City on a Hilltop
American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement
- ISBN: 9780674975057
- Published By: Harvard University Press
- Published: May 2017
Scholars in Middle Eastern Studies and Israel Studies, as well as students of American Jewish life, will be indebted to Sarah Hirschhorn for her groundbreaking work on the participation of American Jewish emigrants to Israel in the settler movement.
The most important contribution of City on a Hilltop is in the realm of solid data regarding American participation in Israeli settlement establishment, growth, and perpetuation. Both within the body of the book, and in an Appendix, Hirschhorn concludes that “fifteen percent of settlers in the occupied territories (60,000 individuals) are American-Israeli citizens, and there may be many more unregistered Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories today” (233).
Wisely, the author does not attempt to document and describe all American settler activity, but focuses on case studies of three settlements in which Americans played a role as founders: Yamit, Efrat, and Tekoa. Each of these three case studies is richly descriptive and informative. However, Hirschhorn’s study is less successful in the realm of ideology. Many settlers are quoted and their lives are described, but no overarching reason for their actions emerges from the book’s narratives.
In her introduction, Hirschorn writes that “the central theme of this book is the clash between Jewish–American settlers’ liberal personas and their illiberal project” (20). Though Hirschhorn struggles mightily to make the case the American settlers emerged from social and political “liberalism” of the American 1960s, the effort fails. Her suggestion that activism is by its nature a “liberal” endeavor (19-20) is not convincing, especially in this year of right wing activism in the US.
City on a Hilltop, while a valuable contribution to a number of scholarly fields, would have benefitted greatly from a chapter grounding the reader in the revisionist and religious Zionist roots of the settler movement, and of the assertively illiberal claims of those ideologies. This grounding informs much of the scholarship on the settlers in Hebrew and other languages, and it is unfortunately missing from this otherwise very informative study.
Shalom L. Goldman is professor of religion at Middlebury College.Shalom L. GoldmanDate Of Review:September 26, 2017