He despised Jerusalem and proposed it be governed internationally; he believed the lingua franca of the Jewish state would be German; his son converted to Christianity and commited suicide, his daughter was a drug addict. But the new Herzl Museum to be inaugurated tomorrow not far from his tomb contains no mention of Theodor Herzl's unfortunate visit to Jerusalem. It praises the rebirth of the Hebrew language, and the only one of his children mentioned is Trude, who was murdered by the Nazis in Theresienstadt.
The museum's main character is not Herzl, but rather the popular fair-haired actor Zak Berkman, who plays a handsome crook in the Israeli soap opera "Love Around the Corner." Visitors watch as Berkman plays an actor by the name of Lior who is preparing himself for the role of Herzl. Micha Levinson, who plays a director, and Sandra Sadeh who plays a Herzl expert, coach Berkman on who Herzl was, and thus the viewers find out as well.
As the visit progresses, visitors file into theater hall facing a now-black-bearded Berkman pronouncing the immortal words "If you will it, it is no dream." Standing in the theater balcony is a fiberglass Herzl, in his famous balcony pose, looking out at the actor portraying him. The conclusion: He was simply dreamy.
The World Zionist Organization, the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Foundation invested $3.2 million in the museum. The use of a popular actor is based on the historic thesis that guided the museum's designers: Herzl, a frustrated playwright, planned the movement he founded as a great operatic drama of which he was the director and the star.
Now the museum lets us in on a secret: Herzl was short. The fact that he was usually portrayed as a giant, the museum explains, is because of his charisma.
The display starts out with a French flag, a symbol of the anti-Semitism that brought about the Dreyfus trial and Zionism. Then comes Zak Berkman sitting in a Vienna coffee house, admiring beautiful women, as Herzl obviously must have done. And here's Mrs. Herzl, with Sandra Sadeh whispering a bit of gossip - "It didn't work out so well."
We move past the wooden desk at which Herzl sat when he wrote The Jewish State in 1896, and to impress on the visitor the great impact of this little book, Zak Berkman says, "like a sensational television program," and Sadeh adds, "more."
From here visitors move on to a hall with a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. This is the municipal casino in Basel. The first Zionist Congress in 1897 is about to begin. We hear shouting. Berkman is rehearsing the statement, "In Basel I founded the Jewish State."
The museum speaks a great deal about Herzl's adversaries, but the impression is that most of them were anti-Semites. There is almost no mention of the fact that most Jews rejected the Zionist idea. While seated beneath the giant chandelier, among the fiberglass delegates to the Zionist Congress, visitors learn about the great debate on the proposal to establish the Jewish state in the region of Uganda.
"Tough choice," Berkman says to the camera. Then we hear an idea obviously intended to sound good to American Jewish visitors. "Who says you can't be a Zionist abroad?"
Next we come to the original Herzl room - his writing desk, chairs, grandfather clock and other items. In the 1950s this was one of the most popular tourism sites in the capital. Later, it became neglected and moth-eaten, and now it has been restored.
At this point the museum declares that Herzl's method failed. He believed that the Jewish state would be founded by diplomacy and bribery, by means of a charter granted by one of the powers of the day. He did not have much faith in the pioneers.
The museum, however gives the impression that Israel owes its existence to the pioneers. But on this point Herzl was not wrong. It is doubtful the state of Israel would have been established without the help of Great Britain - the Mandate the British received over Palestine from the League of Nations was the kind of charter Herzl had tried to obtain.
The closer the visitor gets to the present day, the more the museum tries to walk on eggshells. There is no mention of Judea and Samaria, as if it was never part of the Zionist dream. You see the signing of the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; Oslo does not exist. No "demographic problem" - to be the state Herzl dreamed of, Israel must grant equal rights to its Arab citizens.
Visitors are meant to take away the message that Israel is fulfilling Herzl's dream - he was mistaken only in the details. But Herzl dreamed of an Ashkenazi country, and the museum makes no mention of discrimination against Jews of Middle Eastern origin. The museum states that Israel created its own culture - Ashkenazi-Mizrachi - and that Herzl would have been pleased. It is a secular state, the Orthodox are seen for a second only by the Western Wall. No knitted skullcaps, no foreign workers.
Toward the end of the visit you see short films - a women rummaging through a garbage can for food, a terror attack, and Knesset members screaming. Politics is bad, the visitor learns, as if Israeli democracy is not one of Zionism's achievements. There is no mention of the Supreme Court. Most of these films, though, are of the tourism PR genre - filmed from above, Israel seems like a kind of local version of Hong Kong. "Wow," visitors will say - we didn't know we were so high-tech.
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