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Marching To Zion
on 8 October 2010
Theodor Herzl's "The Jewish State" was written in 1896 during an intense period of anti-semitism. There had been anti-Jewish pogroms in the wake of the 1881 assassination of Tsar Alexander the Second, notably in Kiev and Odessa. In the same year Eugene Duhring argued human behaviour was racially determined. Jews were always Jews and as such were the enemies of all nations, particularly Germany. The following year, Leo Pinsker, a Jewish doctor from Odessa, claimed "anti-Semitism was a psychosis and incurable, that the cause of it was the abnormal condition of Jewish life and that the only remedy for it was the removal of the cause through self-help and self-liberation. The Jewish people must become an independent nation, settled on the soil of their own land." Herzl's book was another manifestation of the Zionist idea prevalent in the final two decades of the nineteenth century.
At the time there was no automatic equation of Zionism with the Middle East. Other places such as South America were considered for the creation of the Jewish homeland. Herzl's initial position was one of Jewish emancipation and assimilation rather than emigration. By 1892 he had changed his stance writing, "It is no longer - and it has not been for a long time - a theological matter. It has nothing whatsoever to do with religion and conscience....The Jewish question is neither nationalistic nor religious. It is a social question." He dismissed his previous commitment to assimilation in favour of Zionist separatism. This was reinforced by his experience in Paris at the time of the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. Writing in 1899 he stated, "The Dreyfus case embodies more than a judicial error; it embodies the desire of the vast majority of the French to condemn a Jew and to condemn all Jews in this one Jew. Death to the Jews! howled the mob as the decorations were being ripped from the captain's coat."
He wrote, "The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so. " In practice, "We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities in which we live, seeking only to preserve the faith of our fathers. It is not permitted us. In vain are we loyal patriots, sometimes superloyal; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow citizens; in vain do we strive to enhance the fame of our native lands in the arts and sciences, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In our native lands where we have lived for centuries we are still decried as aliens." For Herzl the Jewish people were one people and needed to live together as one people, not amongst non-Jews who despised them. To achieve this he sought the "restoration of the Jewish State." The site of that State could only be in Palestine, "our ever-memorable historic home". He argued that if the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire granted Palestine for the Jewish state, it could serve as a bulkwark against the Asian hoards while protecting the "sancturies of Christendom".
Four years earlier Hertzl had held the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, where he was elected its President. Later he wrote, "In Basle I created the Jewish State". The following year he visited Jerusalem, making overtures to the German Kaiser who he hoped would provide protection for Jews in Palestine. A number of Christians supported Zionism which they interpreted as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Jewish return. The Catholic Church refused support as Jews denied the divinity of Christ. There was limited financial support from philathropic Jews but insufficient to establish the Jewish State leading Herzl to conclude "the Jewish masses must be organised for the support of the Zionist movement." Although the British government offered to establish a Jewish State in Uganda the Zionist Congress of 1905 declined the offer and declared itself firmly committed to Palestine as the future Jewish homeland.
Hertzl denied the proposed Jewish State was an Utopian idea. He wrote about the practicalities involved, how immigration should proceed and examined matters such as the occupation of the land, the constitution, the flag and the army. He argued for the separation of religion from the State, the accommodation of various languages, with the most popular becoming the language of the new State. He assumed toleration would be the natural order for a people who had suffered so much intolerance over centuries. "Our community of race is peculiar and unique, for we are bound together only by the faith of our fathers". However, he did not envisage conflict with Arabs living in or around Palestine. He thought they would welcome the enterprise of Jewish immigrants. Given that the Egyptian government had responded unfavourably to a British proposal to establish a Jewish enclave in Sinai, Herzl's refusal to consider the "worse case scenario" represented the triumph of ideal over reality.
While Herzl laid the foundation for the State of Israel his family did not survive to live there. His three children died tragically. The eldest, Paulina, died of a drugs overdose in 1930. His son, Hans, commited suicide on the day of Paulina's funeral. The youngest, Trude, died in the Holocaust. Her son, Stephan, committed suicide in 1946. The known remains of the Herzl family were eventually returned to Israel and buried on Mount Herzl. The Jewish State outlived them all. An interesting book for historians but written in the stilted tone of the period. Four stars.