At the recent biennial convention of the Democratic Socialists of America, a non-profit organization claiming to be the largest socialist organization in the US, with a membership of 25,000, passed a resolution supporting the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Fully 90% of those present voted in favor. The convention, held in Chicago, attracted the largest number ever of participants.
The voting took place on August 5, a Shabbat, thereby preventing the participation of Sabbath-observant Jewish members.
The result was met with wild applause, with the DSA attendees chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The implication of this slogan is that the sole Jewish state will be eliminated and supplanted by a non-Jewish state called Palestine.
While the DSA is not a political party, it has a close association with the Democratic Party’s presidential aspirant, Bernie Sanders, who received the group’s enthusiastic support during the 2016 primaries and included its honorary chair, virulent anti-Zionist Cornel West, in his platform team at the DNC convention.
I could not help thinking of the timing of the DSA convention, taking place within three weeks of the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress held in Basel on the August 29, 1897. How would Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, view this attitude toward Israel today? Following the conclusion of the three-day Zionist Congress, Herzl noted in his diary, “At Basel, I founded the Jewish state.” A major impetus for his activism was his reporting on the Dreyfus affair. In 1891, when Herzl was the Paris correspondent for the liberal Vienna newspaper Neue Freie Presse, a wave of French antisemitism broke out following the court martial of a Jewish army officer falsely accused of espionage and sent to prison. Army captain Alfred Dreyfus was divested of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in January 1895 as the mob shouted “Death to the Jews.” This and the rise to power of Dr. Karl Lueger, an unabashedly antisemitic leader, in municipal elections in Vienna, Herzl’s hometown, convinced Herzl that the Jews needed a state of their own.
Herzl believed that the formation of a Jewish state would bring about the elimination of antisemitism.
How wrong he was. Today we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in Jew-hatred disguised as anti-Zionism.
It is acceptable to be against Israel, which is home to the largest number of Jews.
The late Robert Wistrich, a historian and expert on antisemitism with whom I once had the great privilege of sharing a platform, produced a paper on Herzl in which he said, “Herzl, impregnated by classical German culture, never dreamed that the highly educated Germans whom he so admired would mass-murder the Jews across Europe, or their wouldbe radical Muslim imitators would repeatedly call for the physical annihilation of Israel.”
It follows that Herzl could not have imagined today’s free Western liberal world appearing to have no problem with antisemitism. Whether it is the current leader of Britain’s Labour Party and his followers or the Democratic Socialists of America – in both, an aspect of the situation of particular concern is the support they receive from their young “educated” membership.
This is especially galling in light of the fact that historically Jews tend to support Socialist parties both in the UK and the US.
While Herzl could not have envisaged the genocide carried out by the cultured Germans (home to Goethe, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Bach, among others) he equally could never have imagined that Islam would produce fanatical Muslims of the likes of Ahmadinejad, calling for the annihilation of Israel.
How would Herzl have viewed the “politically correct” European journalists who hesitate in identifying those who carry out jihad attacks in the midst of London and Paris and equally hesitant in calling them terrorists? Herzl thought that once the Jews became a nation like other nations they would be accepted. As we witness the virulent anti-Israel attacks worldwide, we see how naive his vision was.
This then is the downside – but there is an upside.
Could Herzl have visualized the extent to which the state for the Jews would develop? The New York Post recently published an article entitled, “Israel’s tech startups are giving Silicon Valley a run for its money.”
Today there are some 4,300 start-ups operating in Israel. On August 5, The Nature Index 2017, a digital publication that examines the connection between high-quality research and the commercialization of new products and services, placed the Weizmann Institute of Science in sixth place in the international ranking of the top 200 research institutions and in first place outside of the United States. Not to mention our Nobel Prize winners – 12 Israelis out of a population of 7.9 million, the highest rate per capita in the world.
Perhaps the most significant part of Herzl’s dream that has been fulfilled is that there is now a place where it is okay to be Jewish. In a mere 69 years, this tiny country – surrounded by enemies and fighting for survival time and again – has absorbed millions of refugees, including some 800,000 Jews thrown out of their homes in Arab countries when the State of Israel was established in 1948.
Back in 1998, when I was a new immigrant attending ulpan, the teacher spoke about the Palestinian refugee problem created as a result of Israel winning the War of Independence. I asked her why she did not talk about the Jewish Arab refugees created at the same time. Her response “We don’t have refugees – we only have new immigrants.”
It was the late Robert Frost, an American poet, who said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” This, then, is the outcome of Herzl’s vision, and,as we look around the world today, every Jew in every place can take joy and comfort in Herzl’s vision becoming a reality. The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.
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