The founder of modern Zionism was born on May 2, 1860 – 160 years ago.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
The Herzl Institute held an all-day conference to commemorate the contributions of Zionism’s founder on the 160th anniversary of his birth. Theodor Benjamin Zeev Herzl (May 2, 1860 – July 3, 1904) founded the Zionist Congress and set the Jewish people on the path to statehood.
An Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist and playwright, Herzl became obsessed with the “Jewish question.” Influenced by the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, a French military captain who was falsely accused of treason because he was a Jew, as well as the rise of anti-Semitism in his hometown of Vienna (eventually leading to the election of Mayor Karl Lueger), Herzl concluded that a Jewish state was the only solution.
Herzl recognized that the emancipation of Jews in Europe wasn’t enough. It needed to be followed by the legal recognition of the Jewish people and the founding of a Jewish State. There, all Jews could find a homeland, a life of freedom, labor and honor.
Herzl put his ideas into a book, The Jewish State, which was published in February 1896. The book, according to reports of the time, hit the Jewish people like a thunderbolt. Herzl found himself thrust to the forefront of a movement that had already begun to coalesce.
On August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress assembled in Basle, Switzerland, organized by Herzl. It became a kind of parliament-in-exile for the Jewish people.
In a quite remarkable prophecy, Herzl wrote in his diary on his return to Vienna following the Congress:
“If I were to sum up the Basle Congress in a single phrase – which I would not dare to make public – I would say: In Basle I created the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in 50 everyone will know it.”
It was 50 years and eight months after Herzl wrote these words, on May 14, 1948, that David Ben-Gurion announced the birth of the State of Israel. A picture of Herzl looked down at the proceedings.