In our Fall 2018 issue, Allan Arkush reviewed Gil Troy’s new book, The Zionist Ideas. Troy replied to the review in a comment on our website, which he subsequently expanded into a full piece. Here, Arkush responds to Troy.
I’m happy to see that Gil Troy recognizes that a response to my charge that he had made a mistake about Theodor Herzl in The Zionist Ideas requires a reference not only to what he wrote on page six, but also to what he wrote on page 12 of that book. But I’m sorry to see that his strained attempt to defend himself involves a misrepresentation of what I wrote. I never suggested, as Troy seems to think, that he had contended that Herzl had undergone an “abrupt conversion” from a totally assimilated Jew into a Zionist at the Dreyfus trial. As Troy himself notes, I wrote only that he treated the trial as the “key factor” in Herzl’s transformation into a Zionist. Is that such a far cry from what Troy himself wrote—that the trial “fully transformed him into a Zionist”? Maybe there’s a sliver of difference here, but it’s certainly not large enough to justify calling the person who fails to see it “mean-spirited.”
While I would like to leave this issue behind us, I have to add one more thing. The question isn’t just how much of a role the trial played in Herzl’s conversion into a Zionist, it’s whether it played any role whatsoever. Let me quote Shlomo Avineri a little more fully than I did in my review of The Zionist Ideas: “While the common wisdom is that the Dreyfus affair triggered Herzl’s Zionism, there is in fact no evidence of this, not in Herzl’s voluminous diaries nor in the many articles he sent out from Paris to his newspaper in Vienna.” It was with this (and the writings of others, most notably Jacques Kornberg) in mind that I originally criticized Troy for highlighting the importance of the Dreyfus trial for Herzl, and I stand by that criticism.
Troy is now most outraged by my supposed failure to recognize the extent to which his book “broadens the conversation from Hertzberg’s 37 male thinkers to 170 thinkers, male and female, left and right, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, Israeli and diaspora based.” In response, I would note, first of all, that while Hertzberg’s thinkers were indeed all male, they included representatives of all the other categories that Troy lists. Nevertheless, the inclusion of women is important, as I noted when I wrote, “[a]nother virtue of the first part of The Zionist Ideas is its inclusion of pre-1948 voices absent from The Zionist Idea, among them a few women (Hertzberg’s volume was all male).” It’s true that I didn’t mention that Troy included fully 170 thinkers in his volume, but I did note that he had excerpted more than 100, and that they were very diverse.
I am, however, guilty of ignoring the organizational scheme that Troy describes, and am happy at least to have provided him with an occasion to outline it more fully for JRB readers. I must confess that I am a bit puzzled, however, by his admonition to readers to note that in my review I used the categories of religious Zionism and socialist Zionism. I can’t begin to understand why Troy thinks that is particularly noteworthy, for he can’t possibly believe that I learned these categories from him. Troy relates how he agonized over putting together a book that would showcase “different positions in more readable 800- and 900-word selections (as opposed to three and four thousand-word manifestos).” While I myself prefer the longer manifestos, I can see the utility of an anthology of the sort that he has produced and will once again, as I did in my review, acknowledge that his volume has many merits. I have voiced some strong objections to The Zionist Ideas, but it’s not the sort of book that I enjoy criticizing. I will go a little further and say that perhaps I would have been a little less critical had Troy not chosen to present it as an improved and updated version of Hertzberg’s The Zionist Idea, andthereby placed that venerable classic’s continued republication in danger.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, “the father of modern Hebrew,” famously raised his own son to be the first child in almost 2,000 years to speak only Hebrew. When Itamar Ben-Avi grew up, he was fascinated by . . . Esperanto. Esther Schor’s new book on L. L. Zamenhof, his would-be universal language, and those who still speak it inspired Stuart Schoffman to revisit the oddly parallel careers of Ben-Yehuda and Zamenhof.
A quick look at Jewish books being published this month.
In his new book about an Upper West Side Jewish family, Joshua Henkin proves himself as a skillful writer, alternately witty and moving.
A new Israeli TV show chronicles single life in Jerusalem.