A massive collection of 43 specially commissioned biographical essays, Makers of Jewish Modernity: Thinkers, Artists, Leaders, and the World They Made covers figures ranging from Theodor Herzl to Emile Durkheim and from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to the art critic Aby Warburg. While Elḥanan Yakira deems the quality of the individual essays mixed and some of the particular choices of both subjects and authors “disturbing,” he objects most strongly to the way the book serves as a vehicle for anti-Zionism:
[N]early all the Israeli writers in this anthology belong to a specific political-ideological group. It is clear to the reviewer that this tendency was important in the choice of contributors. This feature is particularly striking in the article on Theodor Herzl, which must be read with extreme caution. . . .
[It] is neither well written nor original. The reader learns more about its author Raef Zreik’s attitude toward Zionism than about Herzl. [Zreik] argues that there are logical flaws in Herzl’s thinking and that the “conclusion in favor of the Jewish state does not derive naturally from the fact of anti-Semitism.” Furthermore, Herzl had “a typical colonial mindset.” . . . Finally, after several clichés, he asserts that “the Herzlian state . . . assumes two kinds of liquidation: that of Jewish religious life in exile and that of an Arab collective life in Palestine.”
The article is sorely lacking in scholarly objectivity. It is clear that Zreik does not have much understanding of his subject, and Herzl simply serves as a vehicle for voicing his dislike of Zionism and the state of Israel. [Elsewhere,] Zreik goes further and calls Zionism a “settler-colonial project,” and argues that the process of decolonizing Israel must “rally all powers against the Israeli aggression. One of the factors in this rallying process is fury: moral rage, anger, even enmity. Some sense of enmity is required in political struggles, and some level of ignorance of ‘The Other’ might be productive in such political struggles.”
While Zreik is entitled to his opinions, the reader may question the editors’ choice of this author for the article on so important a maker of Jewish modernity. Indeed, this is symptomatic of the book and reveals its subtext—a fashionable anti-Israelism and vague favoritism toward life in the Diaspora.