The highly skewed lineup chosen by NPR for its in depth series on the Mideast conflict led to a predictably poor start on Monday with the airing of “Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress.” No doubt guided by the tendentious “experts” he had assembled, host Mike Shuster asserted with no equivocation that:
The idea of a modern state for the Jews emerged from the mind of Theodor Herzl, for whom Zionism was political and had nothing to do with Judaism, the religion, says Avi Shlaim, author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
Shlaim then stated:
Herzl was an assimilated Viennese Jew, a journalist and a playwright. He was completely secular and he had no particular attachment to the Jewish religion. As he conceived it, the idea of a Jewish state was a secular idea.
Shuster’s statement, and Shlaim’s answer, are utter nonsense, but nonsense with a clear purpose. Indeed, as Professor Amitai Etzioni put it in a review of a book by Shlaim, “Israeli revisionism is linked to a drive to end the Zionist project and revoke the notion that Israel is a Jewish state.” (The Weekly Standard, January 17, 2001)
But contrary to Shlaim and Shuster, Herzl did want a Jewish state, as discussed in depth by Yoram Hazony in his essay “Did Herzl Want a Jewish State.” (Azure, Spring 2000). Herzl in fact had a deep attachment to the Jewish religion, and thought that such an attachment was crucial if Zionism was to succeed. A selection of Herzl’s writings as quoted by Hazony proves just how ludicrous are NPR’s claims. Let’s start with the essay Menora in which, as Hazony writes, Herzl described the joy of turning his back on Christmas and for the first time lighting the Hanuka candelabrum with his children:
Gradually his soul became one bleeding wound. Now this secret psychic torment had the effect of steering him to its source, namely, his Jewishness, with the result that he experienced a change that might never have taken place in better days…. He began to love Judaism with a great fervor. At first he did not fully acknowledge this… but finally it grew so powerful… that there was only one way out… namely, to return to Judaism. (Die Welt, December 31, 1897)
And hardly the devout secularist portrayed by NPR, Herzl freely invoked God in his plans:
By means of our state, we can educate our people for tasks which still lie beyond our horizon. For God would not have preserved our people for so long if we did not have another destiny in the history of mankind. (Herzl, Briefe und Tagebuecher, vol. 2, pp. 128- 129)
Herzl also believed that a return to Judaism was essential for the success of Zionism, and resolved that his children would be better educated in their religion than was he:
Perhaps the generation that had grown up under the influence of other cultures was no longer capable of that return [to Judaism] which he had discovered as the solution. But the next generation, provided it were given the right guidance early enough, would be able to do so. He therefore tried to make sure that his own children, at least, would be shown the right way. He was going to give them a Jewish education from the very beginning. (Menora)
And here Herzl wrote of the dangers of growing apart from Judaism:
The atrocities of the Middle Ages were unprecedented, and the people who withstood those tortures must have had some great strength, an inner unity which we have lost. A generation which has grown apart from Judaism does not have this unity. It can neither rely upon our past nor look to our future. That is why we shall once more retreat into Judaism and never again permit ourselves to be thrown out of this fortress…. We shall thereby regain our lost inner wholeness and along with it a little character – our own character. Not a Marrano-like, borrowed, untruthful character, but our own. (“Judaism,” in Oesterreichische Wochenschrift, November 13, 1896)
In stark contrast to NPRs portrayal, Herzl’s firm belief was that only faithful Jews could regain their greatness as a nation:
Let the cowardly, assimilated, baptized Jews remain…. We faithful Jews, however, will once again become great. (Herzl diary, June 7, 1895, p. 36)
And as for Rabbis, Herzl the supposed secularist wrote:
The rabbis will be pillars of my organization, and I shall honor them for it. They will arouse the people, instruct them… and enlighten them…. (Herzl diary, June 15, 1895, p. 104.)
The appeal [to emigrate] will be included in the religious service, and properly so. We recognize our historic unity only by the faith of our fathers…. (Herzl, The Jewish State, p. 81; Herzl diary, June 14, 1895, p. 151.)
Could the secularist Herzl portrayed by NPR ever utter the phrase “faith of our fathers?”
Finally, Herzl planned that the state would build synagogues in each town that would be “visible from afar, for the old faith is the only thing that has kept us together.” (Herzl, The Jewish State, p. 59).
Only in the looking glass world inhabited by NPR and “historians” like Avi Shlaim could Herzl and the Zionist movement be portrayed as “completely secular” with “no particular attachment to the Jewish religion.”
NPR, and Mike Shuster, it seems, have done it again. Let the listener beware.
For links to more of CAMERA’s critique of the series, click here.