Mark Baker reviews 'In Search of Israel: The history of an idea' by Michael Brenner

Mark Baker reviews 'In Search of Israel: The history of an idea' by Michael Brenner

In Search of Israel: The history of an idea

by Michael Brenner

Princeton University Press (Footprint), $49.99 hb, 392 pp, 9780691179285

While there have been many histories of Israel written over the decades, Arthur Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea, published in 1959, remains a classic guide to the intellectual underpinnings of Zionism. It is now joined almost sixty years later by Michael Brenner’s excellent book, In Search of Israel: The history of an idea. Inspired by the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s establishment, the passage of time has allowed Brenner to do something different from Hertzberg in his retelling of the Zionist idea. He has written a book that uses the founding voices of Zionism to test whether their vision has been fulfilled. In this sense, In Search of Israel is a retrospective overview of Israel’s history, a kind of parlour game in which the reader gets to ask if so-and-so came back to life, would they recognise the state in its contemporary incarnation. This method of mixing vision with current reality can also be read as a counterfactual history, opening up questions about the paths not taken, or the options available in the Zionist armoury beyond military occupation. As Brenner writes of his project: ‘It is the story of the real and the imagined Israel, of Israel as a state and as an idea.’

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Published in August 2018, no. 403
Mark Baker

Mark Baker

Mark Baker is the author of two memoirs, The Fiftieth Gate (1997) and Thirty Days (2017). He is Associate Professor at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation in the School of Philosophy, History, International Studies at Monash University.

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