Herzl, by Shlomo Avineri

198a666a-677b-11e3-a5f9-00144feabdc0Simon Schama at the Financial Times:

There is a passage in Theodor Herzl’s 1902 romance of a reborn Jewish commonwealth, Altneuland, in which he wheels on a Haifa Arab, Rashid Bey, who is asked whether “the older inhabitants of Palestine are not ruined by Jewish immigration?” The reply, painfully poignant now, testifies to the wishful thinking of the founders of Zionism. Bey and his family have not only stayed; they have prospered alongside the Jews, equal citizens in the New Society, as Herzl calls it.

As Shlomo Avineri observes in his fine new biography of the father of political Zionism, before writing this off as patronising colonialism, one ought to pause to ask what actually was so wrong about that vision of a shared Israel-Palestine grounded in social justice and mutual interest. What Herzl was against is made even clearer a little further on in the novella, when opposed ciphers for the Zionist vision contend for votes in an imagined agricultural settlement. The socialist argues that “we do not ask what race or religion a man belongs to. If he is a human being that is enough for us.” His opponent, a rabbi and erstwhile anti-Zionist, insists that the “Old-New Land” is exclusively for the Jews. In Herzl’s novel, the pluralist trounces the chauvinist. If only.
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