An ideal, if imaginary, day for President Obama in Israel is being sketched by Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic. He dreams of the world’s most powerful leader taking a room at the American Colony Hotel in the eastern, Arab part of Jerusalem, where he would not stand as much of a chance as he would at the King David Hotel of running into a delegation of the Jewish National Fund.
Instead he could read Ha’aretz quietly over a late breakfast, before going for a long walk through the various quarters of Israel’s capital city before ending up at the artist’s colony known as Mishkenot Sha’ananim, where, Mr. Goldberg proposes, he and the novelist David Grossman could sip coffee and talk about Philip Roth. “Also, the Shoah. And the Palestinians.”
Then Mr. Goldberg suggests the president could catch a taxi to the Israel Museum, where its “ebullient and erudite director,” James Snyder, could set Mr. Obama off through the galleries “which are astonishingly catholic for the national museum of the Jewish state.” Then to Tel Aviv, where the president could sit at a literary café on Rabin Square and palaver with the proprietor of Ha’aretz, Amos Schocken, who is to the left of Mr. Obama.
“Or maybe Obama would have coffee at Ahat Haam, a smart-crowd cafe, and then meet Yonit Levi and her writer friends in the vibrant Flea Market section of Yafo for dinner,” Mr. Goldberg writes. Then, at a boutique hotel near Rothschild Boulevard, the president could read himself to sleep with Mr. Grossman’s “To the End of the Land” or the forthcoming “My Promised Land” by Ari Shavit. “Sounds pretty nice,” Mr. Goldberg writes. “Instead, he’s visiting the grave of Theodor Herzl . . .”
This is where Mr. Goldberg loses us. We actually love the thought of Mr. Obama stopping to reflect at the grave of Herzl. It put us in a reverie, trying to imagine what the man who founded the Jewish National Fund and convened the First Zionist Congress would have said to the President. No doubt he would have been right at home with the itinerary Mr. Goldberg imagined for Mr. Obama. Herzl was, after all, a newspaperman and a literary figure, and aesthete and a dreamer.
Herzl would have been right at home in the cafes and museums of the idyll Mr. Goldberg imagines for Mr. Obama. He would have thrilled to the novelists. He was himself a novelist and used the genre to imagine, in “Altneuland,” what a Jewish state would be like. It’s not so different from that sketched by Mr. Goldberg in his own imaginary day for Mr. Obama, save for the fact that the lingua franca, so to speak, would have been German.
It has always struck us that Herzl is a too-little-focused on figure. We view him as the greatest man to have drawn a breath in a century, the 20th of the common era, filled with great figures. There are titanic figures — Churchill, FDR, Reagan — who saved countries and even civilizations. But there are few who brought them to life from as far back in history as Herzl.
What a movie Herzl would make in the hands of one of the great directors. Like Lincoln, he struggled with depression. Readers of his diaries grasp that he operated at times on the edge of madness. His imaginings were off in enough ways that he is often mocked (he didn't think Israel would need an army), and Israel has produced figures who hewed to more a more militant strategy. Yet 118 years after he published, in “The Jewish State,” his greatest scoop, it is at his grave, on a mountain the state he created named for him, that the leader of the free world is going to stand.