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Reviewed by:
  • Exiled in the Homeland
  • Ylana Miller
Exiled in the Homeland, by Donna Robinson Divine. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009. 209 pages. Notes to p. 230. Gloss. to p. 232. Bibl. to p. 245. Index to p. 255. $55.

As the title suggests, Donna Divine’s study is based on the perception that Zionist rhetoric suggesting a seamless process by which Jews could “return” to their roots and feel at home must be understood as the outcome of a complex historical process in which the everyday, very difficult, experiences of immigrants were often subordinated to a larger historical project whose meaning was created primarily by Labor Zionists. Her analysis examines the “immigration of Zionists to Palestine during the 1920s in years when their experiences were turned into myth and when their struggle to make the land of Israel their home was ignored” (p. 14).

Divine’s analysis makes three significant contributions to our comprehension of this process. The first is based on her argument that it is necessary to analyze the link between Zionist ideals and the reality of immigration “to understand how a national identity settled into the minds of Zionist immigrants” (p. 6). According to Divine, central to this process was the construction of a discourse which could be used as a political instrument and was selective in its deployment of a narrative that often excluded the daily realities of immigrant existence. Second is her perception of the ways in which the Palestine Mandate’s support for a Jewish National Home policy challenged the Zionist leadership to deal with internal contradictions while simultaneously working to meet British imperial expectations with regard to economic development. Finally, Divine brings out the complex relationship between state and nation building, illuminating the fallacies of accepting ideologically based categories of opposition between capitalists and labor, and diaspora and homeland, without further critical analysis. Throughout, this study makes evident patterns of Labor [End Page 495] Zionist adaptation which have had long term consequences for the Israeli state and for the ways in which Israelis came to understand their own history.

The book consists of six chapters, each with its own coherence. The first three are focused on a reading of Zionist ideologies, British policy, and Zionist policy — all specifically with regard to immigration. These discussions are among the most thought provoking precisely because they cover ground which has received significant attention but which yields new insights as a result of the lens Divine is using and the questions she is raising. Thus her chapter on Zionist writers (Pinsker, Herzl, Ahad Ha-Am, Smilansky and Arlosoroff) focuses our attention on the centrality of demography and immigration to Zionism while making the argument that “the very concepts and idioms structuring debates always held something back, having been forged to manage contradictions, not to resolve them or to establish priorities” (p. 23). Her chapters on British and Zionist policies then consider the specific historical circumstances and relationships within which policies were forged, making clear both constraints and conflicts that she argues contributed to disparities between Zionist rhetoric and behavior.

The second half of the book consists of three chapters which are intended to illustrate the actual experiences of immigrants belonging to three groups: those Divine calls “visionaries” who were driven by desires to transform Jewish character and society; the broader array of Labor Zionists; and, finally, those who constituted a majority of immigrants, who settled in the cities of Palestine and whose way of life often challenged the ideological equation of immigration with rejection of the diaspora. These chapters are interesting and suggestive, drawing on a range of evidence from personal letters and memoirs to recent scholarship.

This study is a valuable contribution to the literature on Zionism as a work in progress and as a movement that took shape in Palestine in relationship to its dependence on Great Britain. There is no room here for any substantial consideration of the ways in which the consciousness of immigrants was shaped by the presence of Palestinian Ar abs and Zionist rhetoric was constructed to strengthen communal boundaries. The use of evidence, moreover, is clearly shaped by the arguments being made and thus should encourage further scholarly...


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