Culture, Israel, Politics

Che Herzl Reconsidered

Wanna “Che Herzl” T-shirt? Just surf your way over to Jewlicious and you’ll find it along with all kinds of other swag designed especially for those aspiring to be the coolest of the cool Jews.
Yep, I did a double take when I saw this one. I know there all too many leftists who are appalled at the sight of Che Guervara turned into a pop T-Shirt icon, but what on on earth are we supposed to make of Che Herzl?
Beyond Jewlicious’ shallow hipster-frumster chic, this image raises some interesting assumptions about the very meaning of Zionism itself. Indeed, there are many who fancy Zionism as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people.” This concept was made especially famous by Chaim Herzog during his remarks in response to the UN’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution in 1975:

Zionism is the name of the national movement of the Jewish people and is the modern expression of the ancient Jewish heritage. The Zionist ideal, as set out in the Bible, has been, and is, an integral part of the Jewish religion. Zionism is to the Jewish people what the liberation movements of Africa and Asia have been to their own people.

While I understand the substance of Herzog’s argument, I have to confess that this particular defense of the Zionist enterprise has always rung a little hollow for me. First of all, I’m not sure it’s all that accurate to describe Zionism as a national liberation movement – certainly not as we’ve come to understand this concept post WW II.

While its hard for us to admit, Zionism is the product of ideologies (i.e. 19th century European ethno-nationalism) that have fallen pretty far out of favor today. That’s why it feels like Herzog’s comparison of Zionism to the liberation movements of Africa and Asia is more than a little spurious. After all, those movements were uprisings of indigenous peoples against centuries of colonial oppression. By contrast, Zionism sought to create an ethnic Jewish presence in Palestine and ended up doing so at the expense of its current inhabitants.

Not surprisingly, Che himself considered Zionism “reactionary” (according to biographer Jon Lee Anderson). I know he’d be rolling in his unmarked grave if he knew that his face adorned the shirts of clueless American teenagers; I can only imagine the cartwheels he’d be doing upon learning that his image had now become fused with Theodor Herzl’s.

Anyhow, I’m not sure that reconceiving Zionism as a proto-national liberation movement is even all that compelling any more. Now that we’ve witnessed the post-modern travails of decolonized nations, we’re learning that “national liberation” might not necessarily be all that it’s cracked up to be. I’m not sure I have any good answers (certainly not one that would fit on a T-Shirt); I suppose I’m just suggesting it’s worth challenging the romanticizing of nationalism in all its various guises.

15 thoughts on “Che Herzl Reconsidered

  1. In reference to national liberation movement leaders, Ghandi’s comments on the subject are still quite relevant to this day:
    “And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb.”
    Also note that Gandhi’s theological argument against the Zionist movement was shard by the Rabbinical consensus of Herzl’s time, and throughout the proceeding millenniums.

  2. Many entered with $$$, purchased and subsequently worked the land.
    Many didn’t enter behind a gun nor was their liberation movement a religious one.

  3. The vast majority of the Jews in Palestine at the time Gandhi wrote that did “enter it under the shadow of the British gun”, just as he said. Also, while most were not notably religious, many still cited Biblical inspiration for their cause, as did Herzl in the quote above, which is Gandhi’s point. Furthermore, while they had bought some land, it was only a tiny fraction of what many were hoping to claim as Israel, particularly the more militant ones, who were quite active at the time Gandhi wrote the article. I recomend reading the whole article, and looking into why he said what he did rather than simply rejecting it.

  4. The only British guns involved were the ones firing on ships laden with Jewish emigrants and refugees. The British heavily restricted Jewish migration to the land, and actively worked to prevent it by breaking up and arresting those involved in the underground networks who smuggled Jews in.
    This is basic history. Did you just close your eyes and turn the pages when you got to that chapter?

  5. Rather, I’ve seen the immigration records of the British Mandate period which show hundreds of thousands of Jews legally immigrating to the region, far more than any other part of the world, as documented here:
    Granted, I know such facts are ignored in the abridged Zionist propaganda version of history are attempting to condescend me with, but they are relevant to Gandhi’s point none the less.

  6. The t-shirt may be a joke, but the issues it raises aren’t. The British mandate period was long enough and complex enough to contain various relationships between Jews and British guns; any sentence that begins “the only British guns involved” is going to be misleading, deliberately or not.

  7. Che Guervara was a dirty, vicious communist who advocated a nuclear first strike against the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    Shame on you, Shalom Rav, for defending that despicable man’s “honor.”

  8. I think Che would be spinning even more due to the fact that communism has largely fallen and the few remaining communist states are still terrible places to live if you aren’t among the political elite.

  9. Kari, this is nonsense. This is a man who swore an oath on Stalin’s picture after Stalin was already dead, and plenty was known by everyone about his brutalities. And Che himself executed many for being “reactionaries.”
    It’s decades later, and still there are so many “useful idiots” still beating the drum for that S.O.B.
    Why do I have to come over here to explain why Che Guevara was Not Okay? Does Jewschool really not have anyone on their roster who has a problem with this?
    I mean, I know you guys are all progressives, but do you really let hagiography of a brutal communist and…oh, forget it. I don’t have the patience to walk you through this one. Go on. Defend Che. Or stay silent as others do.
    I’ll stop interrupting your consensus. By all means. Continue.

  10. DK, I agree with you, although it seems like you are agreeing with Kari, not disagreeing with her – your first sentence is confusing in that context.
    I think a lot of progressive types are full of socialist revolutionary zeal – especially the young’ins who don’t know better – and look for heroes that exemplify what they think is a true revolutionary. And since Che was executed by the CIA – or a CIA trained group – he is immortalized as a martyr of the Capitalist Imperialist Pigs (i.e. America).
    Let’s remember that the mainstream Liberal/Socialist/Communist movements in America only began to distance themselves from complete infatuation and love for the Soviet Union after The Gulag Archipelago. It is a book that truly shocked the Western intellectual establishment, cataloging Soviet atrocities with a precision and detail they could not even pretend to deny, and is an absolute MUST for anyone who has not read it.

  11. There You Go Again, DK, with equating non-denouncement with praise. Besides, this wasn’t about Che’s actual crimes, but the silly equivalent of Herzl and Che in the context of “national liberation”. I’ve seen Bolivian kids, not necessarily communists, who have worn Che shirts for the exact same reason. So what’s wrong with Jewish and Israel kids doing the same in a stylized Herzl shirt? Aside from the reasons pointed out in the post, of course.
    Besides, Jewschool didn’t make the T-shirt. Go ahead and kvetch to Jewlicious. I’m waiting.

  12. Che, what a great guy. An executor of families(Land owners). He was a National Socialist like Hitler. Hitler was just much more successful in killing evil oppressors(Jews).

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