Cross-posted from Gush Shalom
That was not a usual gesture. Foreign heads of state are obliged to visit Yad Vashem, as did the pope, but not the grave of Herzl. It is not like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.
So why Herzl's grave? Obviously, this gesture was intended to emphasize the Zionist character of the state.
Herzl was the founder of modern political Zionism. He is officially called "the Visionary of the State." His is the only picture decorating the Knesset plenum hall. If we had saints, he would be St. Theodor.
PROBABLY, FRANCIS did not give another thought to this gesture. If so, it's a pity. The Argentine Pope could have found a lot of interest in this colorful Viennese journalist and playwright.
Because if Herzl had had his way, Francis would have been greeted by President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Spanish. He would have honored Herzl's grave in the Jewish State somewhere south of Buenos Aires.
If Francis had never heard of this episode, he is not the only one. The vast mass of Israelis has not either. It is not taught in Israeli schools. It is hidden rather shamefully.
Israelis know about "Uganda." Shortly before his early death, Herzl was invited by the British government to implement his ideas in part of British East Africa (actually, it was the Kenyan highlands, a plateau with a mild climate, which later became a part of Kenya.)
By that time, Herzl had despaired of getting Palestine from the Turkish Sultan. The Kenyan project, which could be implemented at once, attracted him and his main supporter, Max Nordau, who advised him to take it at least temporarily, as a "night asylum."
But the Russian Zionists, the bulwark of the movement, rebelled. Palestine or nothing. Herzl was overruled by his admirers and died soon after of a broken heart, it was said.
THIS EPISODE is well known. Much has been written about it. Some would say that if during the 1930s a Jewish Commonwealth had existed in Africa, many European Jews could have been saved from the Nazis.
But the Argentine chapter has been erased. It did not fit the image of the Visionary of the State on the walls.
HERZL'S LONG trek to Zionism started when, as a Hungarian-born Jewish student in Vienna, he encountered anti-Semitism. His logical mind found the answer. Being a playwright, he described the scene: all Austrian Jews, except himself, would march in an orderly fashion to the Cathedral and convert en masse to Catholicism. The pope would have been enthusiastic.
However, Herzl soon learned that neither would the Jews accept baptism ("the Jews are afraid of water," Heinrich Heine once joked), but the nationalist Goyim did not dream of accepting them into their ranks. How could they? Jews were everywhere, in many different countries, so how could they sincerely join any national movement?
That's when Herzl had his historic insight: if the Jews could not join any of the national movements that were mushrooming in Europe, why shouldn't they constitute themselves as a separate, new-old nation?
For Herzl, that was a sober, rational idea. No God involved, no Holy Scriptures, no romantic nonsense. Palestine did not enter his mind. Nor had he any interest in the religious fantasies of Christian Zionists in Britain and the US, like Alfred Balfour.