Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl Father Of Zionism (1860-1904)
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Father of Zionism (1860-1904)
Theodor (Binyamin Ze'ev) Herzl, the visionary of Zionism, was born in
Herzl first encountered the anti-Semitism that would shape his life and the fate of the Jews in the twentieth century while studying at the
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was unjustly accused of treason, mainly because of the prevailing anti-Semitic atmosphere. Herzl witnessed mobs shouting "Death to the Jews" in
Herzl concluded that anti-Semitism was a stable and immutable factor in human society, which assimilation did not solve. He mulled over the idea of Jewish sovereignty, and, despite ridicule from Jewish leaders, published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896). Herzl argued that the essence of the Jewish problem was not individual but national. He declared that the Jews could gain acceptance in the world only if they ceased being a national anomaly. The Jews are one people, he said, and their plight could be transformed into a positive force by the establishment of a Jewish state with the consent of the great powers. He saw the Jewish question as an international political question to be dealt with in the arena of international politics.
Herzl proposed a practical program for collecting funds from Jews around the world by a company to be owned by stockholders, which would work towards the practical realization of this goal. (This organization, when it was eventually formed, was called the Zionist Organization.) He saw the future state as a model social state, basing his ideas on the European model of the time, of a modern enlightened society. It would be neutral and peace-seeking, and of a secular nature.
In his Zionist novel, Altneuland (Old New Land, 1902), Herzl pictured the future Jewish state as a socialist utopia. He envisioned a new society that was to rise in the
He included detailed ideas about how he saw the future state's political structure, immigration, fund-raising, diplomatic relations, social laws and relations between religion and the state. In Altneuland, the Jewish state was foreseen as a pluralist, advanced society, a "light unto the nations."
This book had a great impact on the Jews of the time and became a symbol of the Zionist vision in the
Herzl's ideas were met with enthusiasm by the Jewish masses in
Herzl saw the need for encouragement by the great powers of the aims of the Jewish people in the Land. Thus, he traveled to the Land of Israel and Istanbul in 1898 to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. When these efforts proved fruitless, he turned to Great Britain, and met with Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary and others. The only concrete offer he received from the British was the proposal of a Jewish autonomous region in east Africa, in Uganda.
The 1903 Kishinev pogrom and the difficult state of Russian Jewry, witnessed firsthand by Herzl during a visit to Russia, had a profound effect on him. He proposed the British Uganda Program to the Sixth Zionist Congress (1903) as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in immediate danger. While Herzl made it clear that this program would not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly led to a split in the Zionist movement.
The Uganda Program was finally rejected by the Zionist movement at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905.
Herzl died in 1904, of pneumonia and a weak heart overworked by his incessant efforts on behalf of Zionism, but by then the movement had found its place on the world political map. In 1949 Herzl's remains were brought to Israel and reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Herzl coined the phrase "If you will, it is no fairytale," which became the motto of the Zionist movement. Although at the time no one could have imagined it, Zionism led, only fifty years later, to the establishment of the independent State of Israel.