Over the past several years I’ve had the pleasure of giving dozens of lectures on the topics of Israel and Zionism as part of my work with Students Supporting Israel. At the end of every lecture, I remind the audience that whatever we discussed is only the tip of the iceberg. It is impossible to expect one to understand Zionism, Judaism, Israel’s history or Middle Eastern regional geopolitics without truly taking the time to delve deeper.
While in the age of virtual information many opt out of a long reading material for shorter texts easily found online, these often do not go deep enough or there is a lack of valid references, nuance, and background. A comprehensive book can be a better choice if you are interested in getting a more detailed picture about Israel and Zionism. In Students Supporting Israel we encourage book reading as part of our “Knowledge is Power” campaign, where we send books about Israel and Zionism for free to college students. As part of the program, I often have a chance to review and suggest titles on the topic.
Ahead of the start of the academic year and the new Jewish year, I’d like to recommend three recent favorites I’ve read that I think everyone, and especially young Zionist activists on campus, would benefit from reading.
- Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict by Ben Dror Yemini.
For those on campus, this book is an amazing resource because it specifically targets the hypocrisy of the academic world when it comes down to the discussion about Israel. It provides academic citations and is filled with factual information. The book makes a fascinating comparison between the Arab-Israeli conflict to other conflicts around the world. It discusses how these were measured and approached by the international community, and talks about the uniqueness of the Arab-Israeli conflict among other conflicts. This serves as valuable reading material for those of us discussing the issue with international students. Another important part was the long overview of the history of Jewish communities in Arab countries, a detailed yet very clear summary I could not recall seeing in any other books. The text takes all the most famous accusations about Israel that we hear on campus and in the media, and patiently, one by one, debunks each of them, explaining why the accusation is false. This book is truly a gold-mine of information to be used for shattering current myths we hear on campuses, and by reading it one will be equipped with the knowledge to engage in effective pro-Israel activism.
- The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace by by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf.
One cannot understand the Israel-Palestinian conflict without knowing about the Palestinian belief of holding the right to return to the pre-1948 border, and without knowing of what it is UNRWA. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is an independent UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, but by reading the book you will discover that a Palestinian refugee is defined differently than any other refugee in the world. The book discusses the birth of Palestinian nationalism and the big gap between the demands the Palestinians present during peace negotiations to the realities on the ground. It talks about how Arab countries surrounding Israel welcomed (or not) Palestinian refugees and provides a deep historical overview of the topic. It discusses geopolitics and the intentions and interests of Arab countries and of the Palestinians in an eye-opening manner. Since the discussion about Palestinian refugees is one that we often see surface on college campuses, reading this book will provide one with a great deal of nuanced and relevant information on the topic, starting from history and all the way up to the current situation.
- Hidden Heroes: One Woman’s Story of Resistance and Rescue in the Soviet Union by Pamela Braun Cohen.
This book covers the struggle of the Soviet Jews who were refused exit from the USSR, and the fight of American Jews and some others from around the world to assist their brothers and sisters behind the iron curtain. I love this book because it will provide students with knowledge regarding a fascinating chapter in history pertaining to the Zionist movement and the State of Israel in the 1970s and 80s, and will also inspire them to act. It tells the story of the grassroots American movement for Soviet Jewry, that was active for about three decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is so motivating because the players are seemingly ordinary people, who took upon themselves many acts of the bravery and sacrifice. It is a mesmerizing account of the history that led to the Soviet Jewish Aliya to Israel and immigration to the US. The people who are described in the book and their deep display of unity and shared love to the Jewish people and traditions, and the love to Israel, will leave today’s students with a desire to also take part in activism. This book will uplift anyone and will make young readers realize that the activists of today are descendants of the activists of the past. For the Jewish and Zionist students on campus, while this book may not give you the answer to current anti-Israel arguments you hear from peers in the academic world, it will fill you with pride and confidence that even small local action, taken together, can make a difference for the cause.
Whether you will read these books for the sake of being a better activist, to know how to answer anti-Zionist or Israel haters on campus, or simply for personal knowledge and inspiration, I guarantee it will be a good use of your time!