The new Jerusalem Program, adopted by the Zionist General Council in June 2004, is testimony not only to the ongoing relevance of Herzl’s dreams, but also to the determination of the Zionist movement he founded to address emerging realities. Anti-Semitism may not have vanished, as Herzl predicted it would, and the ideal social order he portrayed in his 1902 utopian novel “Old-New Land” is yet to emerge. But the old-new Jerusalem Program is an unequivocal declaration that the will to meet these challenges is as resolute as ever.
Theodor Herzl far too often is perceived mistakenly as having concerned himself exclusively with seeking a political and territorial solution to the “Jewish question.” The visionary of the Jewish state also was a passionate advocate of fashioning a utopian society in the Land of Israel.
“Those of us who are today prepared to hazard our lives for the Zionist cause would regret having raised a finger if we were able to organize only a new social system and not a more righteous one,” he declared more than a century ago.
Zionism, Herzl was convinced, not only would bring about an end to anti-Semitism by doing away with the abnormality of Jewish homelessness, but also would give birth to a community characterized by social justice, equal opportunity and the fair distribution of resources.
Unfortunately we cannot escape the conclusion that Herzl was wrong on both counts. Jews around the world are facing a virulent wave of anti-Semitism on a scale not witnessed since the Holocaust. And Israeli society is plagued by a multiplicity of problems far too serious to dismiss as simply being those that characterize any Western democracy.
But that his prophesy has heretofore gone unfulfilled diminishes neither its relevance nor its power to inspire. Only two months before he died, Herzl bequeathed to future generations an ethical will that remains as pertinent today as it was a century ago.
“I truly believe that even after we possess our land, Zionism will not cease to be an ideal,” he wrote. “For Zionism includes not only the yearning for a plot of promised land legally acquired for our weary people, but also the yearning for moral and spiritual fulfillment.”
There is no better way to honor the father of the Jewish state on the 100th anniversary of his passing, which we commemorated July 9, than to internalize the meaning of these words. They effectively undermine the position of those who say the time has come to lay Zionism to rest alongside its founder, belying the argument that the national liberation movement of the Jewish people exhausted its mandate with the establishment of the State of Israel.
It is in this context that the gathering of the World Zionist Organization in Jerusalem last month was so significant. Rededicating itself to the ideals of its founding father, the WZO amended its platform, the Jerusalem Program, for the first time since 1967 and only the third time in its 107-year history.
In doing so, it adopted an agenda that is both exceedingly contemporary and refreshingly traditional. This agenda now includes an entirely new plank stating that Zionism is about fashioning the Jewish state and not only defending it.
If for the first century of its existence the Zionist movement was preoccupied with bringing Israel into being and guaranteeing its survival, the movement has now determined that it must also be concerned with the character of Israeli society.
In an extraordinary expression of solidarity and singularity of purpose, the 160 delegates from 28 countries pledged themselves unanimously to “strengthening Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state, and shaping it as an exemplary society (chevrat mofet) with a unique moral and spiritual character marked by mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people, rooted in the vision of the prophets, striving for peace and contributing to the betterment of the world (tikkun olam).” , These delegates represented the entire political spectrum, the three major streams of Judaism and 10 diverse international Jewish organizations.
The platform also advances a global Jewish agenda for the Zionist movement, emphasizing the mutual responsibility that Jews in Israel and the diaspora have in working together to assure their continuity and common future; asserting the centrality of Israel in Jewish life; calling for aliyah from all countries; encouraging Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education, and the fostering of unique spiritual and cultural values; promoting the struggle against anti-Semitism; and supporting settlement as an expression of practical Zionism.
This revised manifesto is testimony not only to the ongoing relevance of Herzl’s dreams, but also to the determination of the Zionist movement he founded to address emerging realities. Anti-Semitism may not have vanished, and the ideal social order he portrayed in his 1902 utopian novel “Old-New Land” is yet to emerge. But the old-new Jerusalem Program of 2004 is an unequivocal declaration that the will to meet these challenges is as resolute as ever and that, according to Herzl, should be a harbinger of good things to come.