Sunday, April 25, 2010

Happy birthday Herzl

It's Herzl's150th birthday and there's not much celebrating going on. Just up the road from the Rooftop, on the corner of Herzl and Yehuda Halevi, several young men dressed up Herzl-style in a fake flowing black beard, a black suit with tails and top hat, handed out the flyer above . This reads:

Herzl's 150th birthday.
Today too it is no dream.
Believe, Act, Change!'

(I know I should have had my camera with me). Not clear who is behind the campaign. There was no phone number or website offering guidance on how to believe, act or change. On the other hand they were standing suspiciously close to Bank Leumi. Was this a government campaign to re-instill  Zionist values among a wayward, decadent Tel Aviv public or perhaps part of the bank's marketing policy?

Even though Theodor Herzl is considered to be the "visionary" of the Jewish state and his inspiring slogan " If you will it, it is no dream" became the slogan of the political Zionist movement he created, he still remains a somewhat shadowy figure in Israel.  Perhaps this is because, unlike other national icons, his complex task was to mobilise support abroad for an untested experiment and since he died well before its creation, his mark on the country is not palpable. Perhaps it is also because the strain of Zionism that became dominant in Israel's formation was not Herzlian Zionism.

As Natan Sharansky  points out (in 'Defending Identity'), the vision for the Jewish state proposed by Austro-Hungarian borgeois Herzl was a diversified 'Mosaic mosaic' of Jewish cultures, all acting to mutually enrich. In contrast, the vision of the Labour Zionism of Ben Gurion  and his fellow socialist Russians was to transform the socialist model of the 'New Man' into a standardized 'New Jew'. But Israeli society has moved on since Ben Gurion's day. It's certainly more of a mosaic today than it was 40 years ago; so in that sense, Herzl's vision prevailed.

On another, more depressing level a look Herzl's wiki biography also reveals that:
"In June 1896, with the help of the sympathetic Polish emigre aristocrat Count Philip Michael Nevlenski, he met for the first time with Abdul Hamid II to put forward his proposal for a Jewish state in Palestine. However the Sultan refused to cede Palestine to Zionists, saying, "if one day the Islamic State falls apart then you can have Palestine for free, but as long as I am alive I would rather have my flesh be cut up than cut out Palestine from the Muslim land."
This should provide a little perspective for those who think that the Israeli - Palestinian conflict began in 1967. On the other hand Israel is now a country of 7 million people while Abdul Hamid II and the Ottoman Empire have disappeared.So 10 out of 10 for the general vision.

"Local Herzl graffiti "If you don't want to will it, don't do me any favours"

Israel was created in blood and fire yet, in Herzl's novel 'Altneuland',

"Herzl did not foresee any conflict between Jews and Arabs. One of the main characters in Altneuland is a Haifa engineer, Reshid Bey, who is one of the leaders of the "New Society", is very grateful to his Jewish neighbors for improving the economic condition of Palestine and sees no cause for conflict. All non-Jews have equal rights, and an attempt by a fanatical rabbi to disenfranchise the non-Jewish citizens of their rights fails in the election which is the center of the main political plot of the novel."

Well, I guess that's why it's called a utopian novel. The creation of the Jewish state did of course create conflict between Jews and Arabs. In it, all non-Jews have equal basic rights on paper but not always in  practice and large numbers of Jews are pro-disenfranchising them of their rights. So, 4 out of 10 on this passage Theodor.
"Herzl envisioned a Jewish state which combined both a modern Jewish culture with the best of the European heritage. Thus a Palace of Peace would be built in Jerusalem, arbitrating international disputes, and at the same time the Temple would be rebuilt on modern principles. Herzl did not envision the Jewish inhabitants of the state being religious, but there would be much respect for religion in the public sphere. He also assumed that many languages would be spoken, but Hebrew would not be the main tongue."
Get out of town Teddy! (see 'conflicts' above). Wrong wrong wrong. Zero points.
"Herzl also envisioned the future Jewish state to be a "third way" between capitalism and socialism, with a developed welfare program and public ownership of the main natural resources and industry, agriculture and even trade organized on a cooperative basis. He called this mixed economic model "Mutualism", a term derived from French utopian socialist thinking. Women would have equal voting rights - as they did have in the Zionist movement from the Second Zionist Congress onwards."
Not a bad stab. But following the collapse of cooperative and state run enterprises, Israel has now lurched too far the other way into what is termed "swinish capitalism". Five points.

Most Israelis are entirely ignorant of Herzl's ideas. He has become a sort of retro icon, his slogan, "If you will it it is  no dream (im titzu ein zu agada)' is today as likely to be employed to sell weekend getaways to Turkey as to inspire a new generation of nation builders.

That's how the cookie crumbles. Reality rarely matches up to the original vision. Herzl got his Jewish state and that's certainly  not to be sniffed at but he would certainly be less than happy about the shape it eventually took.

Still, Tel Avivians owe him a special debt:
"The name of Tel Aviv is the title given to the Hebrew translation of Altneuland by the translator, Nahum Sokolov. This name, which comes from Ezekiel 3:15, means tell— an ancient mound formed when a town is built on its own debris for thousands of years— of spring. The name was later applied to the new town built outside of Jaffa, which went on to become Tel Aviv-Yafo the second-largest city in Israel."
Happy birthday Herzl.

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Corner Herzl-Rothschild

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Thanks for furthing my Jewish/Israeli education...very interesting. Shalom!

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