By Ryan Jones, www.zionist.com
Zionism as a concept and an idea of hope has existed for nearly 2,500 years, dating back to the Babylonian Exile. However, the birth of Zionism as a political movement did not take place until 1897. The transformation of Zionism from a mere idea and concept into a very real political force was the result of not only 1,900 years of exile and hope but also of a marked increase in anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe at the end of the 19th century.
While this increase in anti-Semitic behavior was noticed by many, one man decided to take definitive action in an effort to free the Jewish people from the results of such behavior. That man’s name was Theodor Herzl.
Theodor Herzl was born in 1860 in Budapest, Hungary to a largely assimilated Jewish family. Herzl moved with his family to Vienna when he was still a young man and proceeded to receive his degree in law in 1884. After less than a year of working in the field of law, Herzl decided to take his life in a different direction and focus on his writing, a skill for which he had a natural proficiency.
In 1891 Herzl was sent to Paris to act as a correspondent for the New Free Press, an influential, liberal Viennese newspaper. While on assignment in Paris in 1894 to cover the Dreyfus Trial, Herzl came face to face with “the Jewish problem”.
Alfred Dreyfus was a French-Jewish army officer during the Franco-Prussian War, which France had recently lost. The French military, in an attempt to find a scapegoat for their humiliating defeat, trumped up charges of treason against Dreyfus. In January of 1895, Alfred Dreyfus was subjected to a very humiliating and very public ceremony where he was stripped of his rank and court-martialed, all while the crowd changed “death to the Jews”. Herzl was in attendance.
“The Jewish problem”, the fact that the Jews, as an ethnic minority, would never fully be accepted by their host nations and almost always be blamed for the troubles of those nations, suddenly became very real to Herzl. God had foretold, through His prophets, that the Jews would never be accepted in the nations of their exile and would suffer much persecution as a result.
In 1896 Herzl published a booklet entitled “The Jewish State” stating that the only lasting solution to “the Jewish problem” was a national homeland for the Jews. The booklet outlined a number of aspects for such a state, including immigration rights and form of government. The booklet and Herzl’s ideas met with mixed reactions from the Jewish community. Many embraced the idea and asked Herzl to lead the way, others embraced the idea but were unwilling to take such drastic steps themselves, and some, including most Orthodox and Reform Jews, rejected the idea outright.
Herzl accepted the request for him to lead this new Zionist movement and on August 29, 1897 in Basle, Switzerland Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress. The First Zionist Congress established the World Zionist Organization to build a financial base for the Zionist enterprise and adopted the Basel Plan aimed at forwarding Herzl’s original ideas laid out in “The Jewish State”.
Herzl was elected to chair the Congress as well as the World Zionist Organization, a post that would keep him very busy until his untimely death seven years later. Herzl summed up the First Zionist Congress by stating, “In Basel I founded the Jewish state…maybe in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will realize it.” And with that very real prophecy, Zionism as a political movement was born.
Ryan Jones is a Gentile believer from the United States who lives and works in Israel as a journalist. He is also involved with tourism. At the age of 19, Ryan felt a strong call from the L-RD to relocate to Israel. He has blessed me beyond all expectations with a tremendous wife – Naomi – and two beautiful children – Nadav and Neriyah. His website is http://www.zionist.com/