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Contents  >>  Zionist Congresses  >>  First Zionist Congress: Basel 29 - 31 August 1897

First Zionist Congress: Basel 29 - 31 August 1897

In Basel habe ich den Judenstaat gegründet. - In Basel I founded the Jewish State.

The first Zionist Congress was to have taken place in Munich, Germany. However, due to considerable opposition by the local community leadership, both Orthodox and Reform, it was decided to transfer the proceedings to Basel, Switzerland.

Herzl acted as chairperson of the Congress which was attended by some 200 participants. The major achievements of the Congress were its formulation of the Zionist platform, known as the Basel program and the foundation of the World Zionist Organization. The program stated,


"Zionism seeks for the Jewish people a publicly recognized legally secured homeland in Palestine."
This gave clear expression to Herzl's political Zionism in contrast with the settlement orientated activities of the more loosely organized Hibbat Zion. Herzl was elected President of the Zionist organization and an Inner Actions Committee and a Greater Actions Committee were elected to run the affairs of the movement between Congresses.
In his diary Herzl wrote,


"Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word - which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly - it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish State."


From Herzl's diaries: 3 September 1897:
Everything rested on my shoulders; and this is not just something I am telling myself, for it was proved when on the afternoon of the third day I left because of fatigue and turned the chairmanship over to Nordau. Then everything was helter-skelter, and I was told afterwards that it was pandemonium. Even before I took the chair, things did not click.

German:
Alles ruhte auf meinen Schultern; und das rede ich mir nicht nur ein, es wurde erwiesen, als ich am dritten Tage nachmittag vor Müdigkeit abging und das Präsidium Nordau übertrug. Da ging alles drunter und drüber, und man erzählte mir später, dass es eine wüste Sitzung war. Auch bevor ich den Vorsitz übernahm, klappte die Sache nicht.

From Herzl's Opening Address:
We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.
...
In this epoch, in other respects one of such high achievement, we are surrounded by the ancient hatred. Antisemitism is the well-known modern name of the movement.
...
The modern, educated, de-ghetto-ized Jew, who felt himself stabbed to the heart. Today we can say this calmly, without being suspected of making a play for the tearful compassion of our enemies. Our conscience is clear. The world has always ben badly misinformed about us. The feeling of unity among us, which the world so often and so bitterly throws up to us, was in process of dissolution when the tide of antisemitism rose about us. Antisemitism has given us our strength again. We have returned home. Zionism is the return of the Jews to Judaism even before they return to the Jewish land.
...
We Zionists seek, for the solution of the Jewish question, not an international society, but international discussion. ... We have nothing to do with conspiracy, secret intervention or indirect models. We wish to put the question in the arena and under the control of free public opinion.
...
Concerning the colonization efforts in the Argentine and in Palestine we shall never speak except in terms of the most genuine gratitude. But these were the opening, and not the closing words of the Zionist movement. This movement must become greater, if it is to be at all. A people can be helped only by itself; and if it cannot do that, then it cannot be helped. We Zionists seek to awaken the Jewish people everywhere to self-help.
...
The basis can be only that of recognized right, and not of sufferance. We have had our fill of experience with toleration and with the protected Jew. Our movement can be logical and consistent only in so far as it aims at the acquisition of a publicly recognized legal guarantee.
...
All this my friends and I have repeated over and over again, and we shall not tire of repeating it until we are understood eveywhere. On this occasion too, which witnesses the bringing together of Jews from so many scattered lands in response to the ancient call of the nation, we shall repeat it. Must we not feel, hanging over us, the intimitation of great things to come, when we reflect on the hundreds of thousands of Jews whose eyes are now fixed on us in hope and expectation? Within a few hours the results of our common counsel will be carried out to the ends of the earth. It is therefore our duty to send forth a message of clarification and reassurance. ... That which the individual says or writes may be passed unnoticed, but not that which issues from this Congress. ... And finally, it is the duty of this Congress to see to it that when its sessions have come to an end, we do not relapse into our previous condition of disorganization. We must create here and now and organ, a permanent organ, which the Jewish people has lacked till now. The enterprise is greater than the ambition of wilfulness of any individual. It is to succeed at all, it must rise to a level of high impersonality. And our Congress shall endure far into the future, not only until the day when our need has been met, but far beyond - perhaps then more than ever. Today we meet on the soil of this friendly nation. Where shall we be a year from now?

German:
Wir wollen den Grundstein legen zu dem Haus, das dereinst die jüdische Nation beherbergen wird.
...
Und in dieser Zeit, die sonst so hoch ist, fühlen wir uns überall vom alten Hass umgeben. Antisemitismus ist der Ihnen nur zu wohlbekannte moderne Name der Bewegung.
...
Das moderne, gebildete, dem Ghetto entwachsene, des Schacherns entwöhnte Judentum bekam einen Stich mitten ins Herz. Wir können das heute ruhig sagen, ohne uns verdächtig zu machen, dass wir an die Tränendrüsen unserer Gegner appellieren wollen. Wir sind mit uns im Reinen. Man war in der Welt von jeher schlecht über uns unterrichtet. Das Gefühl der Zusammengehörigkeit, welches man uns so häufig und grimmig vorwarf, es war in voller Auflösung begriffen, als uns der Antisemitismus anfiel. Dieser hat es wieder gestärkt. Wir sind sozusagen nach Hause gegangen. Der Zionismus ist die Heimkehr zum Judentum noch vor der Rückkehr ins Judenland.
...
Wir Zionisten wünschen zur Lösung der Judenfrage nicht etwa einen internationalen Verein, sondern die internationale Diskussion. ... Es kann sich bei uns nicht um Bündeleien, geheime Interventionen und Schleichwege handeln, sondern nur um eine freimütige Erörterung unter der beständigen und vollständigen Kontrolle der öffentlichen Meinung.
...
Von diesen Kolonisationsversuchen in Palästina und Argentinien können und werden wir alle nie anders als mit aufrichtiger Dankbarkeit sprechen. Aber sie waren nur das erste, sie sind nicht das letzte Wort der zionistischen Bewegung. Diese muss grösser sein, wenn sie überhaupt sein soll. Ein Volk kann sich nur selbst helfen; kann es das nicht, so ist ihm eben nicht zu helfen.
...
Die Basis kann nur ein Zustand des Rechtes und nicht der Duldung sein. Mit der Toleranz und dem Schutzjudentum auf Widerruf haben wir nachgerade genug Erfahrungen gemacht. Unsere Bewegung hat folglich nur dann einen vernünftigen Zug, wenn sie öffentlich-rechtliche Bürgschaften anstrebt.
...
Das alles haben meine Freunde und ich oft gesagt. Wir wollen uns die Mühe nicht verdriessen lassen, es immer und immer wieder zu sagen, bis man uns versteht. Bei dieser feierlichen Gelegenheit, wo sich Juden aus so vielen Ländern zusammengefunden haben, auf einen Ruf, auf den alten Ruf der Nation, heute sei unser Bekenntnis feierlich wiederholt. Muss uns nicht eine Ahnung grossen Geschehens überfliegen, wenn wir denken, dass in diesem Augenblicke die Hoffnungen und Erwartungen von vielen Hunderttausenden unseres Volkes auf unserer Versammlung ruhen. Nach fernen Ländern, ja über das Weltmeer wird in der nächsten Stunde die Nachricht von unseren Beratungen und Beschlüssen eilen. Darum soll Aufklärung und Beruhigung von diesem Kongress ausgehen. ... Was die einzelnen unter uns schrieben oder sagten, konnte und durfte man achtlos übergehen - nicht mehr das, was der Kongress hervorbringt. ... Und endlich wird der Kongress für seine eigene Dauer sorgen, damit wir nicht wieder auseinander laufen, spurlos und ohne Wirkung. In diesem Kongresse schaffen wir dem jüdischen Volk ein Organ, das es bisher nicht hatte, das es aber dringend, zum Leben dringend braucht. Unsere Sache ist zu gross für den Ehrgeiz und die Willkür einzelner Personen. Sie muss ins Unpersönliche hinaufgehoben werden, wenn sie gelingen soll. Und unser Kongress soll ewig leben, nicht nur zur Erlösung aus der alten Not, sondern nachher erst recht. Heute sind wir hier auf dem gastlichen Boden dieser freien Stadt - wo werden wir übers Jahr sein?

Before Max Nordau's address the Praesidium of the Congress was elected, in accordance with the plan adopted at the preliminary conference. Herzl was President, Nordau First Vice-President.
After Nordau's address came the reports from the various countries. Nathan Birnbaum and David Farbstein, in supplementary addresses dealt with the sociological and economic aspects of the movement.

The Basel Program

Zionism seeks to secure for the Jewish people a publicly recognized, legally secured homeland in Palestine. For the achievement of its purpose the Congress envisages the following methods:
1.) The programmatic encouragement of the settlement of Palestine with Jewish agricultural workers, laborers and artisans.
2.) The unification and organization of all Jewry into local and general groups in accordance with the laws of their respective countries.
3.) The strengthening of Jewish self-awareness and national consciousness.
4.) The preparation of activity for the obtaining of the consent of the various governments, necessary for the fulfillment of the aim of Zionism.

The Creation of an Organization
The second important task was the creation of an organization. Here the difficulty consisted of the possible clash with the laws of the various countries: in many places membership in international organizations was forbidden by law. The Congress therefore had to content itself with the creation of a general framework; the integration of the various local bodies and the form of membership had to be left to each country.
The Congress was declared to be "the chief organ of the Zionist movement." The basis of electoral right was to be the payment of at least a shekel - which was taken at that time to be the equivalent of one German mark. The Congress was to elect an "Actions Committee" - "Aktionskomitee", with its permanent seat in Vienna. Of its membership five were to be residents of Vienna, and these were to constitute the actual Executive (Inneres Aktionskomitee); the remainder were to be elected from the various national organizations.

The Instruments of Action
Max Bodenheimer reported on the numerous plans which had been suggested, and proposed the formation of a bank and of a National Fund. Professor Shapira had already proposed a National Fund in "Die Welt", and now he urged the adoption of the plan. Schnirer proposed that no futher immigration into Palestine be undertaken before the status of "legal security and public recognition" had been accorded to the aims of the movement; the existing colonies were to be looked upon and supported as "experimental stations". Kaminka reported on the colonization work done till that time. Adam Rosenberg of New York spoke on general conditions on Palestine; Bambus defended the practical work. Heinrich Loewe, part of his address was delivered in Hebrew, announced the agreement of the Palestinians to the plans of the Congress. Marcus Ehrenpreis delivered an address on the Hebrew language, and Prof. Shapira demanded the creation of a Hebrew University in Palestine.

 

First Congress: Invitation

First Congress: The Congress Building in Basel, Switzerland

First Congress: Membership Card

First Congress: Membership card

First Congress: Symbol

First Congress: Opening

First Congress: Rabbiner Marcus Ehrenpreis from Sweden

First Congress: The Zionist flag

The Zionist flag

First Congress: Delegates

First Congress: Basel Programme

First Congress: Diary entry after the first congress

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