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04/18/2023 03:38:27 PM


Theodor Herzl and the road to 1948

In a little more than a week, Israel will celebrate its 75th birthday. The modern Zionist movement did not begin as a celebration but as an admission of failure. Political emancipation had failed to free the Jews of Western European nations of antisemitism. As the trial of  Alfred Dreyfus showed in late 19th century France, the crowd had not forgotten to chant, “Death to the Jews!” One observer of this hate was Theodor Herzl. The conclusion he drew was that Europe would never be a safe place for Jews. Political Zionism was his solution to the Jewish problem. 

Reform Jews continued to insist that if they became more like everyone else, they would be accepted. Chillingly, Herzl declared the opposite would happen—they would merely increase the resentment and hate. He predicted that the Jewish community in Europe would be destroyed in fifty years. Never was a prophet more sadly correct. 

Herzl was not the first modern Zionist, but he saw the need like no one else to go to the world leaders with the idea that he could help them get rid of the Jews by creating a Jewish state for them. He met with the Pope, the Czar, and the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. He was a self-proclaimed statesman. He even created a Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland (the German Jews would not have it) in order to declare the Jewish State was being born. 

It would take a lot more than a crowd of Jews in rented tuxedos in a public hall to make a state, but it was a beginning.

Next week: 1948.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784