Theodor Herzl (1860—1904) was raised
in a comfortable Jewish middle-class home. Moving from Budapest, where he was
born, to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he started to
practice law, but soon turned to journalism, writing from Paris for the leading
Vienna newspaper. A keen observer of the contemporary scene, he vigorously
agitated for the ideal of an independent Jewish state. It was not a new idea
but one whose time had come. Nationalist ferment was rising everywhere, often
combined with virulent anti- Semitism. Under the circumstances, Herzl argued,
security for Jews could be guaranteed only by a separate national state for
Jews, preferably in Palestine.
In 1896 he published his program in
a book, Der Judenstaat
(The Jewish State), in which he envisaged a glorious future for an
independent Jewish state harmoniously cooperating with the local population. In
the following year he presided over the first Congress of Zionist Organizations
held in Base! (Switzerland), attended mostly by Jews from central and eastern
Europe. In its program the congress called for “a publicly guaranteed homeland
for the Jewish people in the land of Israel.” Subsequently, Herzl negotiated
with the German emperor, the British government, and the sultan of the Ottoman
Empire (of which Palestine was a part) for diplomatic support. In 1901 the
Jewish National Fund was created to help settlers purchase land in Palestine.
At his death, Herzl firmly expected a Jewish state to arise sometime in the
future. The following excerpts from his book express the main points in his
plea for a Jewish state.
We are a people—one people.
We have honestly endeavored
everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and
to preserve the faith of our fathers. We are not permitted to do so. In vain
are we loyal patriots, our loyalty in some places running to extremes; in vain
do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow-citizens; in
vain do we strive to increase the fame of our native land in science and art,
or her wealth by trade and commerce. In countries where we have lived for
centuries we are still cried down as strangers, and often by those whose
ancestors were not yet domiciled in the land where Jews had already had
experience of suffering. . . . I think we shall not be left in peace.
Oppression and persecution cannot
exterminate us. No nation on earth has survived such struggles and sufferings
as we have gone through. Jew-baiting has merely stripped off our weaklings; the
strong among us were invariably true to their race when persecution broke out
against them. .
prejudices against us still lie deep in the hearts of the people. He who would
have proofs of this need only listen to the people where they speak with
frankness and simplicity: proverb and fairy-tale are both Anti-Semitic. . . .
No one can deny the gravity of the
situation of the Jews. Wherever they live in perceptible numbers, they are more
or less persecuted. Their equality before the law, granted by statute, has
become practically a dead letter. They are debarred from filling even
moderately high positions, either in the army, or in any public or private
capacity. And attempts are made to thrust them out of business also: “Don’t buy
Attacks in Parliaments, in
assemblies, in the press, in the pulpit, in the street, on journeys— for
example, their exclusion from certain hotels—even in places of recreation,
become daily more numerous. The forms of persecutions varying
according to the countries and social circles in which they occur. In
Russia, imposts are levied on Jewish villages; in Rumania, a few persons are
put to death; in Germany, they get a good beating occasionally; in Austria,
Anti-Semites exercise terrorism over all public life; in Algeria, there are
travelling agitators; in Paris, the Jews are shut out of the so-called best
social circles and excluded from clubs. Shades of anti-Jewish feeling are
innumerable. But this is not to be an attempt to make out a doleful category of
I do not intend to arouse
sympathetic emotions on our behalf. That would be a foolish, futile, and
undignified proceeding. I shall content myself with putting the following
questions to the Jews: Is it not true that, in countries where we live in
perceptible numbers, the position of Jewish lawyers, doctors, technicians,
teachers, and employees of all descriptions becomes daily more intolerable? Is
it not true, that the Jewish middle classes are seriously threatened? Is it not
true, that the passions of the mob are incited against our wealthy people? Is
it not true, that our poor endure greater sufferings than any other proletariat?
I think that this external pressure makes itself felt everywhere. In our
economically upper classes it causes discomfort, in our middle classes
continual and grave anxieties, in our lower classes absolute despair.
Everything tends, in fact, to one
and the same conclusion, which is clearly enunciated in that classic Berlin
phrase: “Juden Raus!”
(Out with the Jews!)
I shall now put the Question in the
briefest possible form: Are we to “get out” now and where to?
Or, may we yet remain? And, how long?
Let us first settle the point of
staying where we are. Can we hope for better days, can we possess our souls in
patience, can we wait in pious resignation till the princes and peoples of this
earth are more mercifully disposed towards us? I say that we cannot hope for a
change in the current of feeling. . . . The nations in whose midst
Jews live are all either covertly or openly Anti-Semitic. . . .
We might perhaps be able to merge
ourselves entirely into surrounding races, if these were to leave us in peace
for a period of two generations. But they will not leave us in peace. For a
little period they manage to tolerate us, and then their hostility breaks out
again and again….
Thus, whether we like it or not, we
are now, and shall henceforth remain, a historic group with unmistakable
characteristics common to us all.
We are one people—our enemies have
made us one without our consent, as repeatedly happens in history. Distress
binds us together, and, thus united, we suddenly discover our strength. Yes, we
are strong enough to form a State, and, indeed, a model State. We possess all
human and material resources necessary for the purpose….
Let the sovereignty be granted us
over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements
of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves.
The creation of a new State is
neither ridiculous nor impossible. We have in our day witnessed the process in
connection with nations which were not largely members of the middle class, but
poorer, less educated, and consequently weaker than ourselves. . . .
Palestine is our ever-memorable
historic home. The very name of Palestine would attract our people with a force
of marvellous potency. If His Majesty the Sultan were
to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole
finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe
against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism. We should as
a neutral State remain in contact with all Europe,
which would have to guarantee our existence. The sanctuaries of Christendom
would be safeguarded by assigning to them an extra-territorial status such as
is well-known to the law of nations. We should form a guard of honor about
these sanctuaries, answering for the fulfillment of this duty with our
existence. This guard of honor would be the great symbol of the solution of the
Jewish Question after eighteen centuries of Jewish suffering.