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In essence and in my own paraphrase, Sicker argues that in the main and on the whole, the Jewish approach to politics firmly subordinates "society" to the needs and the ethical development of the individual. Politics, for Judaism, is not an end in itself, still less an arena for bringing on the messianic age by human effort, but a way of securing basic social harmony so that individual persons can develop in accordance with the Tzelem Elohim. (This brief summary does not, of course, do anything like full justice to the contents of this fine book; Sicker's own account is richly nuanced and detailed, with many citations from Traditional sources.)
To my mind, at least, one of the outstanding merits of this work is that it _does_ stick to political theology, providing a standard against which political life is to be measured rather than specifically arguing for any one form of political organization. Those who, like me, believe that classical liberalism and capitalism are the proper form of societal organization on biblical and rational grounds, and that twentieth-century liberal Judaism's turn to the Left is a grave error, will naturally read Sicker's account as providing the theological underpinnings of a free society. But his account can also be profitably read by those who disagree with my politics _in toto_; it thereby provides common theological ground for discussion and debate among those who at least agree on foundational matters.
From this volume alone, I have no idea what Sicker's own political views are -- and I mean that as a compliment, given his selected topic. His focus is on theological fundamentals, not on bending Jewish tradition to support his favorite cause-of-the-day. In short, there is timeless wisdom in this book for anyone who cares to read it.
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I am a safety manager in construction and have worked some in the West Bank and visited shops in Israel. Further, I am married into a family with roots in the conflict. My wife's grandfather was a Lebanese, but employed in 1915 as Consul to Turkey by the country we now call Iran. Possessing diplomatic immunity, Rafiq Habib Jabbour helped Feisal escape the Turks to help lead the revolt written extensively by T.E. Lawrence.
Rafiq would later help lead a revolt against British occupation of Egypt. Upon release from prison Rafiq returned to Lebanon, then headed to Palestine to lead a revolt against the Brits. Shortly thereafter he was apparently poisoned.
Back to my main point. The prejudice within this book is apparent when the author so rudely dismisses the Arab revolt against the Turks and then goes on to show only the negative side of the Palestinian cause.
Having said that, I still did find much useful insight into the roots of the problem still haunting us all. That, my friends, is that there simply was a common bond, in times past, between wage-earning Palestinians and wage-earning Israelites.
Likewise, the businessmen (Israelite and Arab) were united against the working class due to a fear the world would be overtaken by Communism. Pity the wealthy class failed to recognize that belief in God precludes devotion to any earthly authority.
Sicker could have enriched his book greatly by explaining how the factions of Zionism translated into different political parties within Israel after 1948. For example, while he offers great detail on the Revisionist ideology, he offers no exposition on how that ideology translated into a more realistic and more nationalistic "Zionism" after 1948, one that is distinguished by the Likud party of Israel. Furthermore, Israel faces many problems today for which Sicker gives no mention in his book. Sicker never expounds on the conflicting ideologies and cultural antagonism of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Moreover, he gives no explanation on the roots of perhaps the greatest threat to the domestic cohesion of Jewish politics, the threat from the religious far right. One can certainly trace the roots of parties such as the NRP and the Agudat Israel to the early days of Zionism. Even though the religious right may not have been a key player in the Zionist movement, its opposition to secularism and Western ideals in contemporary Israel warrants its mention in Sicker's book. If Sicker intended to foreshadow this religious nationalism by mentioning the Revisionist ideology, he never actually explains the connection for the reader.
Finally, while Sicker spends a good portion of his book talking about the external
impediments posed by the British and the rest of the international community, he goes very little beyond the historical facts surrounding the Arab resistance. Indeed, one of the greatest obstacles for the state of Israel is its hostile neighbors, and Sicker can greatly improve the historical value of his book by expounding on the roots of the current Arab-Israeli conflict.
In short, it is obvious that many of the problems faced by contemporary Israel have their foundation in the events that led up to the birth of Israel. However, one can identify many obstacles that find no mention in Sicker's book, and even some that are not alluded to in the historical references of pre-1948. While Sicker has done an excellent job in summarizing the chronological events that led to the birth of Israel, his lack of personal analysis and insight into how the history affects current day politics leaves his book to be a little more than a historical reference.
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