Theodor Herzl is the father of Political Zionism. The following Jerusalem Post articles by Gol Kalev take a deep look at Herzl, his legacy and his continued relevancy to today’s issues:
For related articles by Gol Kalev: Europe and Jerusalem
Herzl is mentioned often in other Jerusalem Post articles by Gol Kalev:
In 1895, Vienna elected an openly antisemitic mayor. The emperor and prime minister decided to intervene, refusing to confirm Karl Lueger to office.
Most Jews celebrated the decision, but one Viennese Jew was not among them. Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, wrote at the time, “Many Jews rejoice foolishly about not accepting Lueger as mayor. As if antisemitism equals Lueger. On the contrary, I believe that the movement against the Jews will only be strengthened.”
Lueger was a staunch antisemite. Herzl even considered challenging him to a dual.
And yet, Herzl recognized that applying a stance of zero tolerance to antisemitism would have a price. He arranged a meeting with then-prime minister Count Kasimir Badeni, where he warned, “If you deny him, you will be responsible for the whole of Jew hatred.”
After winning repeatedly, Lueger was eventually confirmed. In the interim, hate against Jews mushroomed. Herzl carefully observed how Europe was changing in the 1890s and applied it to understanding shifts in sources and motives of Jew hatred.
The recent Austrian election beckons us to remember Herzl as we assess the contemporary threats emanating from Europe.
An Austrian journalist reporting from Paris in 1892 wrote: “Till recently antisemitism in France has been something comfortable and polite, one can even say pleasant.” That Jewish journalist, Theodore Herzl, sought to penetrate Parisian social circles and was at minimum tolerant to the antisemite movement, maintaining contact with proud antisemites.
He later wrote in his diary: “In Paris, I adapted a more liberated attitude towards antisemitism, which I began to understand historically and to pardon.”
But just like with today’s socially-driven Israel-bashing, Herzl recognized that this polite and pleasant fashion could turn dangerous. He wrote: “Antisemitism is a meeting point of the unsatisfied, sort of a salon of the deprived.”
Indeed, history shows that when a society in Europe felt humiliated, the Jews were often the ones who paid the price.
In Herzl’s time, it was France’s humiliating defeat by Prussia in 1870 which eventually led to the Dreyfus Affair. Fifty years later, it was Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I which eventually led to the Holocaust.
Today, some in Europe have been amassing built-up frustration. The shift of global political and economic leadership to the United States, the rise of Islam in Europe, the trench war against Islamist terrorism and the emerging debate over Europe’s character all have elevated such frustrations to alarming levels.
Once again, it seems that some in Europe are choosing to address their misfortunes by entering that same “salon of the deprived” and directing their frustration at Israel.
In the last go-around, internalizing the immediacy of the danger, Herzl took action and founded political Zionism, which eventually resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel. Unfortunately that process took a few years too long, and much of European Jewry was eradicated.
Today, it is not too late to stop the madness of the Israel-bashing movement or its attempt to eradicate the Jewish state.
Bar-Ner points to the timing of the escalation of European hostility to Israel in the 1990s – decades after the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 war that resulted in Israel taking control of the West Bank.
Bar-Ner’s views hark back to a similar argument made in the 19th century by Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism. He claimed that competition is key in Europe’s aversion towards Jews.
The ample Jewish wealth and “excessive intelligence” that followed the emancipation intensified European competition against the Jews. Herzl argued that such circumstances will not go away.
Are the same European dynamics that were directed toward individual Jews in the past now directed to the collective of Jews?
Two decades prior to the declaration, in 1898, the German Kaiser became an advocate of the same idea.
After meeting Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, he agreed to ask the Turkish Sultan to grant the Jews a chartered company in Palestine under German protection.
The Sultan declined and Herzl had to resort to other avenues. He discussed with the British government the possibility of giving Jews territory right outside of Palestine, in the Sinai desert. When that was deemed unfeasible, the British offered territory in East Africa.
Herzl then hired a local British lawyer in 1903 to draft a proposal that became known as the Uganda Scheme. That lawyer was a rising politician named David Lloyd George.
Allenby rode his horse eastward on Jaffa Road to the cheers of the city’s residents.
Just 20 years prior, someone else was riding the exact same road, in the same direction, to similar cheers. That was Allenby’s arch-rival: German Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Back then, in October 1878, when the kaiser passed through the Jewish gate (today’s Davidka Square), an Austrian Jewish journalist observed the procession from a distance, from the nearby Kaminitz Hotel. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, came to Jerusalem hoping to meet the kaiser, who was to lobby the sultan to grant the Jews a chartered company in Palestine under German protection.
The kaiser then proceeded to the Old City and entered it through a breach in the Holy City walls that was carved in his honor. The breach, right near Jaffa Gate, was large enough to allow the kaiser to enter by carriage.
A few days after the kaiser entered by carriage, Herzl entered by foot; 20 years later, Gen. Allenby decided to do the same.
….Indeed, Herzl’s work came to fruition not by the German kaiser breaking through the walls in arrogance, but by Allenby, 20 years later, walking into Jerusalem in reverence.
…..100 years since entering Jerusalem, it might be time for Europeans to finally go back home to Europe. Then, they can return as civilians, walk through the gates of Jerusalem, and like Allenby and Herzl, unveil their eyes and see its wonders.
This international presence helps turn Sha’arei Hessed into an icon ofevolving Zionism, not just in terms of contribution and employment, but also in terms of Zionism’s very core: Israel being the homeland of the Jewish people.
Over the past few years, many wealthy haredi families in the US, Latin America and Europe have purchased a vacation home in the neighborhood.
Consistent with Theodor Herzl’s vision of the promised land in which everyone would carry in himself a piece of it in his own way, “this one in his head, that one in hands, the third in his savings,” the neighborhood serves as beachhead of importing Jewish intellect and wealth into the Jewish state.
Each visit brings capital that fuels Jerusalem’s economy and keeps restaurants and shops in business.
Moreover, it imports expertise and know-how to Israel and allows Israelis to establish valuable international business connections.
This will inevitably affect the capital – and the big question is how.
Around the world, it has been common to belittle the effect of a new railway line or other fast connections between two cities. Historians point to the great underestimation of the revolutionary nature of the first trains when they arrived in the mid-19th century.
One late-19th-century commentator reflected that “in the earliest period of European railway construction, some practical people were of the opinion that it was foolish to build certain lines because there were not even sufficient passengers to fill the mail-coaches.” That commentator was Theodor Herzl.
Herzl himself took a four-and-a-half-hour train ride from Jaffa to Jerusalem in 1898, which he described as pure torture, “sitting in a cramped, crowded, burning- hot compartment.” As a result of the rough ride, he developed a high fever on the train. The Friday train was also delayed an hour in leaving Jaffa and therefore arrived after the start of Shabbat, forcing the sick Herzl to limp his way from the station to his hotel.
Now, 120 years later, this torturous ride will be replaced by a journey of less than half an hour on a state-of-the-art high-speed train. But what will that mean for Jerusalem?
……This would radically expand the accessibility range to Jerusalem. Suddenly over 60 percent of the country’s population would be within less than an hour’s travel of Jerusalem. As Herzl wrote, “Travelers do not produce railways, but conversely, railways produce travelers.”
…..When faced with deciding in which of the two cities he should spend the majority of his visit to the Holy Land, Herzl opted for Jerusalem. Six of the only 10 days he ever spent in his ancestral homeland were in Jerusalem. Since he was waiting to be summoned for a much-desired audience with German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was on a royal visit to Jerusalem, the commute to Jaffa would have been impractical. Like many of today’s government employees who execute the vision Herzl crafted, Herzl’s own decision was driven by practicality: The length and uncertainty of the four-and-a-half-hour commute left him little choice.
But a mere 20 years later, Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky did have a choice – and, riding on the same railway tracks that Herzl had ridden before him, he opted to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
……On the western end, the city named after Herzl’s utopia is one of the world’s premier bastions of creativity, innovation and ingenuity. On the eastern end, the city that served as a prime inspiration for this utopia is one of the world’s premier centers for spirituality, intellect, culture and diversity, an exporter of Torah of all kinds.
Whatever selection each individual makes, it is a choice between two superb alternatives of which the founding fathers could only dream.
Railways and the power of media – two new things that shaped 19th-century Europe – were both of great interest to Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.
Some of Herzl’s Zionist thinking occurred while riding on trains, and as a powerful journalist for one of Europe’s leading newspapers, Herzl fully understood how newspapers could shape public perception of political developments and events (such as the Dreyfus Affair). The new train line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv seems to be such a case of media shaping public perception. The line that Herzl envisioned over 100 years ago was inaugurated in September on an experimental basis and for free, running every 30 minutes…
…..It is not just reliable, but also relatively luxurious. The double-decker cars are impeccably clean, well-maintained and usually quiet. Given the generally sparse use by the general public, each passenger gets his own suite, which includes a table, dual electricity plug and floor-to-ceiling windows through which one can view the astonishing miracle that Herzl dreamed. This first-class-like travel experience makes the ride productive and inspiring for business travelers, writers and casual travelers alike. Just as Herzl came up with great ideas while on train rides through Europe, so do some of today’s Zionist innovators come up with their great ideas while on train rides through the Jewish state that Herzl seeded…..
….Herzl understood that mindsets are difficult to change. Jews in his time viewed Judaism through a particular prism that included a yearning to return to their homeland, but only in a theoretical, defeatist, “some day” dreamlike way. Even before he launched Zionism, Herzl understood that the Jews would not listen to him, given their sagging spirits and enslavement to such a mindset.
To make his case, Herzl resorted to trains! He argued that when railroads were first constructed, some people “were of the opinion that it was foolish to build certain lines because there were not even sufficient passengers to fill the mail coaches.”
Railroads were an astonishing leap in human progress that occurred during Herzl’s century, replacing animals as the primary mode of transportation, radically shortening distances and facilitating expansion to new frontiers. And yet, far too many people were stuck in old mindsets that were shaped by journalists and others: if there are not many people who travel from Vienna to Paris, why invest a massive amount of money to build railroads?
“They did not realize the truth – which now seems obvious to us,” said Herzl. “Travelers do not produce railways, but conversely, railways produce travelers.”
As Herzl intuited, the reality of a fast, convenient and reliable railway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would likely alter the dynamics of the two cities.
This was the case with another radical shift that occurred in Europe: the 19th-century emancipation of European Jews after centuries of oppression. While Jews welcomed their new rights, one Jewish thinker was surprisingly critical. In 1895, as he was crafting his vision of a Jewish transformation, Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, wrote a letter to Otto von Bismarck, the father of a United Germany and its first chancellor. Herzl argued that the emancipation of the Jews, which happened swiftly and without preparation of the hearts and minds, was only relevant to politicians, not to the populace: “There is no use in suddenly announcing in the newspaper that starting tomorrow all people are equal,” he proclaimed.
Herzl’s warning turned out to be correct: Europeans did not come to terms with the newly liberated Jews, suddenly their equals. That was evident in France during the Dreyfus affair and a few decades later in the genocide of European Jewry.
Lessons from the European reaction to the emancipation can be applied to European reactions to other radical changes. Failure to prepare the hearts and minds for their fall from grace and abrupt decolonization has arguably taken a moral toll on Europe today. But Europe can fix that. Perhaps it can start right in the state that Herzl envisioned and, at last, end its neocolonialist, disruptive intervention in Israeli and Palestinian affairs. This way, the chances for peace will increase and Europe can redirect its capital and efforts to addressing its challenges at home.
Indeed, when Theodor Herzl was crafting his vision for the Jewish state in the late 19th century, he viewed it as the most exact application of European liberalism. He spent years in Palais Bourbon carefully observing French democracy; he analyzed Bismarck’s audacious state-building efforts during German reunification and noted the challenges of Austria’s pluralism. Herzl studied political philosophers, internalized the imperfections of European liberalism and planted the seeds for a more perfect Europe in Israel.
Herzl envisioned a Jewish state that will serve humanity. Indeed, Israel has been blessed with a string of astonishing successes. Nations in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East are now seeking to share this blessing and partner with the Jewish state. This is even the case among a growing number of Palestinians – some of whom are sick and tired of the European-sponsored dictation of conflict perpetuation.