Tsibi Geva | Israel

Altnoiland, 2000

Industrial paint on tin
60 / 250 / 6 cm

Courtesy of the artist

In 1902, Theodor Herzl published his utopian novel “Altneuland” (“The Old New Land”), in which he described the Jewish state to be established in Palestine in 1923. In doing so, Herzl not only provided an idealized description of the Zionist movement’s goal; he also provided the State of Israel - the product of Zionism - with a mirror for viewing itself in light of Herzl’s vision. Not many national movements have such an efficient tool for self-scrutiny.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the description of the election campaign that was to have taken place in 1923. The campaign focused on the rights of the country’s non-Jewish inhabitants. Contrary to what is sometimes said of Zionism - that it ignored the existence of Arabs in the country - the book reveals not only an awareness of the existence of the Arab population; the Jewish state is predicated on the concept that all its inhabitants, regardless of religion, race or gender, enjoy equal rights and the right to vote. These rights are extended not only to Arabs, but to women, though at the time the book was written no Western democracy had given women the vote.

In “Altneuland”, Herzl combined an ideal society with political realism. As one who had seen for himself the anti-European, anti-Jewish racism, he imagined that Jews could also be racists and inserted into his utopia the errant and disturbing image of a Jewish racist. But in contrast to Europe, where racism was victorious, in Zion and Jerusalem, it was defeated and the principles of equality and liberalism won.

A utopian novel? Contemporary reality? The moral of the story, of course, is crystal clear. It should be remembered that the motto of Altneuland is “If you will it, it is no dream.” It is in our hands.

Herzl’s vision of racism, Shlomo Avineri, Haaretz, 9.2.09