew and is reliant on translations and conversations with English-speaking immigrants to Israel. For instance, a single conversation with an American-Israeli couple in a West Bank community, in which they express their love of the landscape but also their fear of Palestinian attack, plus some quotes from a Gershom Scholem letter, lead her to conclude that Zionists are prone to "visionary terror," or "horror religious." This, it appears, is the particular mental illness to which Zionists have collectively succumbed.
The book also contains profuse errors. The author claims that Israel "did not talk about the Holocaust before 1967." But the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann took place in Israel in 1961-62 and sparked enormous debate on the subject. She refers to Israel's "oft denied dependency" on Palestinian labor when less than 10 percent of the Palestinian labor force of the territories is employed in Israel. She invents a quote by former prime minister Golda Meir, which is in fact an indirect paraphrasing by a British journalist of a remark he thought he remembered Meir making. In Rose's book, it appears, in quotes, as a direct rendition.
A Question of Zion is, thus, an edifice of strange assertions built upon frequent factual error. The publication by Princeton University Press of such a shoddy and misconceived work is a cause for both regret and concern.
Related Topics: History, Israel & Zionism, Jews and Judaism | Jonathan Spyer | Winter 2007 MEQ
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