The most honest books about Israel and Zionism

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the Soviet Union, where being Jewish had no intellectual or religious substance. My discovery of Judaism and Jewish history happened after my emigration, when I was already an adult. This helps me to relate to audiences and readers who are not Jewish. For example, a Japanese translation of my book on Jewish opposition to Zionism earned a place on a bestseller list in Japan, where hardly any Jews live. In the course of my university career, I have explained events in Israel in electronic and printed media on the five continents where I also have taught as a visiting professor.


I wrote...

What is Modern Israel?

By Yakov M. Rabkin,

Book cover of What is Modern Israel?

What is my book about?

We usually think of modern Israel as a culmination of Jewish history. My book, however, shows that Zionism, the founding ideology of the state of Israel, has been a revolt against Judaism. Moreover, it is in Protestant Christianity that one finds Zionism’s historical and theological roots. No wonder the question of Israel sharply divides the Jews to this day while Evangelical Christians, many times more numerous than all the Jews in the world, constitute the main pillar of political support for the Zionist state.

My book argues that Israel’s past and present must be understood in the context of European ethnic nationalism, settler colonialism, and geopolitical interests rather than, as is all too often the case, an incarnation of Biblical prophecies of redemption.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World

Yakov M. Rabkin Why did I love this book?

When I first started reading this book, I could not put it aside. I read it again recently, in the wake of the October 2023 Hamas attack, and found it as relevant as when it was first published.

Scholarly and accessible at the same time, it showed me why Israel’s overwhelming military power has failed to bring peace to the Holy Land. While much of the literature on this controversial subject looks like militant propaganda, I like the tone of Shlaim’s book: serene, compassionate, and not at all polemical. 

By Avi Shlaim,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Iron Wall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Avi Shlaim's The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World is the outstanding book on Israeli foreign policy, now thoroughly updated with a new preface and chapters on Israel's most recent leaders

In the 1920s, hard-line Zionists developed the doctrine of the 'Iron Wall': negotiations with the Arabs must always be from a position of military strength, and only when sufficiently strong Israel would be able to make peace with her Arab neighbours.

This doctrine, argues Avi Shlaim, became central to Israeli policy; dissenters were marginalized and many opportunities to reconcile with Palestinian Arabs were lost. Drawing on a great…


Book cover of The Seventh Million

Yakov M. Rabkin Why did I love this book?

This book upended my understanding of the reactions of Zionist leaders to the Holocaust and its survivors, the Seventh Million.

I found the story of how the need to build the Zionist state in Palestine affected their attitudes toward the Holocaust fascinating. Segev helped me feel the pain of those remnants of European Jewry who encountered disdain, neglect, and opprobrium when they reached the shores of the Promised Land. His treatment of collaboration between Zionist and Nazi officials is both sensitive and dispassionate.

This book opened my eyes to a whole range of uses of the Nazi genocide in Israel’s public relations and justification of military and foreign policies.  

By Tom Segev, Haim Watzman (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Seventh Million as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This monumental history shows the decisive impact of the Holocaust on the identity, ideology and politics of Israel. With unflinching honesty, Segev examines the most sensitive and heretofore closed chapters of his country's history, and reveals how this charged legacy has at critical moments (the Exodus affair, the Eichmann trial, the Six-Day War) been molded


Book cover of Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism

Yakov M. Rabkin Why did I love this book?

My earlier work on Jewish opposition to Zionism focused mostly on ultra-orthodox Jews. This book introduced me to a different kind of religious Jews affiliated with the Reform movement.

These communities and their spiritual leaders, including Elmer Berger, opposed Zionism for different reasons. They embraced the United States as their homeland and no longer considered themselves in exile. They also found Zionist ideas akin to those of the antisemites, who consider the Jews a separate nation. 

By Jack Ross,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rabbi Outcast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dramatic changes have taken place in the last decade with respect to the views of the American Jewish community toward Israel and Zionism. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the involvement of the Israel lobby in precipitating the Iraq War and promoting war on Iran, and Israel's widely condemned wars in Lebanon and Gaza, large swaths of the American Jewish community have been disenchanted with Israel and Zionism as at no other time since the founding of the State of Israel.

However, anti-Zionism in America has a long history. Elmer Berger was undoubtedly the best-known Jewish anti-Zionist…


Book cover of The Invention of the Jewish People

Yakov M. Rabkin Why did I love this book?

It always intrigued me how Zionism as a political movement and Israel as its embodiment can claim to act on behalf of the Jewish people. Sand brilliantly explains that the specific conditions of Jews in Eastern and Central Europe, particularly discrimination and violent outbursts (pogroms), produced a sense of nationhood.

As a historian, I am fascinated by Sand’s account of Zionist ideologues from that part of the world manufacturing powerful myths, which have buttressed the new Israeli identity even among Jews transplanted to Israel from Asia and Africa, where this kind of Jewish nationalism had been virtually unknown. 

By Shlomo Sand, Yael Lotan (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Invention of the Jewish People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A historical tour de force, The Invention of the Jewish People offers a groundbreaking account of Jewish and Israeli history. Exploding the myth that there was a forced Jewish exile in the first century at the hands of the Romans, Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argues that most modern Jews descend from converts, whose native lands were scattered across the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
In this iconoclastic work, which spent nineteen weeks on the Israeli bestseller list and won the coveted Aujourd'hui Award in France, Sand provides the intellectual foundations for a new vision of Israel's future.


Book cover of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood

Yakov M. Rabkin Why did I love this book?

As a scholar of contemporary Jewish history and a practicing Jew, I used to deal mostly with books written by Jews. This book is one of the first I read that would be written by a Palestinian. Albeit born and bred in New York City, the author has a strong connection with Palestine, and one of his ancestors, the mayor of Jerusalem, wrote to Theodor Herzl as early as 1899 that the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine would encounter opposition from local population.

Khalidi leaves behind the often-confusing narrative of a conflict between two nations in favor of a history of colonial settlement and indigenous resistance to it. 

By Rashid Khalidi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Iron Cage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At a time when a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis seems virtually unattainable, understanding the roots of their conflict is an essential step in restoring hope to the region. In The Iron Cage, Rashid Khalidi, one of the most respected historians and political observers of the Middle East, homes in on Palestinian politics and history. By drawing on a wealth of experience and scholarship, Khalidi provides a lucid context for the realities on the ground today, a context that has been, until now, notably lacking in our discourse.

The story of the Palestinian search to establish a…


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Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

Book cover of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

Amy Carney Author Of Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historian Professor Curl up with a good book reader Traveler – Berlin is my happy place!

Amy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When I was writing this book, several of my friends jokingly called it the Nazi baby book, with one insisting it would make a great title. Nazi Babies – admittedly, that is a catchy title, but that’s not exactly what my book is about. SS babies would be slightly more on topic, but it would be more accurate to say that I wrote a book about SS men as husbands and fathers.

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve…

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS

By Amy Carney,

What is this book about?

From 1931 to 1945, leaders of the SS, a paramilitary group under the Nazi party, sought to transform their organization into a racially-elite family community that would serve as the Third Reich's new aristocracy. They utilized the science of eugenics to convince SS men to marry suitable wives and have many children.

Marriage and Fatherhood in the Nazi SS by Amy Carney is the first work to significantly assess the role of SS men as husbands and fathers during the Third Reich. The family community, and the place of men in this community, started with one simple order issued by…


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Interested in Zionism, the Arab–Israeli conflict, and Israel and Palestine?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Zionism, the Arab–Israeli conflict, and Israel and Palestine.

Zionism Explore 21 books about Zionism
The Arab–Israeli Conflict Explore 29 books about the Arab–Israeli conflict
Israel And Palestine Explore 89 books about Israel and Palestine