On Tuesday, April 10, Professor Michael Brenner, director of the American University Center for Israel Studies, spoke about his new book: “In Search of Israel: The History of an Idea.” The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Israel Studies, the school’s department of history, and the Jewish studies program.
The Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies, Brenner is in his fifth year of teaching Israel studies at American University and is also professor of Jewish history and culture at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich. He is a recognized authority on Zionism and the author of critically acclaimed books including “A Short History of the Jews” and “Zionism: A Brief History.”
Professor Brenner was joined by Arie Dubnov, the Max Ticktin Chair of Israel Studies at George Washington University, to discuss the idea of Israel versus the reality.
During his talk, Brenner discussed the long and emotional 19th and 20th century history of Zionism, including the premise that once Jews were universally regarded as a nation with their own state, they would cease to be the victim of the anti-Semitic attacks that had characterized Jewish history for two millennia.
Brenner touched on topics ranging from Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, to the First Zionist Congress in 1897, to Israel through a contemporary lens. He relayed that David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, called for the establishment of a state that would fulfill the biblical vision of the Jews as a “light unto the nations,” a demand reiterated by leaders throughout Israel’s history. Brenner traced the tensions between particularistic and universal elements in the idea of a Jewish state.
There was always an imagined “idea of Israel,” be it in the minds of its own leaders or in the imagination of the world. His latest book is the story of the real and the imagined Israel: of Israel as a state, and as an idea.
By Ksenia Novikova
Ksenia Novikova is a student at American University (class of 2021).