The Founding Fathers of Zionism
By Benzion Netanyahu
Gefen Publishing House, 2012, 230 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 27, 2012
Benzion Netanyahu is the perfect person to write this insightful book containing five scholarly essays on five of the most significant figures in the evolution of modern Zionism: Leo Pinsker, Theodore Herzl. Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill, and Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Netanyahu is the author of two other widely-acclaimed scholarly books about Jews and Spain: Don Isaac Abravenel and The Marranos of Spain. He is the father of two famous Zionist-oriented sons: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu who commanded the Entebbe Rescue Force and lost his life in Entebbe on July 4, 1976, and Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu who is presently the Prime Minister of Israel. Gefen Publishing House, a joint publisher of this volume with Balfour Books, has books by all three of these men.
Netanyahu points out that modern Israel is built on the intellectual foundations of Zionism's founding fathers, just as the United States is built on the principles formulated by America's founding fathers. The ideas that these five men taught Jews changed Jewish history, just as those taught by American fathers changed their country. These ideas have withstood the test of time. The insights of both are not relevant to their country alone; these men taught ideas that are important for all nations and people.
One of the many lessons that the Israeli Zionists taught is that it may be impossible to cause anti-Semitism to disappear, but people must realize that a strong Jewish State would give Jews the power to defend themselves. This lesson has been expanded today to an understanding that a viable Israel will help secure America and its ideals.
Netanyahu introduces readers to each of these five men and describes the times they lived in, their difficulties, the difficulties of other Jews, the situation in their own and other countries, and what prompted them to encourage their people to establish a State of their own. For example, discussing the first of the five, Leo Pinsker (1821-1891), he reveals that other nations pushed for independence years before Pinsker spoke up. What, he asks, restrained the Jews from having a nationalistic idea earlier like the other nations, and what was different when the nationalistic idea finally arose among Jews?
Netanyahu shows that the founding fathers of Zionism were not religious Jews. What, then, he asks, was the basis of their thoughts and where did religion fit into it, if at all? How can an assimilated Jew, totally uninterested in the Jewish religion and culture become not only a Zionist but its leader? What role did Jewish history, anti-Semitism, pogroms, the Hebrew language, a Jewish environment, and a Jewish education play? "Perhaps the greatest riddle," Netanyahu writes, is "the mysterious phenomenon of (Theodor) Herzl…the unique admiration for him, which persists even today." Herzl (1860-1904) introduced the concept of Zionism to the world. But in the year he died there was much opposition to him among fellow Zionists. In fact, the aggravation of this opposition may have caused his early death.
This book will prove to be enlightening to many who will be fascinated by the facts that Netanyahu reveals.