Opinion

If Only Israel's Culture Minister Read Herzl's Utopian Novel

Herzl was a typical post-Zionist, a supporter of a country for all its citizens. This should suffice for the hooligans of Im Tirtzu to burn his books in the streets

That’s all poor Herzl needed – that of all people Miri Regev would be hitching him to her empty wagon on Facebook.

A passage from Herzl’s utopian novel “Altneuland” which came to Culture Minister Miri Regev’s attention greatly gladdened her. “The book’s protagonists visit the Temple Mount,” she tells her followers, adding with somewhat awkward irony: “Just don’t let the New [Israel] Fund know…” The ministerial conclusion is obvious: Herzl was also a messianic Jew who yearned for the restoration of a Temple à la Smotrich.

Regev has never read “Altneuland.” If she had she’d know that the temple envisaged by Herzl was not located on the Temple Mount. In the book he describes the mosque continues to stand there. The temple he visits on Friday night has no Cohanim or Levites, and even animal carcasses are absent. There is only a cantor and choir singing a Sabbath-welcoming song, accompanied by musical instruments. In other words, the temple resembles a Reform synagogue more than the bleeding slaughterhouse which Regev and her like-minded associates dream about. And Herzl’s Old City of Jerusalem is – for shame – under international jurisdiction – yech!

Herzl’s utopian novel “Altneuland.”

But these are but trifles. If the minister were to read the entire book she would rush to cast it with demonstrative disdain into the nearest dustbin, as if it were a smelly rat carcass. That is because the Herzl of “Altneuland” is an enlightened liberal, a confirmed anti-racist, extremely anti-clerical and a totally secular person. Everything Regev loathes deeply and vociferously.

Thus, for example, the villain in “Altneuland” is a rabbi called Geyer, a clear reference to a carrion-eating bird, geier in German. Herzl has his protagonists calling Geyer a fanatic zealot, an inciter who misleads people and mocks God, a scoundrel who tries to spread intolerance.

“Now he is the patriot, the nationalist Jew. And we — we are the friends of the alien. If we listened to him, he would make us out to be bad Jews or even strangers in his Palestine…. Therefore, the instincts of the masses must be flattered. A theory for the immediate advantage of the masses must be found, or at least for what the masses imagine to be to their immediate advantage. Therefore, an anti-alien slogan is proclaimed: “A non-Jew must not be accepted by the New Society.”

“We stand and fall by the principle that whoever has given two years’ service to the New Society as prescribed by our rules, and has conducted himself properly, is eligible to membership no matter what his race or creed… I say to you, therefore, that you must hold fast to the things that have made us great: to liberality, tolerance, love of mankind” (Jewish Virtual Library translation).

Theodor Herzl.
Getty Images

He continues by saying that the New Society does not ask a person what his race or religion is – he must only be a human being in order to be included. Minister Regev would be happy to sign off on all of this.

This is but a sample. There are numerous other incisive and enlightened passages in “Altneuland,” relating to morality, equality, human rights, education and labor, culture and academe, ultra-nationalism versus enlightenment.

In short, Herzl was a typical post-Zionist, a supporter of a country for all its citizens. This should suffice for Regev to immediately slash any financial support Herzl receives from the state and for the hooligans of Im Tirtzu to burn his books in the streets.

In 1902 Herzl presented his vision to Lord Nathaniel Rothschild in London. He received a blunt and worried reaction: “I tell you very frankly that I should view with horror the establishment of a Jewish colony pure and simple …it would be a Ghetto with the prejudices of a Ghetto; it would be a small petty Jewish state, orthodox and illiberal, excluding the Gentile and the Christian.”Herzl’s vision has remained a vision. Lord Rothschild’s nightmare is playing out daily, in no small part due to “Rabbi” Regev, who with photogenic alacrity pays homage to the graves of “Geyers” and their ilk.