The Diaries by Theodor Herzl

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Our member Rena Alisa writes:

In 1902, Herzl wrote a romantic novel — a piece of social science fiction – called Altneuland.  In it he fanaticizes about a Jewish utopian state in the Land of Palestine.  Just as today we fantasize about colonies on Mars, Herzl fantasized about a Jewish homeland where Jews could live free of anti-Semitism.  This was widely read in the Jewish community and inspired many people.  46 years later, Herzl’s fantasy became a reality.

Who was Herzl?

Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl, was born in Budapest in 1860. His parents were quite assimilated and non-practicing Jews.  Herzl had little Jewish education.  He was educated in the spirit of the German-­Jewish Enlightenment of the period with an emphasis on secular culture.  In 1878 the family moved to Vienna, and in 1884 Herzl was awarded a doctorate of law from the University of Vienna. He became a writer, a playwright and a journalist and was the Paris correspondent of the influential liberal Vienna newspaper Neue Freie Presse.

Herzl first encountered the anti-Semitism that would shape his life (and the fate of the Jews in the twentieth century) while studying at the University of Vienna in 1882. Later, during his stay in Paris as a journalist, he was brought face-to-face with the problem. At the time, he regarded the Jewish problem as a social issue and wrote a drama, The Ghetto (1894), in which assimilation and conversion are rejected as solutions. He hoped that The Ghetto would lead to debate and ultimately to a solution, based on mutual tolerance and respect between Christians and Jews.

In 1894,  Herzl covered the trial of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army who was unjustly accused of treason (because of the prevailing anti-emetic atmosphere). Herzl witnessed mobs shouting “Death to the Jews” in France — the home of the French Revolution.  He resolved that there was only one solution: the mass immigration of Jews to a land that they could call their own. Thus, Herzl became the first creator of Political Zionism.

Herzl concluded that anti-Semitism was a stable and immutable factor in human society, which assimilation could not solve. He mulled over the idea of Jewish sovereignty, and, despite ridicule from Jewish leaders, published Der Judenstaat in 1896.  He declared that the Jews could gain acceptance in the world only if they ceased being a national anomaly. The Jews are one people, he said, and their plight could be transformed into a positive force only by the establishment of a Jewish state — recognized by other states.  He saw the ‘Jewish question’ as an international political question to be dealt with in the arena of international politics.

Herzl proposed a practical program for collecting funds from Jews around the for  a company to be owned by stockholders  This company would work toward the practical realization of his goal.  This organization, when it was eventually formed, was called the Zionist Organization.  He saw the future state as a model social state with a modern enlightened society.  It would be neutral, secular, and peace-seeking.

In 1202 he published a Zionist “romance” novel, Altneuland (Old New Land) which depicts this Jewish socialist utopia.  He envisioned a new society that was to rise in the Land of Israel on a cooperative basis utilizing science and technology in the development of the Land.  He included detailed ideas about the future state’s political structure, immigration, fund­raising, diplomatic relations, social laws and relations between religion and the state. In Altneuland, the Jewish state was foreseen as a pluralist, advanced society, a “light unto the nations.” This book had a great impact on the Jews of the time and became a symbol of the Zionist vision in the Land of Israel.

Herzl’s ideas were met with enthusiasm by the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe, although Jewish leaders in western Europe were less ardent. Herzl appealed to wealthy Jews such as Baron Hirsch and  Baron Rothschild, to join the national Zionist movement.  They refused.  He then appealed directly to the people, and the result was the convening of the  First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in August 1897.  This was the first international gathering of Jews on a national and secular basis. The delegates adopted the Basle Program, the program of the Zionist movement, and declared, “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” At the Congress the  World Zionist Organization was established as the political arm of the Jewish people, and Herzl was elected its first president.  In 1936, the center of the Zionist movement was transferred to  Jerusalem.  In 1948, Israel was established.