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The Seven Years of Herzl

Theodor Herzl, a Jewish playwright and journalist from Vienna, did the impossible in a very short time: he turned millions of Jews, most of whom lived in Eastern Europe, into a nation, founded the World Zionist Organization in the summer of 1897, held the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, and formed a political plan for the rebirth of the Jewish people in its own land - Eretz Israel.

At first it seemed that he was doomed to fail for he was considered a dreamer, possibly even dangerous, whose activities would most likely increase anti-Semitism in Europe and endanger the budding settlement project in Eretz Israel. He was particularly attacked by Orthodox circles and by assimilated Jews, but there was also opposition among the Hovevei Zion, led by the well-known author and critic Ahad HaAm. Herzl's "diplomatic" approach was scoffed at by many and his protracted journeys all over Europe in order to promote Zionist aims, looked more like the whim of a "man of the world" who insisted on forcing his help on his poor suffering brothers in Eastern Europe.

For a number of years Herzl took great pains to persuade the Turkish Sultan and his government to grant the Jews a charter on Palestine. He traveled countless times to Istanbul, met with politicians, high and low ranking government officials, and interested parties; he cajoled and bribed the Turks, even promising to cover their enormous national debt, but in vain. The Turkish Sultan did not want the problem of the Jews in Palestine in addition to the national problems threatening to destroy his Empire. Herzl tried to recruit powerful allies, such as the German Kaiser, the King of Italy, the Pope, the governments of Britain and Russia, etc. But because of the worsening condition of the Jews in Eastern Europe and his own deteriorating health, his time began to run out. He must have known he didn't have long to live for Herzl became a powerhouse, spending the next seven years traveling hundreds of thousands of kilometers and meeting with anyone who he believed could promote his Zionist plans. The organization he founded - the World Zionist Organization - had attained notable success and despite difficulties had become a self-sufficient political and public body.

Herzl did not welcome the efforts of Baron Rothschild with regard to the settlement process in Eretz Israel, which he considered inefficient and ineffective in its scope and, most importantly, not a solution to the problems of the suffering Jewish masses in Eastern Europe. He also attacked the present "piecemeal" aliyah, which involved outsmarting the Turkish government, calling it "infiltration." In his vision, a different kind of aliyah would bring millions and millions of Jews not only to settle the land but also to rebuild it while creating a Jewish state.

In spite of this, Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel slowly continued to develop. By the turn of the century, 50,000 Jews lived in the country, 10 percent of them in 20 agricultural moshavot. On January 1, 1900 Baron Rothschild announced the cessation of his activities and transferred the moshavot in his care to the Jewish Colonization Association (lCA).

This caused great disappointment in the small Jewish Yishuv and lCA was mistakenly accused in later years of alienating itself from the moshavot. The fact is that in 1901, ICA began to establish a new bloc of moshavot in the Lower Galilee. By the end of the era under discussion in this chapter, the First Aliyah had ended, Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel had doubled and the beginnings of the Second Aliyah could be seen (which will be dealt with in the next chapter).

During this period, Herzl continued his political activity but after several years and many disappointments, he reached the conclusion that salvation was not likely to come from the Turks. He then began looking for other solutions to the problem of mass settlement of Jews. In the beginning, he was tempted to adopt settlement programs near Eretz Israel - especially in Cyprus, the Sinai Peninsula and possibly also in Tripolitania, west of Egypt.

But later Herzl seized on a British suggestion to settle the suffering East European Jews seeking to emigrate in Uganda (then a part of Kenya), Eastern Africa. Herzl was elated, especially since it came a short time after the Kishinev pogrom (the Ukraine, April 19, 1903), when there was an imminent need to solve the problem of emigrant Jews fleeing anti-Semitic Russia.

The Uganda scheme almost destroyed the World Zionist Organization, as Herzl met with fierce opposition, especially from Zionist leaders in Russia who under no circumstances would agree to give up on Zion for any other territory in the world. Although Herzl had committed himself during the Sixth Zionist Congress (1903) to the eternal Jewish oath, "lf I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning," he didn't see any contradiction in continuing to promote the Uganda scheme. He rode the storm for only a short time, as ten months after the "Uganda Congress," where a major crisis was barely averted, Herzl surrendered to his heart condition at only 44 years of age. There is no doubt that the Uganda episode and the bitter struggle surrounding it expedited Herzl's death, but the Zionist movement, which he founded, continued to exist and to experience a plethora of exciting historical events from the beginning of the 20th century up until today.


August 29-31
The First Zionist Congress convenes in Basle, which constitutes the foundation of the World Zionist Organization, and Herzl is elected president. The Congress, in which 197 delegates participate, accepts the Basle Program (see the chapter entitled Glossary of Terms). Herzl, who wants the Congress to appear especially festive, insists that delegates come to the proceedings in formal evening attire. "These people should consider this Congress as the most superior and festive of all," he says to Max Nordau. The Jewish and general press send many reporters in order to cover this special Jewish assembly.

September 1
Herzl writes in his diary: "At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it."

There are mixed reactions to the Congress by the Jewish media: few support it, some have reservations about it, while the majority are waiting to see how things develop. The Warsaw daily, "HaTzfira", edited by Nahum Sokolow, which opposed the Congress, is turning into a loyal supporter. Ahad HaAm's "HaShilo'ah", on the other hand, warns the Jews, and especially the Zionists: "The new enthusiasm is artificial... and its end will bring despair... Israel's salvation will come from 'prophets' rather than from 'diplomats.'" The "Neue Freie Presse" in Vienna, where Herzl works, does not mention the Congress at all.

Herzl first proposes his plan for establishing a "Zionist bank," to be used as a financial instrument to achieve Zionist goals.

The author Davis Trietsch suggests to Herzl the Jewish colonization of Cyprus, which is in British hands, rather than of Palestine, which is ruled by the Turks.


August 28-31
The Second Zionist Congress is held in Basle. Herzl proudly declares that since the first Congress, the Zionist movement has joined 913 societies - in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

The Congress establishes the Jewish Colonial Trust, the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization. Leo Motzkin delivers one of the main lectures, following his tour of Eretz Israel's new settlements.

October 13
Herzl leaves Vienna secretly and travels to Turkey and Palestine in order to meet with the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who is touring the East. He plans to recruit the Kaiser to influence the Turkish Sultan to seriously consider the proposals of the Zionists.

October 18
Herzl meets with the Kaiser in Istanbul and lectures him on the need to settle the Jews in Palestine. The Kaiser makes comments that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. In spite of this he tells Herzl: "Tell me in one word: what should I demand from the Sultan?" Herzl replies: "A franchise company [that will accept Eretz Israel] with German backing."

Late October – early November
The German Kaiser Wilhelm II arrives in Palestine, the high point being his visit to Jerusalem. Herzl is visiting Jaffa, the southern settlements and Jerusalem at the time. He meets the Kaiser twice: on October 28 at the gate of Mikve Israel and on November 2 in Jerusalem. The Kaiser makes no promises.


Herzl continues his extensive diplomatic activity in Europe and Turkey in order to promote the issue of the charter (franchise) on Palestine. He participates in the first peace committee held in The Hague, Holland in May 1899.

January - February
Baron Rothschild arrives in Jerusalem on his third visit to Eretz Israel (previous visits were in 1887 and in 1895). He intimates that he is considering ending his settlement activity, but the hint is not taken.

August 15-18
The Third Zionist Congress is held in Basle. Herzl declares: "Our efforts are aimed at attaining a charter from the Turkish government under the sovereignty of his majesty the Sultan... only after this charter is in our hands... can we start large-scale, practical settlement." By the end of the 19th century, the number of Jews in Eretz Israel stands at 50,000, double the number 20 years earlier, and 20 agricultural moshavot are inhabited by 5,000 people. The largest moshava is Zichron Ya'akov, which has a population of 871. The second largest is Petah Tikva (818), then Rishon leZion (626) and Rosh Pina (512).
About two-thirds of the Jews in Eretz Israel live in Jerusalem, most of whom are from the Old Yishuv (Orthodox Jews). The New Yishuv is concentrated in the moshavot, in Jaffa, in Haifa and partly in Jerusalem. There are more than 10 million Jews in the world: close to eight million in Europe, one million in America, with the rest in Asia, Africa and Oceania.

November 8
Herzl writes in his diary: "lf I don't make progress with the Turkish government by the beginning of the Fourth Congress, I will humbly prepare the Cyprus plan." (Jewish settlement in an island close to Palestine. See 1897.)


January 1
Baron Rothschild announces the termination of his activity in Palestine and the transfer of the handling of the moshavot to the Jewish Colonization Association (lCA). This results in astonishment in the country and the beginning of a prolonged economic and social crisis. For more than a year the moshavot heads try, together with Hovevei Zion activists, to convince Rothschild to change his mind, but to no avail. Throughout the year the economic crisis deepens and emigration from Eretz Israel increases.

August 13-16
The Fourth Zionist Congress takes place in London; the first time this body has convened outside Switzerland. The current problems of the Jewish people are discussed, especially the expulsion of the Jews from Romania and the plight of agricultural laborers in Eretz Israel, following the termination of Baron Rothschild's involvement in the moshavot and their transfer to ICA.


May 14
Hovevei Zion heads and moshavot representatives from Eretz Israel meet in Paris with Baron Rothschild and ask him to transfer the moshavot to the farmers rather than to the ICA. The Baron refuses.

May 17
Herzl is granted an audience with the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II and asks him for a charter on Palestine. In return he promises that the Jews will cover the Turkish national debt. After prolonged negotiation, the Turks consent to Jewish settlement in the Empire but not in Palestine.

The ICA begins work on a new settlement region in Eretz Israel - the Lower Galilee moshavot. In October alone two moshavot are established: Yavneel and Kfar Labor.

December 26-30
The Fifth Zionist Congress takes place in Basle and resolves to establish the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth Lelsrael). During the Congress, a body opposing Herzl emerges - the Democratic Faction -which includes 37 young delegates, among whom are Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Leo Motzkin and Martin Buber.


Herzl is disappointed by his inability to persuade the Turks to grant a charter on Eretz Israel. For the first time Jewish settlement in the southwest of Palestine is considered - in the area of EI-Arish.
(Although actually Egyptian territory, it is under British control in practical terms.) Prof. Franz Oppenheimer, the well-known Jewish-German economist and sociologist, publishes a series of articles in the Zionist "Die Welt", under the headline "Jewish Settlement," in which he lays out his plan to establish cooperative settlements in Eretz Israel; a plan that comes to fruition ten years later in Merhavya.

February 26
The Anglo-Palestine Company Ltd. (later changed to Anglo-Palestine Bank Ltd.) was founded as a subsidiary of the Jewish Colonial Trust, the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization. After the establishment of the State of Israel, it becomes Bank Leumi le-Israel.

March 5
The Mizrachi (religious-Zionist) movement is founded in Vilna, the first partisan organization in the framework of the Zionist movement.
It is instigated by Rabbi Yitzhak Ya'akov Reines.

HerzI suggests to the Turks the covering of part of the kingdom's national debt in return for a franchise on part of Eretz Israel -"Haifa and the surrounding area" and, mostly, the Jezreel Valley.

July 4
A historic meeting between Herzl and Lord Nathaniel Meyer Rothschild, head of the British branch of the Rothschild family, takes place. At first the atmosphere is chilly but the ice gradually melts. Herzl emphasizes the urgent need for settling Eastern European Jews in the vicinity of Eretz Israel.

July 7
HerzI appears before a Royal Committee appointed to investigate the immigration of aliens (meaning Jews) to England, where he speaks on the problems of Jews in the world. In his opinion, Eastern European Jews must emigrate; if not, he says, they may die.

October 22-23
Herzl meets twice with the British secretary of state for the colonies, Joseph Chamberlain, suggesting the establishment of autonomous Jewish settlement in Cyprus and in EI-Arish in the Sinai. Chamberlain has reservations regarding Cyprus but cautiously agrees to EI-Arish. In the months to come this possibility is seriously and practically investigated.

October 30
Herzl's book, "Altneuland" (Old-New Land), is published; a utopian novel which delineates the creation, by the Jews, of a model society in the Holy Land. It is translated into Hebrew by Nahum Sokolow, under the title "Tel Aviv", a name adopted in 1910 by the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, north of Jaffa.

In 1902, the first Jewish National Fund stamp appears bearing the name "Zion" and a picture of a Magen David (Star of David).


HerzI sends a delegation of experts to the Sinai Peninsula to examine the possibility of Jewish settlement in the area of EI-Arish. The findings are positive but the plan is cancelled after it is rejected by the British representative in Cairo.

April 19
A pogrom in the town of Kishinev in southern Russia leaves more than 50 Jews dead, hundreds wounded and extensive damage. Shock and fury rock the Jewish world. In light of the pogrom, emigration from Russia to the United States increases, and, to a lesser extent, to Eretz Israel (the Second Aliyah). After the pogrom Herzl intensifies his efforts to find suitable territory for settling the masses of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Hayim Nahman Bialik writes his famous poem "Be'Ir haHarega" (In the City of Slaughter).

April 23
Herzl meets in London with Chamberlain, the British secretary of state for the colonies, who has returned from a prolonged visit to Eastern Africa. The minister raises the possibility of Jewish settlement in Uganda.

Herzl reiterates his support for settlement in "Palestine or its vicinity."

Herzl changes his mind, and is inclined to accept the British offer to settle in Eastern Africa. The British suggest an area of 100,000 square kilometers and in a memorandum from the foreign ministry write: "The foreign secretary is giving serious consideration to offers regarding establishment of some kind of colony or Jewish settlement under conditions that will enable their people to perform their national traditions."

The philanthropist Itzhak Leib Goldberg from Vilna transfers a plot of land owned by him in the settlement of Hadera to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). This is the first territory (200 dunams) to be transferred to the authority of the Jewish National Fund.

July 26
The first branch of the Anglo-Palestine Bank opens in Jaffa. lts manager is Zalman David Levontin, who co-founded Rishon leZion 21 years before. In the years to come the bank opens branches in Jerusalem, Hebron and in Beirut.

August 6-16
Herzl visits Russia and meets with the interior minister Viacheslav Plehve, despite the fact that some of the Zionist leaders believe he is one of those responsible for the Kishinev pogrom. He reaches an agreement with Plehve about Zionist activities in Russia and Turkish government aid for Zionism. He is welcomed enthusiastically by Jews in different cities.

August 23-28
The Sixth Zionist Congress, the "Uganda Congress," is held in Basle. Herzl raises the idea of establishing an autonomous Jewish region in Uganda, the British colony in Eastern Africa. There is stormy opposition to the proposal, especially among the Russian Zionists. Nordau tries to soften the offer by saying that the solution provides a "temporary refuge" for the Jewish emigrants of Eastern Europe, until they are able to settle in Eretz Israel. Finally Herzl's suggestion to send a delegation to investigate the region is agreed upon.

The Uganda scheme creates an unprecedented crisis in the World Zionist Organization. Herzl struggles to implement the plan, with the support of most of the senior leaders. There are, however, unparalleled objections and many fear a division in the movement between "Uganda Zionists" who support and trust Herzl, and between "Zion Zionists," (Tziyonei Zion) who reject Uganda and are steadfastly loyal to Eretz Israel. They are not impressed by Herzl's dramatic declaration at the end of the Congress that he will always remain devoted only to Zion, and that "lf I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning!"

August 24
In Zichron Ya'akov, the first Kenesiya (Assembly) of Jewish settlement representatives in Eretz Israel, numbering 67 delegates, opens. A decision is reached to condemn Herzl's Uganda scheme. At the end of deliberations, the Jewish teachers in Palestine establish the Teachers' Union in Zichron Ya'akov.

September 11
In Homel, Russia, Jews are once again the victims of pogroms. A "Jewish resistance" takes a stand against the violence, for the first time - an important milestone in the annals of Russian Jewry. Some of the defenders are forced to leave the city and make aliyah to Eretz Israel. They are considered the first immigrants of the Second Aliyah (late November 1903).

The Jewish National Fund acquires its first large tract of land in Eretz Israel, encompassing thousands of dunams in Deleiqa-Umm Juni in the Jordan Valley.

The Uganda scheme becomes highly controversial within the Zionist movement. A gathering of Russian Zionist leaders takes place in Kharkov from November 11-14, and the scheme is vehemently rejected. Menahem Mendel Ussishkin, who regards it as a "betrayal of historic Zionism," becomes the leader of the opposition to Herzl. Convention participants consider establishing a new Zionist organization, without Herzl, who reiterates his continued support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel.


January 23
HerzI meets in Rome with the King of Italy, Victor Emanuel Ill. The king promises him "to speak with every Turk possible on the Zionist issue."

January 25
Herzl meets with Pope Pious X. He tries to convey to him the essentialness of the Zionist idea, but without success. The Pope does not approve of Herzl's idea that Jerusalem be handed over to the Jews, and that the holy places receive ex-territorial status.

The first exploratory delegation leaves for southern Palestine and Transjordan, financed by the World Zionist Organization. It is led by the German scientist Prof. Blankenhorn and includes Aaron Aaronsohn, the young agronomist from Zichron Ya'akov.

Herzl opens a new round of talks with the Turkish government with regard to the charter on Palestine and is willing at this stage to make do with the area of Acco (Acre).

April 11-15
The Actions Committee (Va'ad HaPo'el HaZioni) holds an unusually stormy session in which there is a direct clash between Herzl and Ussishkin regarding the Uganda scheme. In a conciliatory move, HerzI devotes part of the discussion to the development of settlement in Eretz Israel. Herzl and his rivals agree to a truce.

May 13
Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook makes aliyah. He serves as rabbi of the Jewish community of Jaffa and of the newly established moshavot, and is an important link in bridging the gap between the New and Old Yishuv.

May - June
Herzl, who suffers from a heart condition, takes some time out to rest and recuperate, on the advice of his doctors. He is extremely ill. Members of the Zionist movement are asked not to write him due to his deteriorating condition.

July 3
Theodor Herzl, creator and head of the World Zionist Organization for its first seven years, dies at the age of 44. The Jewish world mourns.


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