“God does not exist, and he promised us this land.”

Yakov Rabkin

Sam Bahour

Book review of What is Modern Israel? by Yakov M. Rabkin

As someone who gives political talks from a Palestinian vantage point to groups traveling through Palestine, I have spoken to thousands of Jews, among others, from around the world. I walked away from reading Professor Yakov M. Rabkin’s What is Modern Israel? with the burning desire to call back every one of those Jewish travelers and sit down with them, one on one over a hot cup of mint tea — so that I could read them each of his chapters aloud, looking up and into their eyes at the end of every chapter to ask somberly, Do you get it now? You’ve been had, collectively. You’ve been lied to, collectively. You’re being used, collectively. Your religion, a rich one, has been hijacked, purposely.

The book starts with an odd note of comparison between modern Israel and the Russian port city of Saint Petersburg. Professor Rabkin cites the words of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–81) who described Saint Petersburg as the “most abstract and premeditated city in the whole wide world.” In a radio interview, Rabkin recalled Israeli poet and author Benjamin Harshav’s depiction of the city as “artificial” and “inhospitable”; Russia’s greatest authors “saw the city of majestic elegance as an incongruous intruder, both foreign and strange, prophesying a dreadful end in the form of nature’s revenge.” The comparison with Saint Petersburg’s suffered beginnings is related to “the cost in human lives [caused by the] Zionist enterprise.”

As it happens, Saint Petersburg, formerly known as Leningrad (1924–1991), was Rabkin’s birthplace. Born and educated in the former Soviet Union, today he is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Montreal; his research interests relate to the history of the Soviet Union and the consequences of its dismemberment, the contemporary history of the Jews and the history of Zionism and the State of Israel, and the sciences and education as factors in international relations. He has studied Judaism at the Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim, the Pardes Institute, the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Bet Morasha Centre for Advanced Jewish…

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“God does not exist, and he promised us this land.”