By Joe Millis
July 13, 2011
If he were to visit Israel today, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism would probably have a heart attack and promptly die. He'd probably tear up Altneuland and Der Judenstaat, too, seeing how illiberal his dream had become.
The introduction of the anti-boycott law -- among the many signs (along with the racist state-employed rabbis, the loyalty law, the reception committee law and the now an attempt to dictate who gets to sit in the Supreme Court) that Israel is sliding towards isolationism and fascism. Those who want a return to ghetto life are ruling the roost. When I said the far right and the settlements were toxic, I didn't realise how poisonous they were. Now it is becoming apparent.
In the novel, Altneuland, Herzl describes a modern, social-democratic pluralistic Jewish state in which Arabs and Jews have equal rights and racist sentiments are unpopular.
[It] depicts his blueprint for the realization of Jewish national emancipation, as put forward in his book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) published in 1896. Both ideological and utopian, it presents a model society which was to adopt a liberal and egalitarian social model, resembling a modern welfare state. Herzl called his model "Mutualism" and it is based on a mixed economy, with public ownership of the land and natural resources, agricultural cooperatives state welfare, while at the same time encouraging private entrepreneurship. A true modernist, Herzl rejected the European class system, yet remained loyal to Europe’s cultural heritage.
Rather than imagining the Jews in Altneuland speaking exclusively Hebrew, the society is multi-lingual – with German, Hebrew and Yiddish being the main languages and reproducing European customs, going to the opera and enjoying the theatre. While Jerusalem is the capital, with the seat of parliament ("Congress") and the Jewish Academy, the country's industrial center is the modern city of Haifa. In the actual Israel, this role was to be taken by Tel Aviv, a city which did not yet exist at the time of writing and whose name was inspired by the book itself.
Herzl saw the potential of Haifa Bay for constructing a modern deep-water port. However, in reality it would be the British Empire rather than the Zionists which would realise that potential and make considerable strategic use of it during the Second World War. Though Israel would eventually inherit the Haifa port and city, by 1948 the central role of Tel Aviv was established, with Haifa – though a major Israeli city – relegated to a secondary position.
As envisioned by Herzl, "All the way from Acco to Mount Carmel stretched what seemed to be one great park". In the actual Israel the very same area became a giant industrial zone, reckoned the most heavily polluted part of the country.
In Herzl's vision, the Temple will be rebuilt, but not on the site of the original Temple Mount, and it would be much more like a modern synagogue (no animal sacrifices, for example). Hence there would be no Arab opposition to it. One of the major characters in the novel, an Arab engineer from Haifa, Reshid Bey, tells the protagonists that the Jews had in no way harmed him, but on the contrary, increased the value of his property and helped developed and modernize Arab villages. The Arab residents of the country are full fledged citizens, vote in elections and are represented in leading positions.
So what went wrong with this vision? Easy, Israelis acquiesced in the occupation and never paid a price, making them think that they were never in the wrong. But when things started to go wrong, the zealots and their mates abroad did what zealots always do, instill an atmosphere of fear. A whole line of thinking was delegitimised and was in effect made illegal - pour encourager les autres. Israel has had one PM assassinated. No doubt the zealots of the Jewish Brotherhood will resort to murder again if les autres aren't encourager enough.
Remember Emil Grunsweig. Remember Yitzhak Rabin and boycott the settlements.
Anyway, on that cheery note, I'm off down the Chief Rabbi's Arms to mourn the passing of Israel.