Israel’s president to be guest of honor at 125th anniversary of First Zionist Congress

Some 1,400 people will celebrate the 1897 event after which Theodor Herzl declared to his diary, “At Basel I founded the Jewish state.”

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, will be the guests of honor at the quasiquicentennial of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland on Monday.

Herzog will deliver the keynote speech at the special gala marking the watershed event organized by Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism.

The First Zionist Congress took place August 29-31, 1897 at the Stadtcasino Hall, in the northwestern Swiss city of Basel, which dates back to medieval times.

While in the country for an official state visit that includes a meeting with Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, centering around topics including “important diplomatic security and economic issues,” Herzog said that the upcoming Basel speech will be the most important part of his trip.

“The heart of this visit is a historic milestone,” Herzog said. “The 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, was a formative event for the Jewish People and for humanity at large.”

“Zionism is the ideal combination of Judaism’s deepest roots with groundbreaking innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. As the president of the nation-state of the Jewish People, I am astonished and filled with pride every day anew at the sight of Herzl’s vision coming to life in front of our eyes, and I feel the heavy duty and responsibility for the future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”

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The three-day conference that begins Sunday is a celebration of the gathering of 208 Jews from all over the world to establish the Zionist Organization.

The attendees approved the Basel Program, which formulated Zionism’s goal as “establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.”

Three days after the delegates went home, Herzl famously wrote in his diary, “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it.”

Fifty years later, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what was then British-ruled Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. While the Arabs rejected the proposal, the decision set off celebrations in Jewish communities in Palestine and around the world, and the Jewish State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948.

Some 1,400 people are slated to attend the gala, which will have two parts: the Herzl Leadership Conference focusing on modern Zionism, and the Impact Conference for Social and Economic Entrepreneurship, with the participation of 125 invited leaders in high-tech fields.

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There will tight security, as the Swiss government has received warnings that pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS protests are being planned to take place near the hall. Although the Rhine River which adjoins Basel is a vital transport route for cargo, it will be closed to ship traffic for the duration, as will the airspace above the city.

The conference was organized by the World Zionist Organization in cooperation with the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the government of the Canton of Basel.