sabato 16 maggio 2009

From Theodor Herzl's "Altneuland"

Zionism is often depicted as a "racist ideology", by two kinds of people:
  1. Arab nationalists who haven't been able to come to terms with Israel's existence yet - and slander it;
  2. The Italian far-Rightists who love Israel because they are convinced that it's as racist as they are, thus proving their ignorant bigotry.

Israel is far from perfect, and its minorities have a lot to complain, but I'd like to quote a few paragraphs from Theodor Herzl's visionary work "Altneuland", to show that Zionism isn't racism.

The title "Altneuland" was inspired by the "Altneuschul" in Josefov, Prague, and was translated into Hebrew by Nahum Sokolov as "Tel Aviv". Sokolov said he chose this phrase because Herzl's book told the story of an ancient ruin (Tel) blossoming like a flower in spring (Aviv).

Sorry for quoting an English translation, but I can't read German, and this translation was published in Haifa in 1960 - so I can assume it's faithful to Herzl's thought, as it was interpreted in Israel in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Enjoy your reading, from Altneuland, Book 3, Chapter 4:


"... But the lesson of Rahaline [in Ireland] was not forgotten. It was preserved in books, and when we led our people back to our beloved soil of Palestine, we created thousands of Rahalines. One Vandaleur [Rahaline's landlord and initiator] was not strong enough - and not reliable enough.

A great and powerful organization was required. That organization is our New Society, the landlord that has provided you with the land and the tools to which you owe your present prosperity. Not that the New Society has created all this out of nothing, out of itself. It has come from the brains of its leaders and the pockets of its founders. The new Society is founded on an idea which is the common product of all civilized nations.

Do you understand now, dear friends, what I mean? It would be unethical for us to exclude any man, whatever his race or religion, from our achievements. We are standing on the shoulders of the other civilized nations. If a member of one of them wishes to join us, if he accepts the duties of our society, he must also enjoy all its rights. What we have, we owe to the work of these who came before us, and it is only right that we pay our debt. There is only one way to do this: tolerance to the utmost! Our slogan must be, now and always: Man, thou art my brother!"


"Here then is your answer. What was right so far, is right today and for the future. The more men come here to work, the better off we shall all be. Not only from altruism should we cry: Man, thou art my brother! - but from self-interest too we should tell him: Brother, thou art welcome! - The eldest among you know what this village was like twenty years ago, all empty and desolate. The first settlers took the best land. The next got second-best, but still prospered. The later they came, the worse was the land they got, and yet today it all bears well. Stones were cleared, swamps drained, because where there is a settlement already in existence even inferior soil attracts newcomers. And today Newville is a garden, a lovely garden, where you live a good life. but all your orchards and fields would be worth nothing, they would wither, if liberal thinking, generosity, charity and love of mankind were to dry up in your hearts! Those must be cherished, those must flourish in your midst. And because I know they do, I cry: Hedad [Hooray] for Newville!"


Another interesting quotation well expressing Herzl's thought, can be found in Book 3, Chapter 3:


"... It is no longer the rich that make the laws and prescribe the way to think: the people now make the laws and everybody can think as he likes. Mayors are no longer chosen for their wealth, the post is no longer awarded as a premium for business instinct, but we choose men for their decency and efficiency. So of course, under this new dispensation, the Geyers must flatter the instinct of the mob. They must find a theory to serve the immediate advantage of the people - or at least what the people regard as their advantage. That's why he has devised his new slogan - against the stranger in our midst. He doesn't want Gentiles to be accepted as members of the New Society! What he thinks is: the fewer to share the banquet, the more for each. And do you believe that this is to your immediate advantage? It is not, friends; very far from it. The land would be impoveirshed, it would be ruined if you adopted this idiotic and narrow-minded policy. We stand and fall by the principle that anybody who has served the New Society for two years, be he Jew or Genitle, white or yellow or black, becomes a member - always supposing he has proved himself during that time.

And that is why I tell you: stand by the principles that have made us great: Liberalism, Tolerance, Love of Mankind! Only the will Zion be truly Zion. You will soon elect a delegate to Congress. Do not choose a man who thinks only of the immediate advantage, but one who takes longer views. If you elect a Geyer man, you are not worthy of having the sun of our sacred land shine upon you! ..."


Herzl knew that not even his utopian "New Society" would have been able to eradicate "tribalism", so he described a political battle between the supporters of "universalism" (like Mr. Steineck, whose speech was quoted in the second passage, and David Littwak, who spoke in the first passage) and Geyer, an opportunistic rabbi turned into a tribalist demagogue, in order to provide his [Herzl's] follwers with the weapons to fight this evil spirit.

Herzl's vision can be criticized, as he colonially distinguished between "civilized nations" and the rest of the world - but there is no reason to persevere in this baseless distinction, as we know that the many cultures of the world compose a single civilization.

The same can be said of the Article 3 of the Italian Constitution: although it states that all "citizens" are equal before the law, the Constitutional Court has always maintained it must be construed as "all humans are equal before the law as regards basic human rights". So we may atone for our [Italian] Constituents' oversight.

With these quotations of Theodor Zeev Herzl's, I can say that racism is unworthy of his vision. It's a pity that lots of people across the world have forgotten that.

Something Israelis should especially remember is (from Book 3, Chapter 6):


... Tolerance can only thrive when it is reciprocal, and when the Jews here in Palestine proved tolerant towards their minority, they enjoyed the same tolerance all over the world.


Herzl was prophetical: his words are topical now, in 2009, even though they were written in 1902. Here is an online English translation of Altneuland, so you can check for yourself.