The Sextant Christopher Newport University’s On-Line History Journal

Vol. 9, Fall/Winter 2012-13


Judkins title

On May 14, 1948 the State of Israel was officially born.  David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the new nation, declared, “[W]e the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish People in Palestine…by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish People hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Medinat Yisrael [the State of Israel].”[1]  This historic moment was the triumph of the Modern Zionist movement: the driving force of Jewish Nationalism that aspired for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Modern Zionism took shape at the end of Nineteenth Century under Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, but the emergence of Jewish nationalistic ideals had been showcased in the earlier decades.  Herzl’s Zionist movement was political in nature, but had its primary roots in the earlier “biblical” type of Zionism.  At the time of Modern Zionism’s emergence, Europe’s political and social climate was dictated by a sense of fierce nationalism and growing anti-Semitism.  These sentiments helped foster the development of a nationalist idea amongst the European Jews, and created the world in which Modern Zionism was born.  The “return to Zion” was further facilitated through imperialistic nature of the chief European powers because of the strategic importance the Middle East held at the dawn of the Twentieth century.  World War I brought about the avenue of change for the Modern Zionist movement: with the endorsement of the Zionist cause through the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the post-war establishment of the British mandate in 1920, the old-age historic dream of the Jewish people and the fundamental goal of the Zionist movement had been realized.  The Modern Zionist movement was the product of the social and political nature of the Nineteenth Century: one that drew on earlier Zionist ideals to form the driving force that would inevitably lay the foundations for the current Arab-Israeli conflict.


Nathan Birnbaum


Zionism was the “national revival movement of the Jewish people,” but the idea of the Jewish return to the historical land of Palestine was not new when the movement emerged.  The intense “longing for Zion” was as old as the Jewish religion itself. “Zion” originally referred to mount Zion, near Jerusalem.  The term “Zionism” was originally coined by Nathan Birnbaum in 1890; who recognized the idea of Jewish nationalism and wanted to distinguish it from other nationalist movements of the time.[2]  The Zionist movement of the Nineteenth century took on an entirely different form than its biblical ancestor, but its principle purpose had always been the return of the Jews to Eretz-Israel.  Roger Garaudy, in his article Religious and Historical Pretexts of Zionism said this perfectly: “Zionist ideology is supported by a religious argument: that of the covenant of Yaweh with the Jewish people.”  He describes this notion as giving “religious legitimacy to nationalism.”[3]  This idea is what early Zionist drew on, before it evolved into a political movement.

Perhaps the most quintessential representation of the Jewish Religion is the Torah.  In reference to the covenant with the Jews the bible said: “to your descendents I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.”[4] This is the earliest divine reference the Jewish people have of their right to a homeland in Palestine.    Other books in the Old Testament glorify this ideal as well.  For example, Amos 9:14-15 said: “I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.” This idea is also depicted in Isaiah 51:11-12: “The ransomed of the Lord will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.”[5] The sacred words embodied in the Torah define Jewish religion. It was through the continuous practice of their religion that the Jews kept their identity alive while in exile.

The remembrance of the Jewish Diaspora initially drove the longing for a Jewish homeland.  A.D. 70 was the start of the Diaspora when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and razed the city.[6] After this, Jews dispersed through the Middle East and Europe, and only a small number remained in Palestine.  Bruce Borthwick’s Comparative Politics of the Middle East outlines three different groups of Jews that lived in exile.  Each group settled in countries that adopted either Islam or Christianity as their national religion.  The Ashkenazim settled in Eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish.  The Sephardim settled in North Africa, France and the Balkans and spoke Ladino.  The Orientals settled in Iraq and Algeria and spoke Arabic.  These different groups show that Jews were somewhat assimilated into the cultures they lived in, but because they did not accept the “state” religion they were always the minority, and separated themselves in order to maintain their Jewish identity.[7]  What united these different types of Jews was their religion.  The idea of having strong religious and historical ties to the Holy Land was the driving force of the Jewish tradition. The elements that comprise this tradition are key to understanding the forces behind the emergence of Zionism: a movement that encompassed more than just the religious notion of returning to the biblical land of Palestine. 

Before the Modern Zionist movement emerged, it is clear that the Zionist idea was mostly embraced by religion.  This Jewish thought changed in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.  In the European cultural sphere, the Enlightenment was a catalyst for the Haskala or “Jewish Enlightenment” of the late Eighteenth century.  This movement advocated better Jewish assimilation into European society, as well as a revival of Hebrew and Jewish history studies.  The revival of Jewish identity led to the increasing desire for Jewish emancipation as they became more engaged with their countries.[8]  The Jews in Europe wanted to participate fully in the social and political spheres of the countries in which they lived.  They wanted more rights, and deserved to be seen as equals with the gentiles in their society. This was a “slow and irregular process” despite the enlightenment in Europe; and after the French Revolution only France, Britain, and the Netherlands emancipated their Jews in the late Eighteenth Century.[9]  It wasn’t until the second half of the Nineteenth Century that the idea for the Jewish homeland took on a whole meaning entirely. 

As the Nineteenth Century emerged, the desire for emancipation within European society diminished as nationalistic ideals and anti-Semitic actions became more prominent.  Modern Zionism can be understood as a response to nationalism and anti-Semitism in Nineteenth Century Europe, and thus a product of its time.  The factors that facilitated the movement’s development during this time played a crucial role in the movement’s future goals and aspirations.

Joseph Massad in “The Persistence of the Palestinian Question” describes Zionism as: “first and foremost a nationalist ideology in the European romantic tradition.”[10] Europe in the Nineteenth century was characterized by nationalistic movements aspiring for greater sovereignty and recognition.  This drive for “freedom and self-rule” was sparked by the French Revolution of 1789.  Revolts of the Serbians, Greeks, and Poles in the first half of the century were fought on the basis of independence and self-determination.[11] Early Jewish leaders and writers were exposed to the various nationalist movements in Europe, and had seen firsthand the ideas of freedom and restoration applied to accomplish concrete gains.  These movements “stimulated feelings of nationalism” amongst the Jewish populations because they saw that although they contributed to society, they were not accepted as equals even after the era of Emancipation.[12]  Although unorganized and not fully crystallized, the idea for a Jewish nationalist movement was implanted and would take hold in the last decades of the Nineteenth Century.  It was the intensification of anti-Semitism that would help facilitate the movement’s transformation.

The modern anti-Semitism that took shape in late Nineteenth Century Europe profoundly affected the Jews on a national level.  In the areas where Jews were exposed to European culture and influence, they were also exposed to criticism and harsh treatment by European society. The Jews had always been seen as a people who “professed loyalty to the country in which they lived, but who yearned for their ancient home”[13] but the growing anti-Semitism changed their sentiments.  Anita Shapiro in her article Anti-Semitism and Zionism said: “Anti-Semitism spurred Jews to return to the principle of the nation.”  The treatment they were subjected to made them retreat from emancipation, and the previous ideas of assimilation.  A “new Jewish national consciousness” was produced out of this social climate as more and more Jews changed their views on being integrated into European society.  The Nationalistic ideals that changed modern Jewish thought were born when the Jewish people became less identified with their respective countries and more focused on a “new awareness of Jewish nationalism.”[14]

 In the wake of intense humiliation and changed views regarding assimilation into European society, new ideas emerged reflecting the sparks of Jewish colonization.  The Polish Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer for example was one of the many “pre-cursors” to modern Zionism who responded to the growing European anti-Semitism.  In his work Seeking Zion (1862) he wrote about the “growing misery” of the Jews in Europe and saw Zionism as the solution to their problem. He called for colonization of Palestine through increased immigration and agricultural settlements.  His ideas were deemed too radical and thus not followed by many Jewish leaders, but they planted the seeds that the Modern Zionist movement would sprout from.[15]

The growing misery of the Jews was exhibited all over Europe, but it was in the Eastern countries especially that the wrath of anti-Semitism was dealt with extreme harshness.  The experience of the Jews in Russia for example, is of key importance to understand.  Russia had been plagued by anti-Semitism well before the Nineteenth century, and it was there that the situation of the Jews was the absolute worst.  The intense brutality inflicted on the Russian Jewry is best showcased in the infamous year of 1881.

On March 1, 1881 Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was succeeded by his son Alexander III.   The new regime ushered in was harsher and went against his father’s previous liberal policies.  The assassination sparked massive anti-Jewish riots in Russia: where the Russian populous would “pillage, plunder, and murder” the Jews in these “pogroms.”[16]  Before the pogroms, there had been rumors circulated that Jews would be attacked near the Easter season.  Starting on April-15-17 in Elizavetgrad, rioters terrorized thousands of Jewish homes all over the Russian provinces, and the Jewish people were “virtually under siege.”[17]  The atrocities committed demonstrated to the Jews that they would never be safe in Russia, nor would the Russian government ever get close to recognizing the rights of their Jews.[18]

The monograph A History of Zionism: 1600-1918 labels 1881 as “a turning point in the history of the colonization of Palestine by the Jews.”  The need to solve the “Jewish tragedy” was brought to the forefront of the public’s minds, and as a result the social and political climate of Europe changed dramatically.[19]  The atrocities committed in Russia are extreme examples of the anti-Semitism that plagued the Jews and caused an “emotional crisis and break in modern Jewish history” on the eve of the rise of modern Zionism’s rise.[20]  After 1881 a greater sense of desperation to preserve the safety of the Jews was produced, which led to the need of the establishment of a Jewish homeland. The changes in attitudes towards Zionism, Jews, and colonization are particularly evident in some of the original works written by prominent Jews who published their changed views relating to the Jewish problem.  These works show the evolution of Zionist thought, which took a more concrete shape with the rise of Modern Zionism under Theodor Herzl.

The response to the atrocities of 1881 can be showcased though the works of a few leading Russian Jews.  Perez Smolenskin was a novelist who before 1881, wrote about the idea of Jewish nationalism and the modernization of Jewish life. After the Russian pogroms he advocated for the “complete evacuation of Jews from Eastern Europe” and wanted the idea of a Jewish settlement in the Holy land to be on the forefront of people’s minds.[21]  Alan R. Taylor in his article “Zionism and Jewish History” actually calls Perez “the real founder of [Zionism]” because he formulated the doctrine of Jewish nationalism.[22]  Smolenkin’s work reflects the idea that after 1881, desire Jewish assimilation in Eastern Europe was essentially abandoned.

Leo Pinsker was the “most assimilated among the Russian Jews who turned Zionist” after the events of 1881.[23]  In 1882 he published his famous pamphlet entitled “Auto-Emancipation.”  He was convinced that the Jews would never find safety in Russia, and in his essay stated that the Jews needed to organize a national movement to establish their own state.  He argued that: “the Jews comprise a distinctive element among the nations under which they dwell, and as such can neither assimilate nor be readily digested by any nation.”[24]  It was Pinsker in fact, that would assume leadership of the Hoveri Zion group in 1884; under which the group would decide that the Holy Land was their only goal for immigration.[25] 

The works like those of Smolenskin and Pisnker were indeed pre-cursors to modern Zionism.  The Anti-Semitism in Europe they wrote about during the late Nineteenth Century played an important role in shaping Zionist ideals.  The resulting social and political climate affected key individuals involved in Zionist ideas, but it was not until the emergence of a true leader would the modern Zionist movement take on its full potential


Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl is viewed as “the founder and driving force” of modern political Zionism.[26]  He is one of the most important Jewish leaders of his century: he laid the groundwork for the Jewish State. As previously noted, Zionist thought had been present in previous decades, but it was Herzl who at the end of the Nineteenth Century: gave Zionism its definitive ideological foundations and organizational structure.”[27]  It was under Herzl that Modern Zionism took on a different caliber: that of a European Nationalistic nature.  Modern Zionism was Jewish in the sense that it aimed to acquire a National homeland for the Jews in Palestine; but Herzl made use of European political and social measures, enabling Zionism to take on a different role.

Herzl was born on May 2, 1860 to a Jewish banking family in Budapest.   In 1884 he obtained a law degree from the University of Vienna, although he abandoned the practice of law for journalism the next year.  It was his success as a columnist that enabled him to become a correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse, an important newspaper in Vienna.  At first Herzl was committed to the idea of assimilation into European culture, but through his career in journalism he was exposed to the ever growing anti-Semitism in Europe.  He saw there were problems for Jews in every part of Europe, but especially in Russia.  He spent much of his journalistic career as a correspondent in Paris, where the “Jewish question” began to really affect him.  In 1894 he wrote a play called The New Ghetto: a play that addressed Jewish vulnerability in Europe and made the point that even assimilated Jews are in “an invisible ghetto in the gentile world.”[28]  The final spark that broke Herzl’s ties with assimilation came in 1894 with the Dreyfus Affair: a turning point in the recognition of anti-Semitism and injustice against the Jews.[29]

The affair centered on Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish member of the French army.  In 1894, he was accused of spying for the Germans.  In December of that year he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Because Herzl worked as a correspondent, he provided his paper with an account of what went on in the Dreyfus case.  He witnessed first-hand the injustice inflicted on the Jews in Paris, because Dreyfus turned out to be innocent.[30] 

Herzl became a “conscious Jew” after the Dreyfus case.  The affair shattered any hopes Herzl had of emancipation.  It made him realize that anti-Semitism was inescapable and that “civilized Nations could not cope with the ‘Jewish Question.’”[31]  In volume one his diaries, Herzl describes his first thoughts on the “Jewish question” and writes that the plight of the Jews “lay in ambush wherever [he] went.”[32] After witnessing the sufferings of the Jewish people, Herzl visualized a “radial solution to their problem: the national regeneration of the Jew in the Holy land of Palestine.”[33] Something quite interesting is that although anti-Semitism plagued Europe, Herzl saw that it could in fact unite the Jews in a quest for their freedom.  He viewed that anti-Jewish regimes would want to expel their Jewish populations, and that anti-Semites would become Zionism’s “most dependable friends..and allies.”[34]

With this recognition of the potential support from anti-Semitic powers, Herzl understood that the plight of the Jews could not be solved alone. After he began to view the Jewish Question as a national problem, he sought support to achieve his Zionist goals.  It was through Herzl’s never-ceasing efforts did the modern Zionist movement take full shape.  He first met with some influential figures in Europe, hoping to gain financial support for the efforts to secure a Jewish homeland.

On June 2, 1895 Herzl visited Baron Moritz de Hirsch, a rich philanthropist.  In the meeting Herzl explained to the Baron that the Jews did not need philanthropic efforts, but education that would lead to “self government in a land of their own.” Hrisch doubted the plausibility of Herzl’s claims and in the end cut the meeting short because he did not think the Jewish people could ever find a home in Palestine.[35]  The meeting was of key importance because it sparked in Herzl the desire to formulate his Zionist idea, which he began writing about in his diaries shortly after.

After Hirsch did not offer support, Herzl turned to the wealthy Rothschild family.  They were a family of German-Jewish origin, of which he met with Baron Edmond de Rothschild.  He was a French Philanthropist who gave Zionism significant support early on.  He broke away from the idea of Jewish assimilation earlier in his career and co-operated with the “Lovers of Zion.”[36]  He helped further the achievements of Jews in Palestine at that time.  Rothschild was not a Zionist himself, but he approved the idea of “restoring Jews to productive, agricultural labor.”[37] With the financial support of the Baron, the second Jewish settlement Rishon LeZion was founded in 1882 based on agricultural labor.[38]  It was this ongoing support for current Jewish settlements in Palestine that made Herzl believes Rothschild would embrace his Zionist aspirations.

In July of 1896, Herzl met with Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Paris.  The Baron did not approve Herzl’s program like he had hoped.  He doubted the plausibility of Herzl’s project, and his involvement in current Jewish colonies discouraged him from aspiring to maintain thousands of Jewish immigrants.  Rothschild’s experience with the Ottomans made him skeptical that they would favor the project and grant the large influx of Jews their own land.[39]  Though this was a blow to the movement and Herzl himself, he did not cease his efforts for securing the necessary support.  Herzl even wrote what was called his “Address to the Rothschild’s, and after consulting with Nordau it evolved into the 65-page pamphlet titled Der Judenstat or The Jewish State.[40]

The publication of The Jewish State marked the jumping off point for Herzl’s Zionist aspirations and efforts, and was the “catalyst in the creation of political Zionism.”[41] In his pamphlet Herzl outlined his plan in regards to the situation of the Jews.  The first page reads: “The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is a very old one: it is the restoration of the Jewish State.”[42]  At the very beginning, Herzl acknowledges the fact that the return to Zion is a long-lasing idea and that he was not the first to write about it.  Herzl’s ideas did mirror some earlier works, such as that of Moses Hess.  Hess published Rome and Jerusalem in 1862 in response to anti-Semitism in Germany.  He argued that the Jewish settlement of Palestine was the only solution to the “national question” because the Germans would never accept the Jews.[43]  Although Herzl is said to not have known about this particular work, he drew on the age-old longing for Zion in his pamphlet.  Herzl also came to the same conclusion that the Jewish question was a “national question,” the solution to which would only be a land for the Jews to call their nation.[44]

In The Jewish State Herzl said: “The whole plan in essence is perfectly simple…Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation.”[45]  He outlines that his plan will have two bodies: a political body assume the responsibility for Jewish National affairs, and a technical body to manage the exodus and settlement of Jews.  Herzl’s entire pamphlet is very impressively laid out: he outlines the causes of anti-Semitism before moving into his actual plan; then describes it in great detail.  He reiterates the need for a Jewish nation throughout the work, and near the conclusion he said: “a state is created by a nation’s struggle for existence.”  Recognizing the Jews as a nation was a very powerful sentiment at that time; one that Herzl exhibited at the beginning of The Jewish State by saying: “we are a people, one people.  We recognize ourselves as a nation by our faith.”[46]  Herzl’s work in effect brought together all the precursors of Zionism: he drew on the social and political factors that contributed to the plight of the Jews, and on previous ideas in regards to the Jews as a nation.  He brought all this together under his new modern political Zionist movement.


After Herzl’s publication, political Zionism began to take action.  The First Zionist Congress met in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. In front of 197 delegates Herzl began his address by saying: “we want to lay the foundation stone for the home, that is destined to be a safe haven for the Jewish people.” His address gives a romantic vision of the return to the Holy Land and the return of the Jews.  Herzl stated: “Zionism is the return to Judaism even before the return to the land of the Jews.”[47] By beginning his address with glorifying the Zionist cause, Herzl affirms it in the eyes of the delegates.  The First Zionist Congress was a pivotal moment in modern Jewish history.  Herzl wrote in his Diary that: “At Basle I created the Jewish state…”[48]  The congress was important because it confirmed the Zionist movement’s existence by being a “living manifesto” of Zionist aspirations.  The congress established a precedent that would be followed every year, and created a sense of unity by bringing together the various “strains” that had formed within the Zionist movement.[49]

As his movement became more crystallized, Herzl also sought the support of powerful counties in Europe in addition to influential individuals.  He recognized that their imperialistic natures could help to serve the Zionist cause. Herzl especially looked to the countries that were riddled with anti-Semitism because in his view, they would support the emigration of their Jews to a new home. In his diaries he wrote that he will set up negotiations with the Russian Tsar, the German Kaiser, then Austria and France, and so on.  His efforts to secure the support of the German government are highly notable.


Herzl had wanted Germany’s support from the very beginning.  John C. G. Rohl in his article “Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II: A German Protectorate in Palestine?” describes this perfectly.  He said that although Herzl was willing to accept support from many of the European powers, it is clear that he preferred “an aristocratic Jewish republic not only under German protection, but actually modeled on Imperial Germany.”  Herzl felt that a German protectorate would have a “most salutary effect on the Jewish National character.”[50]  Herzl faced many challenges in securing such support however, and it was only possible through the help of the allies he had made. 

William Hechler, the Champlain to the British Embassy in Vienna, became Herzl’s supporter was a staunch supporter of Herzl’s and believed himself that Palestine would be returned to the Jews in 1898.[51]  It was through Hechler that Herzl would get the chance to appeal to the German government for support.  In April of 1896, Hechler sent a series of letters to the Grand Duke of Baden regarding Herzl’s pamphlet The Jewish State.  The Grand Duke was won over and became a “benevolent supporter of Herzl’s project.”[52]  Their support was of the upmost important to Herzl because it was the Grand Duke and William Hechler that would bring him in contact with the German Kaiser.

Kaiser Wilhelm II was briefed on the Zionist issue by the Grand Duke and Hechler in April of 1896.  At first he took little interest in the matter, but the next year after reading the program established at the First Zionist Congress he wrote: “I am very much in favor of the [Jews] going to Palestine, the sooner they clear off the better.”[53]  Although the Kaiser did not draw on the same Zionist ideals that Herzl did, the two men did have common ground in the desire for the Jews to leave Europe.  Herzl would use this initial support to his advantage, but it was not until he came in direct contact with the powerful individuals that his goals had a chance of being accomplished.

With the help of William Hechler, Herzl was finally able to set up a meeting with the Grand Duke of Baden on April 22, 1898.  Herzl explained his program to the duke, outlining that emigration would be voluntary and that it would benefit the region to have Jewish settlements.  Herzl officially won the Duke’s support and the promise that the Kaiser would be pressed on the issue as well. The Duke had also mentioned, much to Herzl’s pleasure, that the Sultan was in favor of the Zionist cause.  It was the Duke who urged Herzl to meet the Kaiser in Palestine, but keep both meetings secret because the European powers were “highly suspicious of German intentions in Palestine.”[54]  From this meeting Herzl hoped to convince the Kaiser that since the Jews were a “neutral element,” they were the perfect candidates to colonize Palestine.[55]

On October 18, 1898 Herzl finally met with Kaiser Wilhelm II in Constantinople.  The German Kaiser was very receptive to Herzl’s statements, and agreed that a Jewish settlement in Palestine was a completely natural solution to the Jewish problem.  During the meeting Herzl made remarks against anti-Semitism. At the end of the meeting the Kaiser affirmed Herzl’s ideas of support by saying: “but surely it will make an impression if the German Kaiser concerns himself with it,” and gave his promise to consult with the Turkish Sultan about the possibility of a “chartered company-under German protection.”[56]  After the meeting with Herzl the Kaiser wrote to the Grand Duke stating his sympathy for the Zionist cause, reiterating that in addition to Turkey benefiting, Germany would also benefit if it helped restore the Jews to Palestine.[57] 

This acknowledgement of German support was a triumph for Herzl at that point in time.  The triumph however, was short lived.  Herzl began drafting an address to the Sultan in regards to the Jewish charter for Palestine, but it was not until he met with the German Kaiser again on November 2 in Jerusalem that he learned that the Sultan had failed to express his support.  It is known that the Kaiser raised the issue of a protectorate over Palestine by Germany, but the Sultan dismissed it so suddenly that it could not be pressed further.  After this initial rejection, the Kaiser’s attitudes towards Herzl’s program “under[went] an abrupt change.”[58]  He lost his enthusiasm for Zionist policies, and this was partly due to the statement by the Turkish foreign minister that the Sultan “would have nothing to do with Zionism and an independent Jewish kingdom.”  From this point, the Kaiser did not want Herzl to mention any explicit support for Jewish colonization of the Holy Land in his addresses.[59]  Though Herzl’s dream of a German protectorate was effectively dashed, he continued his quest for European support elsewhere.

During his negotiations with the German government, Herzl had been trying to gain Turkish support as well. In 1896 he had met with the Turkish prime minister in Constantinople and outlined a proposal that gave the Jews’ the responsibility for the Ottoman Empire’s debt in return for a charter of “collective Jewish settlement in Palestine.” His offer was refused: Jewish immigration was welcomed, but they would not be granted specified territory, as the Sultan would never give up sovereignty of any provinces. Herzl did however finally meet the Sultan on May 17, 1901.  The Sultan agreed to receive Herzl as “a Jewish leader and an influential journalist, but not as a Zionist.”[60]  At the meeting the issue of colonization charter was not the center of discussion.  Herzl focused on the financial assistance the Jews could provide to the Ottomans, who were in great debt.[61]  Herzl wanted to use this agreement to facilitate his larger goal of obtaining a charter, so his motives were not humanitarian in any way.  By using Jewish funds to alleviate the Turkish financial crisis, Herzl hoped to use the pro-Jewish support in Zionist favor.  Despite Herzl’s persistent efforts with the Sultan however, his proposal was not accepted.

Without completely giving up on Turkish support, Herzl turned his efforts towards England.  Herzl had understood that “only nations were entitled to claim a territory,” and “support from only one power was insufficient, only pressure by a concert of powers would influence Turkey.”[62]  His concept that the Jewish problem was an international one led him to advocate the belief that it could not be solved by one single power- hence the importance of gaining the support of the British Empire.

Herzl always had eyes for England’s support, but it was in 1902 that he shifted the bulk of his focus there.  .  In October he met with the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlin, to discuss suitable territory for colonization.  It was during this time that Herzl discussed the possibility of other locations for a Jewish homeland: Cyprus, the Sinai, and the El-Arish area were all considered.[63]  The idea for other locations besides Palestine was considered by Herzl himself in The Jewish State. He wrote: “Shall we choose Palestine or Argentine?  We shall take what is given to us, and what is selected by the Jewish public opinion.”[64]  In 1903 Chamberlin suggested the territory of Uganda (in reality it is part of Kenya) as a Jewish settlement under British control.

Chamberlin unfolded the Uganda scheme to Herzl on April 24.  He stated: “I have seen a land for you in my travels…Uganda.”  Herzl initially rejected this offer because he claimed the land must be closer to Palestine.  Playing on imperialistic desires, Herzl made the argument that that in the wake of power rivalry, Britain will accept El-Arish as a buffer state of the Jews; from which Palestine will end up falling under the British sphere of influence.[65]  Herzl changed his mind and officially considered the Uganda project after witnessing more anti-Semitic atrocities against the Jews in Europe.

The Sixth Zionist Congress met in Basle on August 23, 1903 and the East Africa campaign was discussed.  Herzl was met with swift opposition because he was seen as “deflecting form his original course” by finding a substitute for Palestine.  The controversy “sparked a storm” at the meeting and even threatened a split in the Zionist movement.  In Herzl’s mind, Uganda was only a “temporary refuge” for the persecuted Easter European Jews.  He stated that: “Uganda is not Zion and will never be Zion; the proposal is nothing for than a relief measure.”  He saw a settlement in East Africa as only a means to his ultimate political goal. He felt that after obtaining official recognition of the Zionist movement, Britain would gradually accept that the only plausible solution to the problem was a homeland in Palestine.[66]  It is evident then that although Herzl considered other options for Jewish colonization, Palestine was always the ultimate Zionist goal.

The Seventh Congress affirmed this belief in the “Anti-Uganda Resolution.”  Written in 1904 after Herzl’s death, it decaled that the Congress would stick to the Basle Program: the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and rejects “either as an end or as a means all colonizing activity outside Palestine and its adjacent lands.” The congress expressed formal thanks to the British for their “recognition of support” and “desire to bring about a solution to the Jewish problem.” In actuality the Sixth Zionist Congress voted by a slim majority to enact the Uganda scheme, but the Seventh re-evaluated it and changed the outcome.[67] 

It was at the time of the Uganda scheme that Herzl received contact from the Russian empire in regards to Zionism.  On August 12 1903, the Russian minister of the interior sent a letter to Herzl.  He promised that, on behalf of the Tzarist government, Russia would intervene with the Sultan in favor of the Zionists and “assist them in the organization of a massive Jewish immigration into Palestine.”[68]  This declaration of support from Russia was of great value to Herzl, because it was in Russia that the atrocities against the Jews were the worst.  The movies of the Russian government were that of foreign policy considerations: they wanted to dismember the Ottoman Empire while influencing the region; a sentiment that Herzl understood and would play on in the future.

Herzl had recognized that Zionist aims would not be realized without the support of the leading European powers. Zionism’s leading figures after Herzl built on this notion and recognized that Palestine was of strategic value to Europe, and used that to work for strong support of a Jewish homeland.  The Twentieth Century saw more efforts of Zionism’s leading figures to realize the movement’s goals, as well as efforts amongst the great European powers to extend their control into the regions of the Middle East.  It must be mentioned however, that European interest in the territory including Palestine had its roots far before the rise of modern Zionism itself.

Starting as early as 1789, Zionist colonization was presented to France and England as a foothold for their influence” over the Middle East.[69]  There were many instances of early non-Zionists creating works relating to the situation of the Jews in the Middle East.  For example: the novel entailed Tancred by Benjamin Disraeli written in 1847 was the first “true Zionist novel.”[70]  In 1867 the French Christian Henri Dunant wrote a letter to the London Chronicle advocating for a Jewish settlement in Palestine.[71]  In 1879 the British diplomat Laurence Oliphant visited Palestine and published a “practical scheme for gradual Jewish settlement in Trans-Jordan.”  The plan was never implemented, but public interest increased after the issue got such publicity.  Oliphant’s pamphlet and aspirations however, were not for the benefit of the Jews.  His interest in their colonization of the region centered on: “the political and economic penetration of Palestine by Britain, with the Jews used as pawns in the game.”[72] Both Britain and France had countless scholars and religious activists that believed in the Zionist cause, but it was the recognizing of the power Zionism held for European hegemony in the region that enabled the movement to gain the support it did.

The outbreak of the First World War brought to a sharper light the issue of control over territory in the Middle East.  With the prospect of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse the other European powers, namely France and Britain, wanted to use the situation to secure influence over the region.  As early as 1914 Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, a British Zionist, conversed with Sir Edward Grey and outlined a scheme for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine that would secure British interests in the Middle East.  It was with the prospect of dismembering the Ottoman Empire that he sent his memorandum that advocated turning Palestine into a British protectorate.[73]  This would not be accomplished until after the war however: when Zionism would finally make its transformation from a project into a concrete reality.

In the early years of the war, France and Britain had already begun planning the partition of the Ottoman Empire.  In 1916 Mark Sykes and Francois-Georges Picot drew up an agreement between their respective countries that outlined France’s and Britain’s desired “Spheres of influence” in the Middle East.  Lands staked for British control included: Southern Mesopotamia, and ports on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine, and was deemed the “red zone.”  Lands designated for the French included: Syria, Lebanon, and the part of Palestine west of Jordan, and was deemed the “blue zone.”  Palestine was deemed an “international zone.”[74]  This agreement was in direct violation of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence: a previous agreement between Britain and the Arabs that promised an independent Arab state for their support in the war against the Ottomans.[75] These agreements are important to understand because in the months following the agreement with France, Sykes began to recognize more and more that a foothold in Palestine would serve British interests.   He felt that showing “active sympathy for the Zionist cause” would enable Britain to go against the previous agreement.[76] 

The First World War not only provided opportunities for footholds in the Middle East, it also provided a catalyst of opportunity for political Zionists.  The war halted Zionist agricultural activities in Palestine, but through liaisons with the British the Zionists found other resources to accomplish their goals.[77]  These liaisons were conducted by leading figures of the modern Zionist movement; most notable was the Russian Zionist Chaim Weizmann.  His efforts were possibly as effective as Herzl’s, without which the Jewish State may never have been established.

Chaim Weizmann was born in the Pale of Western Russia, and was always exposed to nationalistic teachings.  It was his education in Pinsk that put him in contact with Russian Jewish intellectuals.  Weizmann was actually part of the Democratic faction of Zionists, because he opposed Herzl’s “acceptance of the possibility of establishing a viable Jewish nation simple by political decree.”  He wanted a more social than political base for the Jewish State. Weizmann was a very staunch opponent to Herzl during the East Africa crisis, and stated that: “the rebirth will be at Palestine or not at all.”[78]  The two men were comparable in that after witnessing the intense anti-Semitism that plagued the Jews in Eastern Europe, they concentrated on anti-assimilationist ideas and strong support for a Jewish national homeland.

Chaim Weizmann became the “driving force of Zionism in England.”[79] His contributions to the Zionist movement before WWI were substantial, but he did not actively come to the forefront until the outbreak of the war.  Like Herzl, Weizmann sought the support of the European powers for the Zionist cause.  He came to the conclusion that relations with Great Britain held the strongest hopes for the realization of the Zionism’s aims. In Weizmann’s view, “England...would have in the Jews the most best of friends.”  He also stressed to his British contacts that if Palestine fell into their hands and they fostered a Jewish settlement, the Jews would create a safeguard for the Suez Canal.[80]

Weizmann was especially successful in his works for the Zionist dream because of his career, and his contacts.  His chemical discoveries as a scientist during WWI made him very influential in the British political sphere.  In 1906 he met with Lord Balfour to discuss Zionism’s principles, after which Balfour stated: “the Jews to have a historic claim to a home in their ancient land.”[81] The next year he made his first visit to Palestine.[82]  His work during the First World War is perhaps the greatest contributions he made to the Zionist movement.

Weizmann worked vigorously for a British protectorate over Palestine because he felt it was the best course of action for the British Empire as well as the Zionist cause.  He was successful because he got in contact with key British journalist and politicians; and he believed British objectives and Zionist aspirations were connected and should be joined together in realization.[83]  Throughout the war he sought the support of the leading European individuals, as well as allied powers in order to secure Zionist aspirations. He actively pushed for the British to submit a formal declaration of support for the Jewish cause.  It was a long drawn out struggle, because the British government was reluctant to explicitly show support and shot down many of the drafts at various cabinet meetings because they were “too specific” or suggested “too much commitment” on their part.[84]  Weizmann’s work eventually culminated in the created of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, a glorious Zionist victory.

The Balfour Declaration was a formal statement on the part of the British government for a national Jewish homeland in Palestine.  Its creation was due to the combination of the Zionist movement and European Imperialistic desires. The declaration was written in a letter addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, the second Baron de Rothschild On November 2, 1917 and stated:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."[85]

For Weizmann, this official recognition was what the Zionists had aimed for from the very beginning.  Jehuda Reinharz’s article “The Balfour Declaration and its maker: A Reassessment” describes the importance Weizmann played in the Zionist movement in excellent terms.  He said:  “Without Dr. Weizmann, we would have received neither a declaration, nor a mandate, nor international recognition in a Jewish national home in Palestine.”  It was he who enabled the movement to flourish in England, making it not just a Jewish movement but a nationally recognized one.[86]

The Balfour Declaration was a turning point in the relations of the Jews and of the European powers towards the Middle East.  For the Zionists, it was a triumph which tied their ideological beliefs to their political goals. It was a concrete realization of their dreams of sovereignty, and became a key aspect in their collective memory.  The Zionist movement had leaders driven by nationalism and religious motives; both aspiring for the same goal.  The return of the Jews to their ancient homeland was seen as their divine right.  The European powers who aspired for control over Palestine needed the support of the Zionists, and vice-versa.  After WWI ended, the declaration paved the way for the final step in the process: the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

In 1918 Weizmann was sent to another visit to Palestine. He was sent by the British to serve at the head of the Zionist commission sent to observe and advise on the future development of the country.  The same year he attended the Cornerstone ceremony for the creation of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 Weizmann led the Zionist delegation in their plea for the international powers to recognize the validity of the Balfour Declaration.  That same year he signed an agreement with Emir Feisal, the leader of Arab Nationalism in Palestine at that time.  The short-lived agreement exhibited the promise by Feisal that the Arabs would recognize Zionist aims in the region, if the Zionists in term recognize the Arab aims in Iraq and Syria.[87]  The work Weizmann did after the Balfour Declaration was signed were stepping stones to the final realization of the Jewish State in Israel.


Chaim Weizmann & Emir Feisal in Palestine, 1918


The British mandate for Palestine was created by Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919.  It declared that advanced nations should be entrusted with the well being and development of “peoples not yet able to stand on themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.”  The mandate was officially confirmed on April 25, 1920 in the Treaty of San Remo.  It was at this conference that Britain was made responsible for the implementation of the Balfour Declaration.[88]  With the establishment of the British mandate of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the goals of Herzl,Weizmann, and other leading Zionists of the time had been realized.  The deep rooted longing for Zion had been fulfilled, but it was not until the official declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 that Modern Zionism’s fundamental aim would be completed.


[1] Elli Wohlgellernter, “One Day That Shook the World.” The Jerusalem Post, April 30,1998.

[2] David Vital, The Origins of Zionism (Oxford: The Claredon Press, 1975). 

[3] Roger Guarudy, “Religious and Historical Pretexts of Zionism,” Journal of Palestine Studies,  Vol. 6, No. 2. Winter, 1977.


[4] The Holy Bible- New International Version. Michigan : The Zondervan Corporation, 2001.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ilene Beatty, “The Land of Canaan ,”  in: From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948, ed. Walid Khalidi (Washington: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), 3-7.

[7] Bruce Borthwick, Comparative Politics of the Middle East (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1980), p. 89-90.

[8] Heiko Haumann, A History of East European Jews. ( New York : Central European University Press, 2002), p. 165. 

[9] David Vital, The Origins of Zionism.

[10] Joseph Massad, “The Persistence of the Palestinian Question,”Cultural Critique,  59. (Winter 2005). pp. 1-23.


[11] Hedva Ben-Israel, “Zionism and European Nationalisms; Comparative Aspects,” Israeli Studies, Vol. 8 No. 1.p.  91-103.

[12] H.S. Hadda, “The Biblical Bases of Zionist Colonialism,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 4. Summer, 1974.

[13] Abba Eban My People: The Story of the Jews (New York: Random House Inc., 1968). P. 284

[14] Anita Shapiro, “Anti-Semitism and Zionism.” Modern Judaism, Vol. 15, No. 3. (Oct., 1995), pp.  215-232.

[15] Rabbi Zvi Kirsch Kalischer, “Seeking Zion ,” in: The Zionist Idea, ed. Arthur Hertzberg.

[16] Outrages Upon Jews in Russia ,” The Jewish Chronicle. May 6, 1881. p. 11. The Modern History Sourcebook.

[17] Moshe Leib Lilienblum, “The Way of The Return- 1881” in: The Zionist Idea, ed. Arthur Hertzberg.

[18] David Vital, The Origins of Zionism.

[19] Nahum Sokolow, A History of Zionism: 1600-1918.

[20] Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, p.180.

[21] Smolenskin, “Let Us Search Our Ways” Found In: The Zionist Idea.

[22] Taylor , “Zionism and Jewish History.”

[23] Hertzerg, The Zionist Idea, p. 179.

[24] Pinkser, “Auto-Emancipation,” January 1, 1882. MidEastWeb.

[25] Sokolow, A History of Zionism: 1600-1918.

[26] Howard Greenfield, A Promise Fulfilled: Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and the Creation of the State of Israel ( New York : Greenwillow Books, Harper  Collins Publishers, 2005). p. 17.

[27] L.M.C. Van Der Hoeven Leonhard, “Shlomo and David Palestine, 1907.” In From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948. Ed. Hertzberg, pp. 115-120.

[28] Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea. P. 202.

[29] Howard M. Sacher, A History of the Jews in the Modern World. New York : Aldred A. Knopf, 2005.

[30] Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea.

[31] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements.”

[32] Diaries of Theodor Herzl: Volume I.

[33] A History of Zionism: 1600-1918.

[34] Joseph Massad, “The Persistence of the Palestinian Question.”


[35] Howard M. Sacher, A History of the Jews in the Modern World, 365.

[36] A History of Zionism, p. 232-233.

[37] Sacher, A History of the Jews in the Modern World. P. 265

[38] A History of Zionism, p. 232-233.

[39] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements,” p. 62.

[40] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State.  Found in: The Jewish State, published by: American Zionism Emergency Council

[41] “Herzl Publishes Der Judenstaat, February,1896” Detroit Gale 2003, Student Resource Center : Discovering World History Online.

[42] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State, p. 1.

[43] Moses Hess, “ Rome and Jerusalem : The Last National Question.” 1862. The Zionism and Israel Information Center : Historical References and Documents.

[44] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements,” Journal of Israeli  Studies, Vol. 9. No. 3.pp. 46-79.

[45] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Theodore Herzl’s address at First Zionist Congress. August 30, 1897. MidEastWeb.

[48] Theodor Herzl, Diaries.

[49] David Vital, The Origins of Zionism. P. 371-375.

[50] John C. G. Rohl, “Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II: A German Protectorate in Palestine ?” in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism, edited by: Ritchie Roberton and Edward Timms, 27-29, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

[51] Ibid., p. 28.

[52] Ibid., p. 29.

[53] John C. G. Rohl, “Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II: A German Protectorate in Palestine ?” in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism p. 29.

[54] Ibid., p. 31.

[55] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements,” p. 48-49.

[56] Desmond Stewart, “Herzl’s Journeys to Palestine and Egypt ,” Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring, 1974), pp. 18-38.

[57] John C. G. Rohl, “Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II: A German Protectorate in Palestine ?” in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism, p. 35.

[58] Ibid., p. 36.

[59] Desmond Stewart, “Herzl’s Journeys to Palestine and Egypt ,” Journal of Palestine Studies.

[60] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements,” p. 60-62.

[61] Walid Khalidi, “The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company: Herzl’s Blueprint for the Colonization of Palestine” Journal of Palestine Studies, p. 31-33.

[62] Isiah Friedman, “Herzl and the Uganda Controversy,” in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism.

[63] Isiah Friedman, “Herzl and the Uganda Controversy,” Found in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism.p. 40-41.

[64] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State.

[65] Isiah Friedman, “Herzl and the Uganda Controversy,” in: Theodor Herzl and the Origins of Zionism, p. 40.

[66] Ibid.

[67] ”The Seventh Zionist Congress, 9: Anti-Uganda Resolution.”  in: The Jew in the Modern World, Ed. Paul R. Mendes Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz. P. 437.

[68] Isiah Friedman, “Theodor Herzl: Political Activity and Acheivements,” p. 68.

[69] L.M.C. Van Der Hoeven Leonhard, “Shlomo and David Palestine, 1907.”  in: From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem Until 1948.

[70] Raphael Patal, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel : Volume One A-J, (New York: Herzl Press and McGraw Hill Inc., 1971), p. 380-410.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Alan R. Taylor, “Zionism and Jewish History.” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter, 1972) pp. 35.

[73] A History of Zionism, p.

[74] The Sykes-Picot Agreement: 1916. MidEastWeb Historical Documents.

[75] Letters from the McMahon Correspondence: 1915-1916. MidEastWeb Historical Documents.

[76] Raphael Patal, Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel : Volume Two M-Z, p. 1085

[77] A History of Zionism, 180.

[78] “Chaim Weizmann: Biographical Essay.” Detroit Gale 2003,  Student Resource Center : Discovering World History Online.

[79] Ibid.,

[80] “United Nations: The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem, 1917-1947.”

[81] M.E. Yapp, The Making of the Modern Middle East: 1792-1923, ( London : 1987).

[82] “Chaim Weizmann: Biographical Essay.” Detroit Gale 2003, Student Resource Center : Discovering World History Online.

[83] Jehuda Reinharz, “The Balfour Declaration and its Maker: A Reassessment.” Journal of Modern History, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Sept., 1992).

[84] Ibid.

[85] Lord Arthur James Balfour, The Balfour Declaration. November 2, 1917.

[86] Jehuda Reinharz, “The Balfour Declaration and its Maker: A Reassessment.” Journal of Modern History, Vol. 64, No. 3 (Sept., 1992).

[87] “Zionist Leaders: Chaim Weizmann,”  Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[88] Raphael Patal Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel : Volume One A-J.