By Jalal Al-e Ahmad, translated by Samuel Thrope, with an Introduction by Bernard Avishai. Restless Books, 2017.
Written by a preeminent Iranian writer who helped lay the popular groundwork for the Iranian Revolution, The Israeli Republic should be required reading for Israelis, Iranians, and anyone interested in the ongoing conflict between them. Documenting Jalal Al-e Ahmad’s two-week-long trip to Israel in February of 1963, “Journey to the Land of Israel” caused a firestorm when it was published in Iran, upsetting the very revolutionary clerics whose anti-Western sentiments Al-e Ahmad himself had fueled. Yet, in the thriving Jewish State, Jalal Al-e Ahmad saw a model for a possible future Iran.
Based on his controversial travelogue, supplemented with letters between the author and Simin Daneshvar (his wife and yet another giant in Iranian literature), and translated into English for the first time, The Israeli Republic is a record of Al-e Ahmad’s idealism, insight, and ultimate disillusionment towards Israel. Vibrantly modern in its sensibility and fearlessly polemical, this book will change the way you think about the Middle East.
Praise for The Israeli Republic
The Israeli Republic “suggests how the Iranian and Israeli leaders who feel such intense mutual hostility today actually mirror one another in certain ways, particularly in their foundational attitudes toward religious authority, political and economic populism and the West. That a writer such as Al-e Ahmad, guru to the ayatollahs, liked Israel now seems touching. What he liked about Israel seems cautionary.”
— Prof. Bernard Avishai, Dartmouth College
Translator Samuel Thrope’s introduction allows the reader to understand the profound complexity that characterized Al-e Ahmad throughout his career. Thrope provides excellent biographical and historical contextualization of the text. He also confronts one of the profound dilemmas facing Al-e Ahmad’s reader. The use of Vilayet in the title can be translated in two different ways. One is charged with religious meaning as “Guardianship of Israel,” while the second carries the more prosaic meaning of Territory. As the travelogue itself makes clear, Al-e Ahmad himself was divided about Israel’s role in that land.
— Prof. Lior Sternfeld, Penn State
The Israeli Republic documents a particular, almost forgotten moment in Iranian intellectual history and its relationship to Zionism, and for this reason it is a rare and fascinating read.
— Alex Shams, The New Inquiry