Thursday, November 19, 2009

זו אגדה

One of my favorite types of books to read, friends, is the type of book that is so obscure most people (of the cultured class) would be surprised to hear that such a book existed. A set of books I've been reading recently that's met that standard more than some others is the diaries of Theodor Herzl. I've read Der Judenstaat in the past (which, in yeshiva in Jerusalem, was also pretty obscure), but it's far more eye-opening to see the day-to-day entries of the "Visionary of the State" in the late nineteenth century. What strikes me as humorous about Herzl's speeches and writings, or for that matter any of the Western European Zionists of his day, was how well they had the entire endeavor planned out, and how very absurd most of those ideas seem today (though the truth is some of his predictions about the future state are shockingly accurate...but perhaps only because the founders wished to shape things in Herzl's vision).

For example Herzl envisioned a state where the majority of the first immigrants at the time of the state's founding would be from the West, coming out of their own volition in a very organized manner. In reality most of the founding generation came from the East, most of them only as refugees of pogroms or the war, and there would be a great number brought in from the Orient, which he seemed not to have considered.

The best thing about Herzl's ignorance about the future though, is that he sort of knew deep down inside that there could be no state if world politics stayed as they were. The Ottomans swore they would never relinquish the holy sites of Palestine to the Jews, the Pope was thoroughly uninterested in Herzl and even the European leaders weren't so excited about the prospect. It is perhaps for this reason that in the end of his life he gave precedence to the idea that there be a Jewish state than to the idea that it be situated in the historical land of Israel, where Jewish pioneers had been arriving until then. He would never have foreseen that soon after his death the Ottoman Empire would collapse and the Arab lands partitioned by the Western powers. On the other hand he could never have foreseen that the Jews would not leave Europe unless forced out, and that even after a holocaust the nations of the world would still be extremely iffy about allowing a Jewish state.

This last point has always been disturbing to me though; here Herzl thought he had his game made, it was a win-win situation; the Europeans don't want the Jews and the Jews ultimately want to return to Palestine. He thought all it would take was a stroll over to the Kaiser and another over to the sultan and viola; the Jewish question solved. Yet after chatting with some the German Dukes, they say "who said we want to lose our Jews? What will be with the economy?", and three decades later they decimated the Jews but still refused to grant them a homeland. If you don't like them this is your opportunity to be rid of them! To me it seems like a great paradox. A love-hate relationship. They can't live with us and they can't live without us. Even today the Jewish population in the holy land is constantly harassed by their neighbors and by the media, and yet many of them are the very same people who criticize the Jewish population in their own countries (David Duke being an extreme example of someone who doesn't want Jews in America, yet is pro-Palestinian when it comes to Judea, Samaria and Gaza).

Anyway, the entire set makes for an interesting read. Lots of great lines there. I could practically write a running commentary on the thing.

[Shlomo Avineri article on the diaries]


read it too said...

I also like the bit about
"I would prefer the jewish state to be a monarchy, but since we do not know who would be entitled to be king, we will have to put up with a republic"

He was so much a prisoner of his own K&K society.

I was quite revolted about "what we will do with people who do not want to work - send them to workhouses"...

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

"...but since we do not know who would be entitled to be king, we will have to put up with a republic"- I don't see any problem with that. What's wrong?

"He was so much a prisoner of his own K&K society"- What's "K&K society"?

"I was quite revolted about "what we will do with people who do not want to work - send them to workhouses"- What would you rather? Welfare? He wanted to stress that, unlike the "old yishuv", this one should be a place of action, of ingenuity. Maybe you're thinking of the "Oliver Twist" workhouse, but in reality it was sort of a necessary part of European society of the time.