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The Second Herzl

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ON YOM KIPPUR eve last week, when real Jews were praying for their lives, I sat on the seashore of Tel Aviv, thinking.

I was thinking about our state, the State of Israel, in which I have, so to speak, a founder's share.

Will it endure? Will it be here in another 100 years? Or is it a passing episode, a historic fluke?

When asked for his assessment of the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai famously replied: "It's too early to tell."

The Zionist Revolution -- and that's what it was -- started more than a hundred years after the French one. It is certainly much too early to tell.

ONCE, IN a more cheerful mood, I told my friends: "Perhaps we are all wrong. Perhaps Israel is not really the final shape of the Zionist enterprise. Like the planners of every great project, the Zionists decided first to build a 'pilot,' a prototype, in order to test their scheme. Actually, we Israelis are only guinea pigs. Sooner or later another Theodor Herzl will come by and, after analyzing the faults and mistakes of this experiment, will draw up the blueprint of the real state, which will be far superior."

Herzl 2 will start by asking: where did Herzl 1 go wrong?

Herzl 1 visited Palestine only once, and that only for the express purpose of meeting the German emperor, whom he wanted to enlist for his enterprise. The Kaiser insisted on seeing him at the gate of Jerusalem, listened patiently to what he had to say and then purportedly commented to his aides: "It's a grand idea, but you can't do it with Jews!"

He meant the Jews he knew -- the members of a world-wide religious-ethnic community. Herzl intended to turn these into a modern-style nation, like the other modern nations of Europe.

Herzl was not a profound thinker, he was a journalist and dramatist. He -- and his successors -- saw the necessary transformation as basically a question of logistics. Get the Jews to Palestine, and everything will fall into place automatically. The Jews will become a normal people, a people ("Volk") like other peoples. A nation among nations.

BUT THE Jews of his day were neither a people nor a nation. They were something rather different.

Whilst anomalous in 19th century Europe, the Jewish Diaspora was quite normal 2000 years earlier. The large-scale social structure of that time was a network of Diasporas -- autonomous religious-ethnic entities dispersed throughout the "civilized" (Mediterranean) world. The ruling empires -- Persian, Alexandrine, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman -- recognized them as the natural fabric of society.

Nations in the modern territorial sense were then inconceivable. A Jew in Jerusalem did not belong to the same society as a Hellenist in Caesarea, only a hundred miles away. A Christian man in Alexandria could not marry the Jewish girl next door, but she could marry a Jewish man in far-away Antiochia.

Since then, Europe has changed many times, until the emergence of the modern nations. The Jews did not change. When Herzl looked for a solution to the "Jewish problem," they were still the same ethnic-religious Diaspora.

No problem, he thought, once I get them to Palestine, they will change.

BUT AN ethnic-religious community, living for millennia as a persecuted minority in a hostile environment, acquires a mentality of its own. It fears the "Goyish" government, the source of unending evil edicts. It sees everyone outside the community as a potential enemy, unless proven otherwise (and even then). It develops an intense sense of solidarity with members of its own community, even a thousand miles away, supporting them through thick and thin, whatever they do. In their helpless situation, the persecuted dream of a day of revenge, when they can do unto others as others have done unto them.

All this pervades their world-view, their religion and their traditions, transmitted from generation to generation. Jews have prayed to God for centuries, year after year, on Pesach eve: "Pour your wrath upon the Goyim..."

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Gush

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