SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Zionism: Critical Perspectives (UG)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

Zionism is one of the most fascinating political and cultural projects of the twentieth century – and one whose enduring legacy and current meaning have long been, and still are, fiercely contested. Zionism is seen by some as a movement of national liberation, while others consider it a manifestation of settler-colonialism.

This module approaches Zionism analytically, and examines its changing meaning and praxis. We look at a wide selection of sources and secondary literature, by sympathisers, opponents and critics of Zionism. The class will look at the main debates regarding the Zionist movement, both historically and current: the meaning of Jewish statehood; Jewish nationhood and its different interpretations; race and anti-Semitism; Zionist approach to the Orient and Arab Palestinians; Zionism as a European movement, and Jews of the Middle East and North Africa (Mizrahim); the gendered aspects of the Zionist political project, and the transformation of Jewish masculinity and femininity; Zionism as a colonial movement; Arab Palestinian conceptualisation of Zionism; the relation between Zionism and the Jewish diasporas, from the “negation of the diaspora” to the current position of Israel as a locus of Jewish identity. 

Our approach to Israeli Studies emphasises the regional context, local perspectives, and critical perspectives. We aim to situate Israeli Studies against larger questions in Asian/African/global political, cultural and historical dynamics.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module a student will have read a range of primary and secondary material on the background, development and implications of the various strands of Zionist ideology and culture, placing a special emphasis on the relation of Zionism to Palestine and the Middle East.

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Situate Zionism within theoretical and historical frameworks, such as nationalism and colonialism.
  • Have good understanding and knwledge of the key questions and debates of and about Zionism, among supporters, opponents and critics.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week

Scope and syllabus

  • Introduction: a historical overview
  • The Jewish State: from Herzl to Israel
  • Zionist factions: labour and right wing  
  • Zionism as Colonialism
  • Jewish Nationalisms
  • Gendered Readings 
  • The “Arab Question “
  • Zionism and Mizrahim
  • Arab perspectives on Zionism
  • Homeland and diasporas


Method of assessment

  • One essay (1000 words) submitted on day 5, week 5 of which ever term the module is taught (30%)
  • One essay (2500 words) submitted on day 5, week 6 of which ever term the module is taught (70%)

Suggested reading

  • Avineri, S., 1981. The making of modern Zionism : intellectual origins of the Jewish state, New York: Basic Books.
  • Shimoni, G., 1997. The Zionist Ideology Hanover: Brandeis University Press.
  • Shafir, G., 1989. Land, labor, and the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 1882-1914, Cambridge [England];;New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eyal, G., 2006. The disenchantment of the Orient: expertise in Arab affairs and the Israeli state, Stanford University Press.
  • Bernstein, D., 1992. Pioneers and homemakers: Jewish women in pre-state Israel, SUNY Press.
  • Almog, O., 2000. The Sabra: the creation of the new Jew, University of California Press.
  • Shenhav, Y.A., 2006. The Arab Jews: a postcolonial reading of nationalism, religion, and ethnicity, Stanford University Press.
  • Kimmerling, B., 2001. The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military, Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press.
  • Beinart, P., 2012. The Crisis of Zionism First Edition., Times Books.
  • Said, E.W. 1979. “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims.” Social Text, no. 1:7–58.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules