Herzl saw the “Jewish problem” as a national matter, and its solution, accordingly, as “an international political problem to be settled by the civilized nations of the world in council.” The means to this, he believed, would be to form an orderly organization that would work to organize the people and the financial infrastructure, and to create an authorized body that would negotiate with the world powers for purchasing the lands of Eretz Israel. Therefore, Herzl attached great importance to obtaining a charter that would guarantee free immigration, self-defense, independence and internal autonomy for the colonists. Such a charter, he knew, was necessary both for protecting the Jewish colonists in Eretz Israel against the pressures of the ruling government, and in order to provide legal authorization for immigration.
In his efforts to obtain the desired charter, Herzl turned to Germany, which wielded great influence over the Ottoman Empire. He met with prominent figures in the German leadership, and when Kaiser Wilhelm II* of Germany took a tour of Turkey and Eretz Israel, Herzl met with him in Jerusalem.
On October 14, Herzl and his fellow members of the delegation gathered in Constantinople, Turkey, and sailed from there to Eretz Israel. “The parting from my loved ones was particularly difficult that day. I could be sitting peacefully in my beautiful home, with my beautiful children, whose pleasant years of childhood are passing by without my taking pleasure in them… I am undertaking the trials of such a distant journey, which may not be free of danger… but it is my duty to go,” wrote Herzl before embarking on the journey.
About a week before sailing for Eretz Israel, the two met in Constantinople, Turkey, and Herzl described in his diary the excitement that came over him on this occasion. “The emperor came towards me,” he wrote. “I remained standing in place and bowed deeply. He came towards me almost up to the door, and extended his hand. I believe he said that he was very glad to see me, or something of the sort… I was slightly perturbed by the question whether my redingote was in place, or whether the frock coat would have been more appropriate.” Later on, Herzl goes on to describe the emperor standing before him. “I have never seen such eyes,” he writes, “they reflect a special, bold, inquisitive soul… he is of my height, and my first impression is that he is a bit embarrassed by the fact that one arm is shorter than the other, and he is saying inwardly: You, who know me only from pictures… are you not disappointed when you see before you an emperor, whose arm is shorter than that of other men?” (October 19, 1898).
These words by Herzl reflect his human abilities well, and the fact that even at fateful times, he was able to skillfully evaluate the social situation before him with an open, sharp and direct eye, and fathom the inner thoughts of the figures before him. In this manner, he succeeded in plumbing the emperor’s psychological depths and identifying the qualities that his dignified image tried to conceal.
It would appear that these interpersonal skills were of use to Herzl in his diplomatic talks. Herzl picked up the emperor’s reactions to his ideas not only from the words he spoke, but also from what was projected from his body motions and facial expressions. For example, when Herzl presented the emperor with his idea to found a lands company under German sponsorship, he observed the emperor making a motion with his head, “a quick satisfied nod, as he was accustomed to making, more with his eyes than with his head… he looks at the person with a direct and steady gaze… and when a comment or request pleases him, his mouth remains drawn back towards his wonderful eyes, as if to say – ‘I understand you, you are a man after my own heart…’”
Towards the end of the meeting, the emperor said that the Jews would accept the idea of colonizing Eretz Israel if they knew that this was being done under the auspices of the German regime. “Finally,” writes Herzl, “I said: ‘Have I become that carried away? But the matter seems to me completely natural,’ and the emperor answered: ‘To me as well!’”
In light of this, it is no wonder that the meeting in Constantinople inspired Herzl with expectations and hopes towards the planned interview in Eretz Israel. “If the delegation to Eretz Israelgoes well, the hardest part will be behind us,” he wrote in his diary, but unfortunately, this encounter did not lead to the anticipated results.
“When day broke we began to search for the Jewish coast… it is strange to see what emotion this barren land arouses in most of the travelers: The elderly German priest from South Africa, the Russian muzhik in the fetid third class, the Arabs traveling with us from Constantinople, we Zionists, the poor Jewish woman from Romania, who wants to reach her sick daughter in Jerusalem and is afraid that without her Romanian passport she will be sent back where she came from” (October 27, 1898).
At the end of October 1898, Herzl and his companions reached the shores of Eretz Israel. Herzl’s diaries shed light on the days that preceded the journey and the excitement that accompanied his encounter with the Holy Land.
The preparations for the trip lasted for several weeks. At the beginning of October, Herzl received a letter from Prince Eulenburg notifying him that the German emperor expected to receive him in Eretz Israel, and will be deeply disappointed if he is not there. “I read the letter and was stunned at first,” Herzl described his feelings in the face of this development. “I immediately understood the severe consequences that this could have for me. If I fail to return at the end of my vacation to the editorial board [of the Neue Freie Presse newspaper]but rather travel to Eretz Israel, it could simply cost me my job. On the other hand, I cannot ignore the wish of the emperor, which is like a command… there is no room for hesitation here… it is my duty to risk my job too” (October 2, 1898).
The journey to Eretz Israel therefore marked Herzl's new path: The voyage was also a personal act of daring for him, which signified willingness to give up his professional path as a journalist in order to devote himself to his political and diplomatic tasks. The journey can therefore be seen as a profound turnabout in Herzl’s life – from a private individual immersed in his personal promotion to a public figure dedicating most of his time to matters of the Jewish people and nationality.
Herzl headed the delegation, which included four other people besides himself: David Wolffsohn, the designated director of the Jewish Colonial Trust; Max Bodenheimer, president of the World Zionist Organization in Germany; Reuven Schnirer,** vice president of the Zionist General Council, and the engineer Joseph Seidener from Eretz Israel. The official reason for the visit was diplomatic, but no less important was the fact that the trip afforded Herzl and his friends an excellent opportunity to get to know the land first hand, to get a taste of the atmosphere and to meet with the inhabitants.
The delegation members spent their first night in Eretz Israel in Rishon Lezion. The residents of the moshava received them with singing and dancing, and gave them a tour of the local winery. Afterwards Herzl and his friends toured Mikve Israel (Herzl described it as “an excellent agricultural school” ) and the moshava Ness Ziona, where they were received by all of the local residents. “Children sang, an old man received us with bread, salt and wine from his land. I had to visit almost each and every house in the moshava,” Herzl recorded his impression of the visit. Later on, the delegation reached the moshava Rehovot, where a procession of horsemen came out towards them, about whom Herzl wrote that they “sang Hebrew songs and surrounded our cart. Wolffsohn, Schnirer, Bodenheimer and I looked with tearful eyes at these swift and manly horsemen.” His impressions from Eretz Israel can also be found in his book Altneuland: “The moshava, whose rural wealth could clearly be seen in the wonderful farmstead buildings, the well-fed animals and the high level of the cultivated fields, was named ‘new village’” (Altneuland, Book 3, Chapter 2).
Near Rehovot, a brief meeting was also held between Herzl and the emperor. "At nine o’clocka commotion on the road… announced the approach of the emperor’s convoy. Stern Turkish horsemen galloped, their reins held loosely, their rifles threatening, their gaze even more threatening. Afterwards came the vanguard of the emperor’s convoy. And there, in the midst of several women, was the emperor himself.”
The pupils of Mikve Israel began to sing the German anthem; Herzl doffed his helmet in the emperor’s honor and the emperor stopped before him and extended his hand. “Very hot! But this land has a future!” said the emperor when Herzl inquired after his health, and added that the land needs water, but it is a “land of the future.” Wolffsohn captured the exciting scene with his camera, saying with emotion that “I will not give up this photographic plate even for 10,000 marks.” It subsequently became apparent, however, that the photographs had failed, and the camera lens had only picked up the emperor’s silhouette and Herzl’s left leg. Later on, a photomontage was successfully created out of the blurred picture, showing Herzl, hat in hand, standing before the emperor on the black horse. So that even though the original photographs were not successful, evidence has been preserved of the encounter between the two.
The members of the delegation were greatly impressed by their visit to the Mikve Israel agricultural school and the moshavot Rishon Lezion, Ness Ziona and Rehovot, but the highlight of the journey was Jerusalem. The actual encounter with the city strengthened Herzl’s connection with the Holy City. If before the visit he was inclined to support a Jewish state even if it did not include Jerusalem, after the visit he acknowledged the importance of the city and its immense significance, and was convinced that it should not be separated from the future political entity.
Jerusalem evoked mixed feelings in Herzl: A deep emotional impression, along with distaste for the squalor and poverty of its alleyways. In his vision, he saw the city as a beautiful treasure, which it would become after dutiful care: “First of all I would clean it of its squalor… I would move the markets elsewhere, and then a new city would be built around the holy places, comfortable and ventilated, with drainage canals, while preserving the old style of building as much as possible... the Old City... I would carefully encapsulate, remove all means of transport from it, leaving only houses of prayer and charity institutions within the ancient walls, and on the hilly slopes… would extend a new and wonderful Jerusalem.”
On November 2, the official meeting between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm was held. Herzl was careful to prepare his friends for the event: He instructed them in what order to stand and advised them on their posture, and as modern politicians do today –studied the character of the German leader and prepared for his possible questions. Yet despite the intensive preparations, the meeting ended in disappointment: “This brief reception will be preserved in Jewish history forever… but how pitiful are the details of the entire event," Herzl summed up. The delegation members, who appeared in elegant attire as befitted the occasion, were presented to the emperor, who listened attentively to Herzl’s speech, but did not promise a thing. “Your movement, with which I am well familiar, incorporates a healthy idea,” said the emperor, and emphasized that the hot land was in need of extensive water resources. After taking an interest in the plans of one of the delegation members, the engineer Joseph Seidener, to build dams in the region, the emperor commented on the local morbidity problems, but did not raise practical ideas for improving the conditions, neither did he offer his economic support nor express willingness to grant a charter for settlement.
Moreover, while on their way back, the delegation members were disappointed to learn that the media coverage of the event was brief and laconic, as a report of a marginal and negligible occurrence. Bodenheimer, Wolffsohn and the others fell into despair, but Herzl insisted on maintaining optimism. “You see,” he said, “that is why I am the leader. I am neither wiser nor better than you are. But I am fearless, and therefore suited for leadership. At difficult moments such as these, I do not despair.”
Indeed, as befits a leader, Herzl did not despair, and continued to work vigorously to obtain international recognition for the right of the Jews for autonomous settlement and an independent state.
The German Emperor and King of Prussia, grandson of Wilhelm I and Queen Victoria.
He reigned in an ambitious and energetic manner – his personal and ideological differences with Otto von Bismarck caused him to dismiss the renowned statesman, preferring in his stead obedient employees and devoted advisors, who catered to his every demand.
A physician and one of the early Zionists.
Schnirer, born in Bucharest (Romania), moved in his youth to Vienna and was one of the founders of the student organization “Kadima.” Later on, he helped Herzl with the preparations for the First Zionist Congress, and was one of the drafters of the Zionist Movement’s constitution. His life ended tragically: During World War II, he and his wife took their own lives.