From 1996 to 2012, the Tikvah Fund, under the auspices of the Shalem Center, published Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation. The Tikvah Forum will be a place to rediscover some of the excellent content from that magazine. In this Azure piece from Summer 2005, Natan Sharansky argues in favor of Theodor Herzl’s vision of a state that enables its various communities to give voice to their unique heritage and culture, on the one hand, but carefully preserves their shared Judaism on the other.
At the Tikvah Center, we just completed a study of various aspects of Herzl’s thought and legacy in a week long course taught by Allan Arkush and Ran Baratz entitled “Herzl, His Critics and His Successors.” This course is part of the Advanced Institute entitled “Moments of Decision, Great Debates.” Stay up to date on more institutes and events that explore the roots of Zionism and their impact on the current dilemmas of the Jewish State.
The Political Legacy of Theodor Herzl
By Natan Sharansky | Originally published in Azure, Summer 2005
The distinctive nationality of Jews neither can, will, nor must be destroyed. It cannot be destroyed, because external enemies consolidate it. It will not be destroyed; this is shown during two thousand years of appalling suffering. It must not be destroyed, and that, as a descendant of numberless Jews who refused to despair, I am trying once more to prove in this pamphlet.3
Upcoming Related Courses:
Zionist Statesmanship: Ben Gurion and Begin (Summer 2014)
with Daniel Gordis
Jews, Power, and the Bible (Summer 2014)
with Micah Goodman and Clifford Orwin
Israeli Grand Strategy
Coming Fall 2014
Present and Past Related Courses:
Moments of Decision, Great Debates (Fall 2013)
with Ran Baratz, Allan Arkush, and more
Israeli Grand Strategy (Fall 2013)
with Uzi Arad
Because the Jews showed no inclination to disappear as a collective, the nations of the world would continue to treat them as a separate people in their midst. For this reason, the problem of anti-Semitism could not be understood purely as a function of economics or class, nor as one that could be resolved by treating the Jews solely as individuals in need of equal rights. “The Jewish Question,” he wrote, “is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question, which can only be solved by making it a political-world question to be discussed and settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.”4 Only when a national solution was found would the problem be solved, not because all Jews would choose to live in Israel—Herzl never believed this would happen—but because the root cause of anti-Semitism would finally have disappeared.
It was thus that Herzl believed that after the establishment of a Jewish state, even those Jews who remained in the Diaspora would stand to benefit. “[They] would be able to assimilate in peace,” he wrote, “because the present anti-Semitism would have been stopped forever. They would certainly be credited with being assimilated to the very depths of their souls, if they stayed where they were after the new Jewish state, with its superior institutions, had become a reality.”5 In Herzl’s view, any Jew who chose not to be part of the Jewish national liberation was in effect declaring a more profound allegiance to his host nation than to the Jewish one; by remaining in France, for example, a Jew would testify to believing himself more French than Jewish. For Jews like these the establishment of a Jewish state would mean that their acceptance by French society would finally be complete, untainted by the suspicion of dual national loyalty.
In tune with the positivistic spirit of the age, Herzl assumed that for every problem there was a rational solution. Applied to the problem of anti-Semitism, Herzl’s analysis may today seem naïve and overly ambitious, ignoring as it does the profoundly religious roots of anti-Semitism, and attempting to pinpoint a single cause for what is really a complex phenomenon spanning thousands of years. Yet even if his analysis of anti-Semitism was oversimplified, he foresaw its consequences with stunning accuracy. He was, in fact, the only Jewish leader of his time who understood the calamity that was about to befall European Jewry. As he wrote in his diary:
I cannot imagine what appearance and form this will take. Will it be expropriation by some revolutionary force from below? Will it be proscription by some reactionary force from above? Will they banish us? Will they kill us? I expect all these forms and others.
Elsewhere he put it this way: “It will overtake even Hungarian Jews with brutality, and the longer it takes to come, the worse it will be. The stronger they [the Jews] become, the more bestial will it be. There is no escaping it.”7 And indeed, catastrophe struck as Herzl predicted. Far too late, both the Jews and the world at large were persuaded that without a national home, the Jewish people could not survive.
Natan Sharansky is a Distinguished Fellow at the Shalem Center. He is former minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs. His latest book was The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, with Ron Dermer (Public Affairs, 2004).
More about: • Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism • Zionism
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