Theodor Herzl’s “The Menorah” and the Connection between Jewish Nationalism and Jewish Faith

Nov. 29 2018

In a short story published in December 1897—a few months after the First Zionist Congress—Theodor Herzl described a European Jew who, after going through adulthood indifferent to his people and to the religion of his ancestors, decides to “to return to Judaism.” He therefore, for the first time in many years, lights Hanukkah candles with his family and reflects on the holiday’s meaning. Analyzing this very short piece of fiction, titled “The Menorah,” Daniel Polisar explains that for Herzl Zionism was not only about providing an escape from anti-Semitism, but about making possible a renewal of Jewishness itself. Nor was Herzl the strict secularist he is sometimes imagined to be, but someone deeply invested in the Jewish religion, albeit in an idiosyncratic way. (Interview by Alan Rubenstein. Audio, 48 minutes. Options for download and streaming are available at the link below.)

To enroll in Polisar’s seven-part online course on Herzl, click here.

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More about: Hanukkah, History & Ideas, Judaism, Theodor Herzl, Zionism

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela