Monday, July 2, 2018

In Search of Israel: The History of an Idea Hardcover – March 13, 2018 by Michael Brenner (Princeton University Press)

This book interestingly surveys the evolution of contradictory ideas on the desired and the foreseeable nature of the State of Israel: Saving Jews or Judaism; being a Western type liberal democracy or a Halachic state; encompassing pre-1967 territories vs. all of the Promised Land; ingathering most of the Jewish people or being but a part of global Judaism; integrating in an Arab Middle-East or constitution a fortress of enlightenment in a unstable region; and more.

I found chapter six especially noteworthy. In contrast to most comparable books, it discusses the growing Israeli Diaspora in the USA and Germany, opinions regarding Jewish dispersal as normatively superior to having a Jewish state, and various alternative utopias on Jewish communities outside Israel. But I was surprised that the book by Yuri Slezkine The Jewish Century (2004) wase not mentioned, though I think it is quite relevant.
With all its many merits, the book has a number of weaknesses. Thus, the author states “there is still widespread resistance to the recognition of a Jewish state, and calls for its destruction come from as nearby as Gaza and as far away as Iran” (page 284). This is correct but unbalanced. In addition to the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which are mentioned in passing, the important Saudi Peace Initiative and increasing cooperation with a number of Arab states must be added to the assessment, but are ignored.

Even more misleading is the statement “the projected number of people living in Israel in four or five decades will be about fifteen million…This would undoubtedly result in a serious deterioration in the quality of life and in an ecological disaster” (page 286). Citing one book, as the author does, is definitely not enough for supporting such a postulate. The author is no expert on modern technologies which reduce the significance of space as limiting population. Probably is he not familiar with Singapore. If he had limited himself to pointing at a possible problem of population pressure this would have been more than enough, instead of “undoubtedly” presuming to foresee the future of the population-carrying capacities of Israel as a high-tech country.

To add a minor problem, I was quite irritated by the multiple inclusions in the bibliography of a book which has apparently not yet been published and is not even mentioned by AMAZON as forthcoming. I am referring to Michael Brenner and Pamela S. Nadell, eds. Reinventing Israel in the Twenty-First Century, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2018 – which I am eager to read but could not locate.

Moving to what is really important: This book provides some explanations for the changes of ideas and their significance, such as diverse waves of immigration and differential birth rates. It is legitimate not to go deeper into theory design. But I think the author missed a chance to develop at least a conjectural theory based on his findings.
Thus, I think the text justifies the overall empiric conclusion that all pre-Six Day War hopes and anticipations have been falsified by post-Six Day War developments (as well as by techno-economic innovations -- as also demonstrated by Kibbutz transformations –- which are quite ignored in the book). From this solid finding of the book I jump to a broad theoretic generalization: The vast majority of ideas on the future fail the test of time, because of unforeseen and often unforeseeable events and processes.

Pushing ahead, because of highly likely radical socio-economic and geo-political transformations (related in literature to the “Singularity” hypothesis), nearly all contemporary ideas on the future of Israel, even if based on seemingly solid demographic predictions, are at best guesstimated conjectures quite likely to prove wrong.
But I go beyond what can reasonably be expected from the book. As it is, I highly recommend it as a good depiction with some analysis of changing ideas on what Israel should and (to move to another, though partly overlapping, level) will become.

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