One of the most significant elements of Jewish life in Europe since the 19th century was the appearance of different national movements, for instance, Zionism. The term “Zionism” introduced in 1890 by Jewish activist Nathan Birnbaum (1864-1937) who also played a vital role in the primary Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897, together with its first president, Theodore Herzl (1860-1904). The word “Zion” comes from the Hebrew tzion, a reference to Jerusalem. Basically, Zionism is a national movement for the return of all Jews to their motherland and the recommencement of their independence in the Land of Israel (Kassim, 1991). The fundamental doctrine of Zionism is that all Jews regardless of their religious commitment constitute one people (Kassim, 1991). According to Zionist program, all Jewish people must be separated from their respective countries and moved into one area, the State of Jews (Kassim, 1991). At the same time, non-Jews must be removed from that territory (Kassim, 1991).
Historically, European Jews had suffered because of popes, kings and ordinary citizens since the Early Church Fathers. At a time, when Jews thought that the emancipation had finally prevailed, in 1894 France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was charged with treason against the French administration. The temporarily inactive volcano of Anti-semitism woke up again. When the trial went on, mobs of irritated Frenchmen were shouting “Death to all Jews” (Pawel, 1989).
The Vienna newspaper sent their local correspondent, Herzl to follow the Dreyfus Affair (Pawel, 1989), which deeply influenced the journalist. In fact, Herzl already thought about Jewish existence in their own country. However, it is the Dreyfus case that forced Herzl to finish his historic pamphlet called “The Jewish State”, issued in Vienna in 1896. In his work Herzl (2006) claimed: “Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland…We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die” (p. 95).
Initially, Herzl believed that Jews should assimilate in European society (Pawel, 1989). However, eventually, he came to realize that Jews needed own country to live in. He understood that anti-Semitism was not a temporary phenomenon but the one with profound religious, social and cultural origins, and treating anti-Semitic incidents as trivial episodes was no longer possible (Herzl, 2006). After realizing that the only solution was an exodus of all Jews back to Israel, their ancestral land, Herzl started to act in order to accomplish his aim – strengthening ties among the Jews, meeting world leaders to guarantee recognition for the Zionist project, and initiating corresponding political steps (Pawel, 1989). Thus, Zionism turned into a politically influential power owing to Herzl.
In fact, Zionism existed long before Herzl. Nevertheless, Herzl if not the founding father of Zionism was certainly an organizer, advocate, and diplomat who turned Zionism into a political movement of international importance. Ernst Pawel (1989) claims: “He brought to it leadership, organization and a unique blend of fantasy and practical realism, but his most important contribution by far was the messianic image of himself, his stature in the eyes of the Jews and in the eyes of the world” (p. 3).
Herzl passed away before the creation of the State of Israel. However, he established the fundamental Jewish institutions, such as The World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, and the Jewish National Fund (Pawel, 1989). Although the State of Israel was the outcome of different historic forces, such as two wars and the work of Herzl’s supporters, it was he who arranged the national movement, which took advantage of the accidents of history (Pawel, 1989). Therefore, Herzl was a genuine prophet, trigger and leader of political Zionism.
Herzl, T. (2006). The Jewish state. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Filiquarian.
Kassim, A. (1991). The Palestine yearbook of international law 1990-1991. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers,.
Pawel, E. (1989). The labyrinth of exile. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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