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Jubilee of the World Zionist Organization
Artist: Unattributed

The Hebrew caption in this poster reads, “Jubilee of the World Zionist Organization” (WZO), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1947.

The graphic depicts Theodor Herzl, who is recognized as the driving force behind the emergence of political Zionism in the late 19th century and the establishment of the state of Israel in the mid-20th century. Two flags are displayed: on the left is Herzl’s original design for the Zionist movement, and on the right is the design that eventually was adopted as the official flag of Israel. This poster was published eight months before Israel declared its independence (May 14, 1948) in homage to the man most responsible for synthesizing all the various, and often incompatible and fractious, streams of Zionism into an effective nation-building force.

Herzl is essentially invisible to secular Americans. Though he is responsible for the movement that led to the establishment of the state of Israel and for the emergence of Zionism as a force in American political affairs, few Americans know anything about him.


A thoughtful, cultured man, Herzl was a graduate of the prestigious University of Vienna, an author (The Jewish State, 1896), playwright (The Ghetto, 1894), and novelist (Altneuland [German: Old New Land], 1902). In 1896, as the Paris correspondent for Vienna’s liberal newspaper Die Neue Freie Presse, he covered the treason trial of the unjustly accused Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French Army. The conviction of Dreyfus was ultimately overturned, causing the French government to grant him a full pardon in 1906.

It was in Paris, as he witnessed the angry and ugly response of the French mob to the accusations against Dreyfus, that Herzl began to believe that anti-Semitism was a deeply embedded, permanent force in human society. Attempts at assimilation, he believed, were doomed to fail because anti-Semitism could never be eradicated. Herzl began to see the mass immigration of Jewish individuals and communities to a Jewish national homeland as the only effective method of responding to anti-Semitism.

One of the unforeseen dilemmas that this visionary Zionist failed to consider was that by embracing the idea that anti-Semitism was immutable Zionism effectively cast the dark shadow of anti-Semitic thought, if not action, on everyone in perpetuity.

This insinuation, if accepted at face value, renders the fundamental, socially therapeutic principles of popular democracy null relative to anti-Semitism. It means that even though popular democracy as practiced in the contemporary United States has made enormous strides dealing with a vast range of historical injustices including slavery, indentured servitude, the disenfranchisement of women, discrimination against immigrants and minorities, and homophobia, it can never effectively address anti-Semitism and should not even try to do so. Herzl’s fatalistic vision clashes with that of many contemporary social and political activists in the U.S., including many Jewish citizens, who believe that anti-Semitism can and must be confronted and addressed as part of the social compact that exists between citizens and the Constitution.

Herzl’s was a 19th century perspective, one that was forged in the crucible of violent, virulent, and widespread European anti-Semitism. Reasonable people can sympathize with his motivations and understand the thinking behind his vision of a Jewish state that would be secular, tolerant and, as described in early Zionist rhetoric, “a light unto the nations.” Herzl’s ideas were logical in his time, given the contemporary success of the European colonial models and the willingness of the Jewish community to engage in a redemptive colonial exodus to Palestine.

Herzl was not alone in his perception of anti-Semitism as immutable. Emma Lazarus, the renowned Jewish poetess and author of the poem “The New Colossus,” engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, was a champion of the dispossessed and also of the heroic, inclusionary qualities of the American democratic myth. She said, “The Jewish problem is as old as history, and assumes in each age a new form.”

Some argue that today’s “new form” of anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism. In fact, opposition to the religiously justified irredentist movement begun by Herzl has evolved into a modern social and political taboo, confusing anti-Semitism with secular American opposition to Israel’s practices and policies.

Conflation of the terms anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism has had the effect of exempting Zionism from critical public debate — in violation of the historic relationship between the people and the Constitution — and stifling any legitimated secular voice of opposition to Zionism and its principles. This is the central problematic feature of the frictions between the Israel solidarity movement in the U.S. and those American citizens who, for whatever reason, prefer not to be part of the Zionist enterprise. (For more on this subject, read Antonym/Synonym).

Thomas Jefferson said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” (Source: Bill for Religious Freedom, 1779.)

Lazarus’ point that “the Jewish problem” assumes a new form in each age needs to be taken seriously, but the particular form in which anti-Semitism exists today must be differentiated from the right of secular Americans to not “furnish contributions” to movements in which they do not believe.

Herzl’s dream of security and dignity for the Jewish people was revolutionary and visionary for his time, and his work successfully led to a national home for the Jewish people — the modern state of Israel. However, the ideas underpinning the Zionist colonial movement have often clashed with disastrous results for the Jewish immigrants to Palestine, the indigenous Palestinians, the inhabitants of the surrounding countries, and the broader international community. They have also laid the foundations for credible claims that Zionism is a threat to the health of popular democracy in the U.S.

© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.

Questions for A New
Democratic Discussion

1) What might Herzl say today about his vision for Israel or about his belief that anti-Semitism is a permanent part of the human condition?

2) What evidence is there that anti-Semitism is immutable? What evidence is there that it is not? What opposition is there, within Israel and the United States, to the idea of immutable, or “eternal” anti-Semitism?

3) How does one explain the apparent contradiction that Emma Lazarus celebrated the United States as both a welcoming haven for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and as a place where anti-Semitism is immune to the antiseptic of participatory democracy?

4) If Lazarus’ statement that anti-Semitism assumes a new form in each new age is true, what are the characteristics of contemporary American anti-Semitism? How does it relate to or differ from contemporary European anti-Semitism and American anti-Zionism?

5) What actually happens when, as Jefferson would prefer, citizens refuse to “furnish contributions” for the propagation of opinions with which they disagree? Does his maxim apply to the question of U.S. economic support for the state of Israel?



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