Theodor Herzl through the Eyes of a Non-Zionist Contemporary

Neil Rogachevsky
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Jan. 14 2022
About Neil

Neil Rogachevsky teaches at the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and writes a monthly column for Mosaic.

In his own day, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) was one of Europe’s most popular authors, famous for his historical biographies and short stories—which often revolved around the cosmopolitan and urbane world of pre-World War I Vienna. In 1901, the young Zweig met Theodor Herzl—then at the height of his career as a Zionist leader—who hired him to write feuilletons (long-form columns) for the Die Neue Freie Presse, a prestigious Viennese newspaper where Herzl worked as an editor. Neil Rogachevsky comments on Zweig’s description of Herzl in his memoir, The World of Yesterday:

Vienna, and especially Jewish Vienna, was put off by [Herzl’s] Zionism, but probably mostly thought it was comical and ridiculous. Perhaps it flattered [Viennese Jews’] pride that they were immune from a messianic contagion that had affected their brethren—former brethren?—in the East. . . . [I]t’s worth trying to reconstruct the perspective of a well-meaning but rather skeptical observer that day.

“This powerful man,” [writes Zweig], “clearly struck a nerve in the oppressed Jewish masses of the East. He promised them that the hour of redemption was a possibility, and that it could be brought forth through a political rather than a spiritual awakening combined with a single-minded and practical devotion to the cause. But is this not merely Jewish history repeating itself in tragic rhymes? Is not Jewish history replete with examples of leaders who promise the people redemption and lead them only to their ruin? How different really is this Herzl from Shabtai Zvi? Why would this time be any different? The only difference between this failed messiah and the last is that now we have reasonable hopes that the situation of the Jews will improve rather than deteriorate.”

This perspective was not at all crazy and in fact wasn’t unreasonable. But Herzl saw that the age to come was not to be reasonable. . . . Jewish history, like all of history but perhaps more so, is full of ironies. Though he died thinking himself a failure, Herzl’s dream would ultimately be realized—though only in part and at tremendous cost. The comfortable and brilliant world of Jewish Vienna was utterly destroyed, never to return. But few could see this, and even among those who “see” the boundary between delusion and true political insight may be quite thin. Most ordinary people just have to judge by the results, at a later historical time, when comfortably in the grip of a new set of illusions.

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Read more at Going Rogue

More about: Austrian Jewry, History of Zionism, Stefan Zweig, Theodor Herzl

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship