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The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge

A major new history of Zionism and Israel, by the renowned author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has drawn on Zionism, the movement behind its creation, to provide a sense of self and political direction. In this groundbreaking new work, Ilan Pappe looks at the continued role of Zionist ideology. The Idea of Israel considers the way Zionism operates outside of the government and military in areas such as the country’s education system, media, and cinema, and the uses that are made of the Holocaust in supporting the state’s ideological structure. 

In particular, Pappe examines the way successive generations of historians have framed the 1948 conflict as a liberation campaign, creating a foundation myth that went unquestioned in Israeli society until the 1990s. Pappe himself was part of the post-Zionist movement that arose then. He was attacked and received death threats as he exposed the truth about how Palestinians have been treated and the gruesome structure that links the production of knowledge to the exercise of power. The Idea of Israel is a powerful and urgent intervention in the war of ideas concerning the past, and the future, of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict.


  • “Pappe’s book explores is whether Zionism as the cornerstone of Israel has in fact been manipulated by the state and institutions such as universities and the media to provide a justification for the reality on the ground. The book comes at an interesting time for Israel and its neighbours. John Kerry’s peace process refuses to die, despite elements on both sides seemingly united only in their opposition to it, and realities in a turbulent Middle East mean that Israel and traditional foes, especially those in the Persian Gulf, find themselves in rare agreement, especially in relation to the thorny issues of Syria and a nuclear Iran.”
  • “Ilan Pappé is a scholar and a pro-Palestinian political activist. He is one of the most prominent Israeli political dissidents living in exile, having moved from the University of Haifa to the University of Exeter. He is also one of the few Israeli students of the conflict who write about the Palestinian side with real knowledge and empathy. Pappé places Zionism under an uncompromising lens… The Idea of Israel is not a history book but a close study of the role of Zionist ideology in the making of modern Israel and of the continuing relevance of this ideology today in politics, the education system, the media, the cinema and Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations.”
  • “Along with the late Edward Said, Ilan Pappe is the most eloquent writer of Palestinian history.”
  • “An essential read for anyone trying to understand the politics and history of the Middle East.”


  • The Israel-Palestine Conflict: A Reading List

    On Friday 23rd December the UN passed a resolution demanding a stop to Israeli settlement in the occupied territories as, in a shock move, the US refused to veto the resolution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exploded, calling it a 'declaration of war' (having recently been granted a $38 billion military aid package by the US), and Secretary of State John Kerry criticised Israel's approach to the peace process. But with Trump tweeting that Israel should 'stay strong' until his inauguration, progress still seems unlikely.

    Verso presents a list of books from Israeli, Palestinian, and anti-imperialist authors, to explain the conflict and provide some perspectives on the future. 

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  • Churchill, Livingstone and all the rest: Reflections on anti-Semitism and the left by Shlomo Sand

    “The onslaught on the Labour Party regarding Israel and Zionism is not innocent. It is a part of a deliberate defamation campaign against the left wing heading the party now.” 

    Shlomo Sand, historian and author of  The Invention of the Land of Israel, The Invention of the Jewish People and How I Stopped Being A Jew comments on the allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. 

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  • "Arendt herself was a Zionist, but this did not prevent her from speaking the truth" - Tariq Ali

    At the time she wrote her book on the Eichmann trial, Arendt herself was a Zionist, but this did not prevent her from speaking the truth and at a high personal cost. She was denounced by many she had known and a few very close personal friends in Israel and New York broke off all relations. The film on her life is definitely worth a watch. The extracts below from her book are worth reading in any case, but given that the soft left in the Labour Party has lost momentum and is tending to cave in to carefully orchestrated media and pro-Zionist campaigners, these extracts show that however misjudged Ken Livingstone's comments may have been they are not historically inaccurate. Yesterday the Deputy Chief of the IDF [Israeli Defence Force] declared that Israel was in a late-Weimar situation, i.e., on the edge of fascism. This would not have surprised Arendt but would have got the Israeli army chief suspended from the British Labour Party. - Tariq Ali

    Taken from Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt:

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Other books by Ilan Pappe