Zeev Sternhell v Gabriel Piterberg
New Left Review has Zeev Sternhell reviewing Piterberg’s new book, Returns of Zionism. I’ll admit, I had to choose between that and Arno Mayer’s study, and due to a lack of reviews at the time, went for Piterberg. I found the book utterly dreadful and unreadable, and do not recommend it to anyone, regardless of their politics.
With that said, whilst there are things to admire in Sternhell and his scholarship, his review is not impressive. He treats the work with a respect it doesn’t deserve, and then argues against it in absurd manner. For example, Sternhell writes that “A knowledgeable scholar like Piterberg would surely agree that, in Europe where the ground trembled as it never had since 1848, Jewish nationalism was first of all a defensive reflex.” His proof for this is the Dreyfus affair, and the Kishinev pogrom. Sternhell knows perfectly well that the latter came after decades of Zionist activism, after the Zionist congress and so on, and he’s citing a book which disputes the role of the Dreyfus affair. A knowledgeable scholar like Sternhell should have read Avineri’s book, which stresses that Zionism was not defensive and not in reaction to anti-Semitism.