FCD co-hosts 120th anniversary of Altneuland on second night of Hanukkah – UN diplomats find inspiration in old novel by Theodor Herzl

UN Hanukkah FCD LafitteNew York, December 21st, 2022 – The Forum for Cultural Diplomacy (FCD) marked on Monday the 120th anniversary of the publication of Altneuland, the novel where Theodor Herzl spells out his utopian vision of a future national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In a panel discussion between FCD Co-Founder Gregory Lafitte and Economist Bruno Roche they both agreed that the utopia presented in the novel was not only a vision for an ideal Jewish state but a source of inspiration for the whole international community.

Roche went on to elaborate on the economic vision presented in the novel 120 years ago as a solution to the current systemic economic crisis. Although not a religious person, in Altneuland Theodor Herzl presents a blueprint for a society which is neither based on socialism nor on neoliberal capitalism but on the Biblical model of the Jubilee. Roche called it a mutualistic economic order. This model, of which one of its modern days expression can be referred to as the economics of mutuality, gives equal importance to the remuneration of the three pillars of the economy (that is people, land and capital), it repositions the purpose of the economy as to manage scarcities (and not only creating financial wealth) and to foster the creation value by solving societal and environmental problems — vs. profiting from creating societal and environmental problems. Roche’s argument is that the current economic crisis is conducive for the utopia imagined in Altneuland “to want to become a reality” (Martin Buber).

Citing Secretary-General António Guterres, EU Deputy Head of Mission Silvio Gonzato noted that the world is faced with either a systematic breakdown or a breakthrough. “In times of crisis and polarization Altneuland presents a realistic utopia which gives hope and inspiration for the times that we are living in,” he said. “Although originally written as a model society for a future Jewish state, Herzl’s vision included people of all religions and ethnic groups,” he added.

In his remarks the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, Chief Rabbi of Moscow Emeritus, Pinchas Goldschmidt explained how the democratic and pluralistic society envisioned in Altneuland today is a reality in modern Israel. He commended the co-host, the European Union, for the steps taken in fighting antisemitism and ensuring a future for Jewish people in Europe. Giving a concrete example of one of the practical measure of the EU’s strategy to fight antisemitism, he mentioned the recent conference in Brussels which brought together political and faith leaders in support of the Jewish and Muslim right to practice their religion by allowing for ritual slaughter in accordance with their respective traditions.

Explaining the motivation behind the work of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy, Dr Lafitte stressed the importance of not simply fighting antisemitism but learning to appreciate and celebrate Jewish life and culture. “Jewish culture has vitally contributed to and is now intertwined with the culture of most, if not all, of our nations,” he said.

As the event took place on the second night of Hanukkah, Co-founder of FCD Tomas Sandell closed the evening with a quote from one of the literary texts prepared for the event, Herzl’s short story, the Menorah.

Making a parallel to the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine he read:
”The darkness must retreat. The young and the poor are the first to see the light. Then the others join in, all those who love justice, truth, liberty, progress, humanity and beauty. When all the candles are ablaze everyone must stop in amazement and rejoice in what has been wrought. And no office is more blessed than that of a servant of this light.”