Herzl's portrait at Independence Hall 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
If the founding father of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, were alive today, he would be
disappointed with the country that emerged from his writings and political
activism, a large minority of Israelis said in a poll whose findings were
released on Saturday.
Keep Dreaming: The journey from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Herzl
In a survey conducted on behalf of the World Zionist Organization on the occasion of Herzl’s 151st birthday, marked last week, some 46
percent of respondents said the man who set the Zionist political movement in
motion would either be pleased or very pleased with Israel, while 39% said the
While a plurality of the public believes that Herzl would take
pride in the country he helped create, a substantial minority thinks the nation
has strayed from his original vision for a Jewish commonwealth in the Land of
Older respondents were more likely to think Herzl would look with
favor on the outcome of his efforts. Among the 66-plus age group, some 63% said
Herzl would be pleased with Israel, while 46% of the 18-to-35 age group thought
Prof. Ariel Feldstein, a historian and expert on Herzl’s life
and work, said the poll should be taken with a pinch of salt.
to the academic, tasked by the Prime Minister’s Office with presiding over state
commemorations of Herzl, only 20-30% of the public is truly knowledgeable about
“And that’s being optimistic,” Feldstein said. “If they knew
about his liberalism, his approach to religion, the relation between the army
and the state... the public would react differently to the question,” he
“On the religious level, he saw the relationship between rabbis and
the public as being more similar to the situation which exists in US
Jewry. Although Israel has many achievements, in some aspects it stands
opposed to the Herzlian ideals.”
Since Herzl’s death in 1904 at the age of 44, the
Austro-Hungarian journalist-turned-visionary has loomed large over the Zionist
movement and the state.
His bearded image adorns the walls of countless
government office and classrooms and is used by companies to sell products. For
instance, a cellular phone company is currently running an ad campaign using a
famous photo of Herzl standing on a balcony in the Swiss city of Basel to sell
To mark Herzl’s 151st birthday, the World Zionist
Organization – founded at the First Zionist Congress held in 1897 at which Herzl
presided as chairman – organized a gathering at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on
Saturday night attended by 1,500 youths. The event included a “flash mob,” a
coordinated group dance.
While such educational events help teach young
Israelis basic facts about the life and times of the founder of modern political
Zionism, they frequently fail to transcend the superficial.
relate the story of how one of my children once came to me and asked me what
Herzl’s surname was,” Feldstein said. “In many ways, Herzl has become an icon
like Madonna – or even, dare I say, Jesus.”