History of Zionism

Click to register for this course.

None of us can truly understand the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle-East without first understanding, at the root level, the history of Zionism and its impact – as a historical movement – on Jews and non-Jews alike both globally and locally.

This 12-Session course (over six months) will look in-depth at this 100 year span of history in the Middle-East through intense study and dialogue between course participants, guided by the gentle hand of Rabbi Olivier. The course will be divided in three major historical parts. We will look, first, at the motivations behind the rise of the Zionist movement from the middle of the 19th Century, the beginning of Jewish settlement in Palestine between 1882 and 1914, and the political division of the Middle East between the victorious great powers post World War I.

Second, we will spend time learning about the Arab-Jewish struggle for preeminence during the period of the British Mandate (1917-1948). Lastly, we will explore the major challenges that faced the founders of the State of Israel in the first years of its existence, how the wave of Jewish immigration from European and Arab countries impacted the fledgling country – both internally and in relationship to the Palestinian population – and the ongoing wrestling with the idea of non-Jewish citizens in a state wanting to be both democratic and Jewish.

Though Rabbi Olivier will do his utmost to present a balanced picture of the historical unfolding of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, none of us can pretend to be 100% bias-free or to understand completely such a complex and infinitely-faceted topic. Rabbi Olivier is both Jewish and Israeli and, as such, in all integrity, cannot claim to understand fully or represent the Palestinian side of this history. Participants will be encouraged to wrestle themselves, through many different sources of provided reading materials and through ongoing dialogue between them, with these issues in order to come to their own educated conclusions.


Throughout the course, Rabbi Olivier will distribute print-outs of reading materials related to the specific session’s topic. There are three books, however, that will accompany us for most of the course that you will need to purchase or borrow from your local library.

1. Howard M. Sachar: “A History of Israel from the Rise of Zionism to Our Time.” Third Edition Revised and Expanded. Published by A. Knopf, NY 2007. Note: This book will be with us for the six months of the course and is, therefore, better purchased. (Used copies from $9.20 on Amazon).

2. Tom Segev: “One Palestine, Complete. Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate.” Henry Holt publishing, Owl Books, 2001. Note: We will read most of this book between the third and the fifth month of the course. (Used copies from $0.01 on Amazon).

3. Anita Shapira: “Land and Power. The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948” Stanford University Press, 1999. Note: We will read passages of these book sporadically for our sessions 4 and 6, 9 and 10. (Used copies from $4.60 on Amazon).

Rabbi Olivier will also draw, from time to time, from Ari Shavit’s book “My Promised Land. The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” as recommended extended reading on certain topics. This book is not mandatory, but if you are able to invest a few more dollars in building a solid library around the topic of Zionism and Israel’s history, you will want to own this one.


REMEMBER: Please go to the Bet Alef website and click on the Amazon.com icon on any of our menu’s pages. Bet Alef receives 5% from any of your purchases made on Amazon using this link. Thank you.

Sessions: All sessions are Thursday evening from 7PM to 8:30PM.

October 8 & 15

November 5 & 19

December 3 & 17

January 7 & 14 (please note, the two January classes will be one week apart)

February 4 & 18

March 3 & 17

There will also be an online conversational blog component to this course as a bridge between sessions. The url for the web page for this conversational blog will be provided upon registration. It will be limited to course participants as the topics of conversations will be derived from Rabbi Olivier posting specific questions related to the course for participants to answer and discuss.

Where: All sessions will be held at the Bet Alef office, 1111 Harvard Ave, Seattle WA 98122. Please enter from our main entrance on Harvard Ave, near the corner of Harvard and Spring.

Costs: $180 members; $240 non-members. Financial accommodations available, please contact the office.

Click here to register online for this course.

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