“At Basel, I founded the Jewish State”

The First Zionist Congress of 1897 in Basel, Switzerland is widely seen as the first step on the Jewish people’s path to re-establish a nation-state in their ancient homeland. It was in Basel, where the World Zionist Organization was founded and where Herzl was made its first president. This year (2017) marks 120 years since the first congress was convened by Herzl.

Theodor (Benjamin) Herzl was born in Budapest, Hungary. He received a basic Jewish education and was later educated in the spirit of the German-Jewish Enlightenment, which was characteristic for the Jews living in Central Europe in that time. Working as a correspondent, Herzl came face-to-face with growing anti-Semitism. He attended the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army who was unjustly accused of treason. As Herzl witnessed how mobs in Paris shouted “Death to the Jews,” he understood that in order the Jewish people to have any future, national and political solutions were needed.

Herzl believed that only by establishing a state for the Jewish people could the Jews resolve their distress and bring an end to anti-Semitism. His new Zionist vision was presented in its entirety in his book entitled, Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State. The enlightened elite rejected the plan and the book. However, his ideas were met with enthusiasm by the larger Jewish world, who considered Herzl to be a modern Moses.

It was very important for Herzl to gain international and legal recognition of the rights of the Jewish people in Eretz Israel─before beginning an actual settlement there. He conducted diplomatic ties to disseminate his plans and to receive a Charter─the right of Jews to settle in Israel, which was granted by the Turkish Sultan.

Herzl continued his Zionist activity by meeting with leaders all over the world and working to promote the Zionist Movement. At the Sixth Zionist Congress held in 1903, Herzl laid out his “Uganda Program,” proposing that Jews settle in the British Territory of Uganda. As the proposal was met with a storm of condemnation, Herzl quickly announced that it was merely a temporary solution.

A few days after the First Zionist Congress in Basel, where Herzl said that “at Basel, I founded the Jewish State,” he had noted in his diary: “If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in 50, everyone will realize it.” His vision became a reality, as the State of Israel was founded almost exactly half a century after he wrote these words. Herzl did not live to see the realization of his vision. He died with a broken spirit in Edlach, near Vienna in 1904.

In light of his final request, following the establishment of the State of Israel, his body was brought for reinternment in 1949 on Mt. Herzl, which was named in his memory.

Israel honoring Herzl’s legacy

The new Herzl Museum on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl provides a spectacular audio-visual encounter with the visionary of the Jewish

The new Herzl Museum on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl provides a spectacular audio-visual encounter with the visionary of the Jewish State and offers a thought-provoking hour-long portrait regarding the status of the Jews according to Herzl. A visit to the Museum allows us to share Herzl’s daring aspirations, his deep disappointments, and his turbulent personal journey. The greatness of his achievements highlights Herzl’s vision and allows visitors to share in the challenge of his legacy.

Entrance to the Herzl Museum (World Zionist Organization)

Mount Herzl, known also as Mount of Memory, is 834 meters above sea level, the highest point in Jerusalem. In 1951, the government decided to establish a national cemetery on Mount Herzl for Israeli leaders and fallen soldiers. Theodor Herzl, his parents, two of his children and other family members are buried there.

Herzl’s grave monument

 In August 27, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to travel to Basel to commemorate the 120th anniversary since the First Zionist Congress in 1897. Due to poor planning, mainly in Basel, the Swiss authorities have informed Israel that the scheduled event is canceled.  Arrangements are now being made for a September commemoration on Mount Herzl.(References: The Herzl Museum and other online resources)