FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Political Ritual at Herzl’s Tomb

by NICOLA PERUGINI

A visit to a grave is often part of the political rituals that presidents and other political representatives include in their schedules during their State visits. In spite of the apparent mechanicity and automatism behind these gestures, they still constitute valid spaces from which we can expose the crucial political intentions they embody.

What is the meaning of Obama paying tribute to the founder of modern political Zionism in his last visit to Israel/Palestine? Which questions does this gesture raise on the latest US “broker of deceit”, to borrow the title of Rashid Khalidi’s recent book on the history of the relationship between the US administrations and the Palestinian question?

Well, a visit to Thedor Herzl’s tomb in one of the most unbalanced trips of a US president to Israel/Palestine can hardly be interpreted as an act of routine diplomacy. While expressing his unilateral support for Israel’s “dispossession in security”, perhaps Obama showed his will to support the foundational constitution of Israel in its most problematic guise.

As we know, Herzl is  author of “The Jewish State” (1896),  in which the author develops the organizational and ideological manifesto of modern political Zionism. The pamphlet contains the  coordinates for  transferring  the discriminated Jewish population of Europe to Palestine or to another “empty land”.  And this is also one of the first texts in which for the first time the solution to the “Jewish question” is articulated as a project of colonization and a civilizing mission:

“Should the Powers declare themselves willing to admit our sovereignty over a neutral piece of land, then the Society will enter into negotiations for the possession of this land. Here two territories come under consideration, Palestine and Argentine. In both countries important experiments in colonization have been made, though on the mistaken principle of a gradual infiltration of Jews. An infiltration is bound to end badly. It continues till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened, and forces the Government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless we have the sovereign right to continue such immigration”[1].

Manifesting his preference for a “Palestinian solution”, Herzl continues: “Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force of marvelous potency. If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism”[2].

Like an Orientalist of his time, Herzl theorizes the necessity of a Jewish state in a non-empty land using a military vocabulary of aggression: a rampart against Asia and anoutpost of civilization. Those who inhabit the land of the Jewish state to come are described as a barbarous population, the uncivilized to be redeemed.

Herzl’s settler-colonial vision –a military-like immigration protected by European powers that would have and has unavoidably resulted in depopulation, expulsion and ethnic cleansing– was inspired by a kind of Orientalism that is even more manifest and explicit in his 1902 novel “Altneuland” (“The Old New Land”): a novel in which the pioneer of political Zionism is even more explicitly Orientalist than in “The Jewish State”.  In what is misleadingly considered his “utopian” novel –misleadingly because those were the years in which Zionism was precisely looking for a non-utopian solution– Herzl describes Palestine after the first Jewish immigrations as a “new society”, by that meaning more civilized than the indigenous population. Palestinians are depicted as the recalcitrant remnants of a despicable rural backwardness, and their children as “grown up like dumb beasts”.  The novel contains the classical array of Orientalist stereotypes about Arabs.

Thus, we may ponder the meaning of visiting Herzl’s tomb while stating the un-discussable right of Israel to remain the kind of Jewish state that it is. Is the kind of idea of Jewish state that Obama has in mind founded on Herzl’s premises? Does Obama recognize himself in an outpost-rampart-state to be protected as a colonial frontier against barbarism? If Israel has been created and has developed and reproduced itself in a colonial framework like the one imagined by Herzl –the continuation of an experiment in colonization– is this the kind of Israel that Obama wants to support with millions of dollars? The political ritual on Herzl’s grave seems to suggest that the answer to all these questions is yes.

Nicola Perugini is an anthropologist who teaches at the Al Quds Bard Honors College in Jerusalem. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Notes. 

[1] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, 1896
[2] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, 1896
More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail