The vulnerability which is the lot of any nation without a state was experienced in a particularly extreme way by the Jews. With the destitution and persecution of many Jewish communities in the 19th century, especially in Eastern Europe, Jews demanded a solution to their uprootedness. This required a state. Alain Dieckhoff recounts the tortuous ordeal through which the Jews reacted to the challenge of modernity. While some contributed to the development of capitalism and put their talents at the service of the Western European states, others threw themselves into revolutionary movements. Yet others imagined ways of "re-nationalising" Jews by transforming them into a nation. Thus the Jews were formidable experimenters who participated in causes with contradictory agendas: assimilation (bourgeois or socialist) or nationalism. The text focuses on Zionism, whose ultimate objective was the creation of a sovereign state for the Jews in Palestine. This required the invention of the Jewish nation. Such an objective meant several things: building a national language, defining a secularized and territorialized Jewish identity, and using military power.
This was a difficult enterprise, as the national project was faced with the persistence of communitarianism. But the enterprise was at least partly successful: this process of politicization makes Israel a paradigmatic example of the invention of a nation-state, the main focus of this work.
Alain Dieckhoff is a Research Fellow at CERI, Paris.
The political birth of Zionism; socialist Zionism - from the community to the state; to speak Hebrew, to say the nation; from condemnation to exaltation - orthodox Judaism faced with Zionism; through fire and blood - the intransigent nationalism of the Zionist right.