3

THEODOR HERZL

In mid-February 1896 Breitenstein, the Viennese booksellers, offered in their display window a small new booklet entitled Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question in English translation). Its author was a journalist and playwright well known in the Austrian capital, Theodor Herzl. An entry in Herzl’s diary dated 14 February reads: ‘My five hundred copies came this evening. When I had the bundle carted to my room, I was terribly shaken. This package of pamphlets constitutes the decision in tangible form. My life may now take a new turn.’ And on the following day: ‘Meanwhile, the pamphlet has appeared in the bookshops. For me, the die is cast.’* When the pamphlet appeared Herzl was thirty-six years old. He had published a dozen plays and innumerable essays, had been a foreign correspondent for many years, and was a man with a considerable reputation in his field. His fears and expectations were not those of a novice for whom the publication of his first book is an event of world-shaking importance. This new book was very different in character from those he had previously written, and Herzl was not far off the mark when he expressed the view that the ideas he had formulated in his little book could bring about a change in the history of the Jewish people. Modern political Zionism begins with the publication of Der Judenstaat.

Herzl disclaimed having made any sensational new discovery. On the contrary, as he said in the very first sentence: ‘The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is an ancient one. It is the restoration of the Jewish state. … I have discovered neither the Jewish situation as it has crystallised in history, nor the means to remedy it.’ The Judenstaat came as a surprise and shock to Herzl’s friends and colleagues, who knew him as an able journalist and gifted essayist capable of providing at short notice interesting travelogues on London, Breslau, or a Spanish village, a man who could write with equal ease about Anatole France and TheJungle Book, a coffee-house litterateur par excellence - but hardly an ideologist. His new book did not just deal with a topic he had not touched before; it was in a totally different style, as if written by another man, in short, clear, powerful sentences wholly unlike the involved, elegant, tired, and half-ironical style of the fashionable essayist. The following examples convey the flavour: ‘In this pamphlet I will offer no defence of the Jews. It would be useless. Everything that reason and everything that sentiment can possibly say in their defence already has been said.’ Or, about antisemitism:

The Jewish question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. It is a misplaced piece of medievalism which civilised nations do not seem able to shake off, try as they will. … The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in by Jewish immigrants. … I consider the Jewish question neither a social nor a religious one, even though it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question.


What scandalised most of Herzl’s contemporaries in this pamphlet was his flat assertion that assimilation had not worked. How could an assimilated Jew make such a patently absurd claim? Herzl was after all an editor of the Neue Freie Presse, one of Europe’s leading newspapers. He was living in Vienna, not in one of the ghettoes of the east. Yet Herzl, in this merciless analysis of the situation of the Jews in Europe, found that the dilemma facing them was basically everywhere the same:


We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities in which we live, seeking only to preserve the faith of our fathers. It is not permitted to us. In vain are we loyal patriots, sometimes super-loyal; in vain do we make the same sacrifices of life and property as our fellow citizens; in vain do we strive to enhance the fame of our native land in the arts and sciences, or her wealth by trade and commerce. In our native lands where we have lived for centuries we are still decried as aliens, often by men whose ancestors had not yet come at a time when Jewish sighs had long been heard in the country. The majority decides who the ‘alien’ is; this, and all else in the relations between peoples, is a matter of power. … In the world as it now is and will probably remain, for an indefinite period, might takes precedence over right. It is without avail, therefore, for us to be loyal patriots, as were the Huguenots, who were forced to emigrate. If we were left in peace. … But I think we shall not be left in peace.*

Such fears had been voiced by other writers before, but of this Herzl was quite unaware when he was writing. According to an entry in his diary dated 1O February 1896, he had just been reading Pinsker’s Autoemanzipation, and discovered an ‘astounding correspondence’ in the critical part: ‘A pity I did not read this work before my own pamphlet was printed. On the other hand, it is a good thing that I didn’t know it – or perhaps I would have abandoned my own undertaking.’*

Theodor (Benjamin Ze’ev) Herzl was born in Budapest in 1860. His father was in the clothing business. There was still a certain amount of Jewish religious tradition in the family, but culturally it was fully assimilated, as were most Jews of similar social and cultural background. Young Herzl received a conventional education at a local high school. He was interested in literature and, needless to say, in the ‘last questions’ concerning the purpose of life. His student years in Vienna were uneventful. He enrolled in 1878 in the faculty of law, specialised in Roman Law, and in 1884 received his doctorate and was admitted to the Vienna bar. He read a great deal during those years, and wrote several short plays and many essays. Most of his friends were Jews. He witnessed the emergence of the antisemitic movement in the Austrian capital, and in 1883 resigned from Albia, the student fraternity to which he belonged, because it was about to embrace antisemitism. But these events did not constitute a turning-point in his life. The Jewish question was not Herzl’s main preoccupation at the time. His great ambition was to be accepted as a German writer and playwright. His friends thought of him as a gifted young man, of great literary promise, but they were not unaware of his shortcomings. Heinrich Kana, his closest friend, wrote that Herzl was ‘intolerant, inhumane in his judgment of people, domineering and hyper-egoistic’.

After a not too enthusiastic start in law Herzl turned to writing, first freelancing for a leading Berlin newspaper, and from 1887 on a more permanent basis for Viennese journals. Though widely acclaimed as a feuilletonist, he did not fare too well in the theatre. His comedies were neither better nor worse than most of the run-of-the-mill productions of those years. They were trivial and not really very funny, and this at a time when the burning social and philosophical questions of the day were beginning to dominate literature and the stage. Herzl’s plays were in the tradition and style of a bygone period. Of this he was quite unaware. He remained genuinely convinced that his real gifts were literary and that he had been misjudged and ignored. Years later, when his name had already become a legend, when he was (in his own words) an ageing and celebrated man, he noted in his diary that he had become world famous in a sphere where he had accomplished ‘next to nothing intellectually’, but had merely displayed a mediocre political skill: ‘But as an author, particularly as a playwright, I am held to be nothing, less than nothing. … And yet I feel, I know, that I am by instinct a great writer, or was one, who failed to yield his full harvest only because he became nauseated and discouraged.’*

In October 1891 the Neue Freie Presse appointed him its correspondent in Paris. He was to stay there for a number of years and these turned out to be the decisive period in his life. Paris was then the centre of the civilised world, the focus of all new political and cultural movements. The Paris years gave him an insight into the workings of French affairs and European politics, and he came to know many of the leading spirits of the age, acquiring a new sophistication and self-confidence. It was in Paris, too, that he was again confronted with the Jewish question. For these were the years of the Panama scandal and the beginning of the Dreyfus affair. Jews were prominently implicated and there was a resurgence of antisemitism in France as well as in other European countries. Jewish topics began to preoccupy Herzl and appeared more and more frequently in his writings. He did not claim that the charges of the antisemites were altogether unjust: the ghetto, which had not been of their making, had bred in them certain asocial qualities; the Jews had come to embody the characteristics of men who had served long prison terms unjustly. Emancipation had been based on the illusion that men are made free when their rights are guaranteed on paper. The Jews had been liberated from the ghetto but basically, in their mental make-up, they had remained ghetto Jews. What then was the answer to the Jewish question? Perhaps the radical dissolution of world Jewry, as he said in conversation with the editor of his paper? On one occasion, in 1893, he suggested that half a dozen duels would do a great deal to improve the situation of Jews in society. Herzl was always inclined to think in terms of radical solutions; there was a strong romantic element in his ideas and also a belief in the virtues of grand gestures, demonstrations and showmanship. At one stage, again in 1893, he envisaged the general baptism of Jewish children, because the Jews must submerge themselves in the people. He wanted to appeal to the Pope: help us against antisemitism and I in return will lead a great movement amongst the Jews for voluntary and honourable conversion to Christianity. He envisaged a solemn festive procession to St Stephen’s Cathedral at noon on a Sunday, accompanied by the ringing of bells. The adult leaders of the community would be at the head of the procession, and would proceed to the threshold of the church. Though the leaders would stay outside, the others would embrace Christianity. These were just fantasies. It was pointed out to Herzl that, all other considerations apart, the Pope would never receive him.

He abandoned the plan, but the Jewish problem continued to preoccupy him. Then, within a few months, he suddenly came up with a new solution, apparently no less Utopian: ‘It bears the aspect of a mighty dream’, he wrote in the very first entry in his Zionist diary. He decided to approach Baron von Hirsch, one of the leading Jewish philanthropists of the age, and in a meeting in June 1895 he developed his new plan. He already saw himself as the leader of the Jews: ‘You are the great money Jew, I am the Jew of the spirit’. In the conversation Herzl sharply criticised the methods used by the baron to help the Jews. Philanthropy was of no use. On the contrary, it could only do harm because it debased the character of the people. ‘You breed beggars,’ he told the astonished baron. What of Herzl’s own solution? Some of his proposals might seem too simple, he said, others too fantastic, ‘but it is the simple and fantastic which leads men’. At this point the baron grew impatient and began to doubt the sanity of his visitor. Where would he get the money for his fantastically ambitious schemes? Rothschild would probably donate five hundred francs. For the rich Jews, Hirsch said, were bad; they took no interest in the sufferings of the poor.

Herzl sadly concluded that the baron clearly did not understand what fantasy meant, or grasp the importance of imponderabilia floating high in the air. On the same day, following this conversation, Herzl wrote to the baron that he would launch a Jewish national loan to finance migration to the Promised Land. It would be a national, not a philanthropic movement: a flag, his interlocutor might ask mockingly, what was a flag? A stick with a rag at the end of it. No, Herzl replied, a flag was a great deal more. ‘With a flag people are led – perhaps even to the Promised Land. For a flag men live and die.’ But although the attempt to win over the baron was clearly a failure, Herzl did not give up. If the conversation had not been a success it had helped Herzl to clarify his own ideas. Within the next three weeks he wrote a long memorandum which contained all the basic ideas subsequently developed in Der Judenstaat. He wanted to address the family council of the Rothschilds; Herzl had still not given up the idea of winning over the ‘money Jews’.

These were for Herzl weeks of profound emotional tension. ‘During these weeks I was more than once afraid that I was going out of my mind’, he wrote in his diary. He no longer doubted the greatness of his mission; he would be named among the great benefactors of mankind. Perhaps he was solving not just the Jewish question, but a general social problem as well? His move from Vienna to Paris was a ‘historical necessity’. The Jewish state was a world need: ‘I believe for me life has ended and world history begun.’ Then again doubts: would the Jews be able to appreciate his mission? Would those timid, helpless creatures understand the call to freedom and manhood? One day he would feel sanguine about his mission, the next day depressed. ‘I have given up the whole thing. There is no helping the Jews for the time being. If someone were to show them the way out of their misery they would treat him with contempt. They are disintegrated ghetto natures.’ But Herzl persevered. The despair, the black moods were confided only to his diary. To the outside world he radiated assurance and confidence. Years later, when Zionist fortunes had reached a low ebb, he was to tell his closest friends: ‘I am not better nor more clever than any of you. But I remain undaunted and that is why the leadership belongs to me.’

For the time being, however, Herzl was not leading anyone; only a few friends knew about the manifesto he had been writing. One of them thought Herzl’s mind had become unhinged as the result of overwork. He advised rest and medical treatment. Others were moved by his sincerity and the moral force of his ideas but believed that an appeal to the Rothschilds would be quite fruitless. Perhaps Herzl should publish his views in the form of a novel? Herzl accepted the challenge. Having been slighted or ignored by the ‘money Jews’, he might as well appeal to the general public. And so, in an edition of three thousand copies, Der Judenstaat was published by Breitenstein in February 1896.

The basic ideas can be briefly summarised: the world needed the Jewish state, Herzl wrote in the introduction, therefore it would arise. It was not a Utopia for the simple reason that the Jews were impelled, by their plight, to find a solution. It might well be that he was ahead of the time, that the sufferings were not yet acute enough, that the Jewish state still remained for the moment a political romance. But even if the present generation was too dull to understand it, a future and finer generation would rise to the historical mission. Herzl saw antisemitism, ‘the Jewish question’, as did most of his assimilationist contemporaries, as an anachronism, a remnant of the Middle Ages. But his prognosis was not optimistic: man was steadily advancing on the ethical level, but his progress was fearfully slow: ‘Should we wait for the average man to become as generous-minded as was Lessing … we would have to wait beyond our lifetime, beyond the lifetimes of our children, of our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.’* And until then? Fortunately, technical progress had made it possible to solve problems that had been intractable only a few generations earlier. Herzl then went on to discuss his ideas for a Jewish state. He did not want to compel anyone to join the exodus. If any or all of French Jewry protested against his scheme because they were already assimilated, well and good; the scheme would not affect them. On the contrary, they would only benefit, because they, like the Christians, would be freed of the disquieting and inescapable competition of a Jewish proletariat, and antisemitism would cease to exist. Herzl tried to anticipate and refute yet another argument: the exodus would not lead from civilisation into the desert. It would be carried out entirely in the framework of civilisation: ‘We shall not revert to a lower stage but rise to a higher one. We shall not dwell in mud huts; we shall build new, more beautiful, and more modern houses, and possess them in safety.’

But was the exodus really necessary? Herzl surveyed the varieties of persecution to which Jews were subjected. Everywhere they were attacked, in parliaments, in assemblies, in the street, from the pulpit. Attempts were made to thrust them out of business (‘Don’t buy from Jews’). The Jewish middle classes were threatened, the position of doctors, lawyers, teachers was becoming daily more intolerable, the passions of the mob were incited against the wealthy. Princes and governments could not protect them; they would only incur popular hatred by showing them too much favour: ‘The nations in whose midst Jews live are all covertly or openly antisemitic.’ Such statements sounded exaggerated, alarmist, almost hysterical in 1896, and when Herzl derided the belief in the unlimited perfectibility of man as so much sentimental drivel he was, of course, attacked as an obscurantist. Yet he was in some respects still too optimistic, as subsequent European history was to show. He maintained that where Jews had received equal rights these could not be rescinded, for this would be contrary to the spirit of the age and would also drive all Jews into the ranks of the revolutionary party. Their expropriation could not be effected without causing a major economic crisis and was therefore quite impractical. But if their enemies could not get rid of the Jews, this was bound to deepen their hatred of them. Antisemitism was growing day by day and hour by hour. And it would continue to increase because its causes still existed and were ineradicable. The Jews could perhaps vanish without a trace into the surrounding peoples if they were left in peace for just two generations: ‘But they will not let us be. After brief periods of toleration, their hostility erupts again and again.’ Whether the Jews wanted it or not, they were one people, a group whom affliction bound together; their enemies were making them one people, whatever their own wishes.

Efforts had been made in the past to solve the Jewish question, but the attempt to turn Jews into peasants in their countries of origin was quite artificial. The peasant was a creature of the past, a type on the way to extinction. Assimilation was no panacea, as historical experience had shown. There remained the new, obvious, simple solution – to create a Jewish state, to give the Jews sovereignty over a portion of the globe adequate to meet their national requirements. The exodus and the building of the state would not be a sudden act, but a gradual process lasting decades. The poorest Jews, those in immediate need, would go first, cultivate the soil, construct roads, build bridges and railways, regulate rivers and provide themselves with homesteads. They would be followed by those of the next grade, the intellectual mediocrities, ‘whom we produce so abundantly and who are oppressed everywhere’.

Herzl envisaged the establishment of two agencies to initiate and supervise the building up of the country: the ‘Society of Jews’, which would provide a scientific plan and political guidance, and the ‘Jewish Company’, modelled on the lines of the great trading associations, which would carry them out, wind up the affairs of the emigrants, and organise trade and commerce in the new country. The Jewish Company would be a joint stock company, framed according to English law, with its principal centre in London and a capital of approximately £50 million. At the very beginning of his book Herzl stated that he did not intend to depict another agreeable Utopia, but that he was interested in the central idea of a Jewish state which he wanted to submit to discussion. He did not want to prepare (as other writers of Utopias had done) a complicated scheme with many cogs and wheels. Yet by necessity the Judenstaat is not free of such detailed proposals. Herzl’s training as a lawyer clearly emerges and his views on social problems as they took shape during his Paris years are aired in his pamphlet. He discusses, for instance, the seven-hour working day, the type of buildings in the new state, the means of raising money, the organisation of immigration.

He preferred a democratic monarchy, or an aristocratic republic. Nations were not yet fit for unlimited democracy, and in this respect Jews were no better than the rest of mankind. The political issues facing the new state would not be of the simple kind, to be settled by Ayes and Noes. Politics would have to take shape in the upper strata of the new society and work downwards. But no member of the Jewish state would be discriminated against. Herzl was opposed to any form of theocracy. The priests would receive the highest honours but should not be allowed to interfere in the administration of the state. They would be kept within their temples, as the army would be kept within barracks. (Herzl envisaged the formation of a relatively small army, since the state he conceived was to be neutral in world politics.) Every man and woman in the Jewish state would be free and undisturbed in his faith (or disbelief) as in his nationality. Everyone, regardless of creed and nationality, would have equality before the law. ‘We have learnt toleration in Europe’, he wrote; adding as an afterthought, ‘This is not said sarcastically’.

The Jewish state obviously needed a banner, and Herzl suggested a white field (symbolising the pure new life) with seven golden stars (the seven golden hours of the working day). Having promised to deal only with the general idea of a Jewish state, he time and again involved himself in the discussion of technical detail, much of it quite unnecessary. But this was perhaps inevitable. A blueprint restricted to generalities would not have carried much conviction. Other contemporary Utopias went into far greater detail. Menahem Eisler’s Ein Zukunftsbild, published in Vienna in 1885, which also envisaged the establishment of a Jewish state, supplied a ready-made constitution of fifteen hundred separate clauses and provisions.* As he was working on the Judenstaat, Herzl, a man of colossal imagination, jotted down many more ideas to be realised in the future society: a labour exchange, a clearance office for capital, the nationalisation of banking, railroads, insurance, and shipping, a standing army (strength: one-tenth of the male population), and even foreign copyright agreements. Education would make use of patriotic songs, the Maccabean tradition, religion, heroic plays, etc. But the Jewish love of luxury was also exploited. After a visit to the Paris Opera Herzl wrote: ‘We too shall have such resplendent lobbies – the men in full dress, the women altogether sumptuous.’ And on another occasion: ‘Circuses [games] as soon as possible: German theatre, international theatre, opera, musical comedy, café-concerts, cafés, Champs Elysées’. But games of chance were not to be tolerated: ‘Old men may play cards, but not for money.’

The high priests in the Jewish state would wear impressive robes, the cavalry would wear yellow trousers and white tunics, the officers silver breast-plates. Herzl wanted at all costs to prevent the emergence of a crop of professional politicians; as stipends for ‘my brave warriors, aspiring artists, and faithful, talented officials’ he would use the dowries of ‘our wealthy girls’. He was much concerned with the blueprints and techniques of building. He suggested bright, airy halls, borne on columns. Construction should be decorative and of light materials, in exposition style. Three years later, during his visit to Jerusalem, Herzl wrote: ‘If Jerusalem is ever ours, I would begin by cleaning it up, clearing out everything that was not sacred, building an airy, comfortable, properly sewered, brand new city around the holy places.’ In his Utopian novel Altneuland, published a few years later, Herzl included many other detailed suggestions.

This all seemed a little premature, for the two basic questions were as yet unresolved: how was statehood to be achieved and where was the state to be located? Herzl noted that significant experiments in colonisation had been made but they were all based on the mistaken principle of infiltration. This could not work, for sooner or later the moment would come when the government in question, under pressure from the native populace, would put a stop to the further influx of Jews. Immigration in the form of infiltration was futile unless based on guaranteed autonomy. In this respect his plan differed radically from earlier Zionist proposals. Shortly after the publication of the Judenstaat he told a friend that if infiltration continued unchecked, land would increase in value and it would become progressively harder for the Jews to buy it. The idea of a Declaration of Independence, ‘as soon as the Jews were strong enough over there’, was also impractical, for the great powers would not recognise it. Infiltration, in brief, should be stopped and all efforts concentrated upon a charter, the internationally sanctioned acquisition of Palestine. ‘To achieve this we require diplomatic negotiations … and propaganda on the largest scale.’*

In May 1896, when this conversation took place, Herzl’s thoughts were already focused on Palestine. In the Judenstaat, written the year before, he had still left open the question whether it was to be Palestine or Argentina. Argentina, he wrote, was one of the most fertile countries in the world, sparsely populated and with a temperate climate; it would be in the highest interest of the Republic of Argentina to cede to the Jews a portion of its territory. Palestine, on the other hand, was the unforgettable historic homeland, its very name a rallying cry. If the sultan were to give Palestine to the Jews, they could in return undertake the management of Turkey’s finances and save the sultan from chronic bankruptcy. The Jewish state, neutral in character, would form part of a defensive wall for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilisation against barbarism. Europe would guarantee its existence, and the Holy Places would be put under some form of extra-territoriality. The Jews could in fact mount a guard of honour about these Holy Places and this would symbolise the solution of the Jewish question.

In conclusion, Herzl dealt with some of the main objections likely to be raised. He did not think that he was providing ‘weapons for the antisemites’. Some critics might claim that the venture was hopeless because even if the Jews were to obtain the land and sovereignty over it, only the poor would emigrate. But this was hardly a valid argument: ‘It is precisely they whom we need first! Only desperate men make good conquerors.’ Others were likely to argue that if the scheme were feasible it would have been tried long before. But no, Herzl countered, it had not been possible in the past. Only with technical progress, with man’s growing domination over nature, had the scheme become a practical possibility. True, the establishment of the state might be a long-drawn-out affair. Even in the most favourable circumstances many years would elapse. But he expected immediate relief. Once the Jews began to execute their plan, antisemitism would cease and everywhere the Jewish intellectuals would find an outlet for their energies in the preparation of the great work. The Jews who willed it, he wrote, would achieve their state: ‘A wondrous breed of Jews will spring up from the earth. The Maccabees will rise again. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die.’

Herzl was not totally unprepared for the book’s reception. He had expected to be ridiculed as a mad visionary, and his expectations were amply fulfilled. Some simply refused to take his ideas seriously; perhaps the whole thing was an elaborate joke? Herzl was known as an accomplished feuilletonist and satirist. He had as yet never aspired to be a prophet or shown particular interest in the fate of his people. Those who did take the Judenstaat seriously were deeply divided. The majority thought it was a chimera, a revival of medieval messianism. Güdemann, Vienna’s chief rabbi, who had been close to Herzl, sharply attacked his ideas in a pamphlet in which he protested against the ‘Kuckucksei of Jewish nationalism’, maintaining that Jews were not a nation, that they had in common only their belief in God, and that Zionism was incompatible with the teachings of Judaism.* The same arguments were to be voiced in one form or another against the Zionist movement for years to come.

But even among Zionists the reaction was at best lukewarm. No one had ever heard of Herzl in Jewish-national circles. Did he suddenly wish to arrogate to himself the leadership of a movement? Why had he not mentioned in his pamphlet the existence of Jewish colonies in Palestine, the activities of the Lovers of Zion in various countries, the fact that his analysis of antisemitism as well as many of his constructive proposals were by no means novel? The obvious explanation, that Herzl simply was not aware of these things, did not occur to anyone. There was severe criticism to come particularly from the cultural Zionists such as Ahad Ha’am: was there anything specifically Jewish about a Jewish state as Herzl envisaged it? Herzl was not a Hebrew language enthusiast: ‘Who among us would be capable of buying a railway ticket in Hebrew?’ he asked. The pamphlet was of course anathema to the east European Zionists for whom the cultural renaissance was a central issue in their doctrine.

Given the lack of response on the one hand, the ridicule and hostility on the other, it would not have been surprising had Herzl dropped the whole idea then and there, as he had indeed intimated in his pamphlet, for his original intention had been only to restart the discussion. But had he done this, the judgment of many of his Viennese contemporaries would have been justified, namely that Herzl was a mere litterateur, a feuilletonist playing with ideas and concepts, considering and then dropping them once he got bored, the familiar syndrome of the Viennese fin-de-siècleintelligentsia. But these contemporaries misjudged Herzl just as twenty years later they were to misjudge the Russian revolutionaries whom they had known in the coffee houses and whom no one expected to start and lead a revolution. For Herzl was serious. Once the idea had taken hold of him he was like a man possessed. The transformation of a dandy and man of letters into a leader and man of action was nothing short of miraculous but it was very real. He sacrificed everything to his idea and to the movement – his marriage (which admittedly had been on the rocks for a number of years), his money, and his health. From now on every free minute was to be devoted to Zionism. This transformation was a complex process, coinciding with a personal crisis in his life, and it is no doubt correct, as has been argued, that the narcissistic streak in his character played a great part in it.* Herzl relished the role of the Messiah-King which he was to assume during the years to come. But only a man truly possessed would have taken on the leadership of a cause which seemed doomed to fail. He had no illusions in this respect; a year later, when the Zionist movement was advancing, he wrote in his diary: ‘I have only an army of schnorrers. I stand in command of a mass of youth, beggars and jackasses.’

Herzl lived for eight years after the publication of Der Judenstaat. These were hectic years of diplomatic and organisational activity. The foremost task was of course to create a mass basis, to build up a strong movement. His idea of winning the ‘money Jews’ first and carrying out a ‘revolution from above’ had to be given up. But he also knew that he would not succeed in getting a strong following among his own people unless he had some successes to show in the diplomatic field. No one was likely to listen to his message unless there was real hope of obtaining a charter from the sultan. And so he hurried from one European capital to another, trying to establish connections with the mighty of this world, seeking audiences with the sultan and the German emperor, with the Pope and King Victor Emmanuel, with Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Cromer, with Plehve and Witte – the key figures in tsarist Russia. In between, almost single-handed, he organised the first Zionist world congresses, established the central Zionist newspaper (Die Welt), and ran the day-today affairs of the growing movement. He also wrote for his newspaper, Die Neue Freie Presse – for this, and not the leadership of the Zionist movement, was his pass-key in the chancelleries of Europe. He had to attend personally to even the smallest details. When he first went to Constantinople he had not only to think up convincing arguments to sell Zionism to the sultan, but had also to buy strawberries, peaches, and bundles of asparagus for the sultan’s flunkeys, their wives and ganymedes at the Hotel Sacher.

Herzl was an imposing figure and his bearing became almost regal as he assumed the leadership of the movement. One of the delegates at the first Zionist congress, Ben Ami, gave the following account:


This is no longer the elegant Dr Herzl of Vienna; it is a royal descendant of David arisen from the grave who appears before us in the grandeur and beauty with which legend has surrounded him. Everyone is gripped as if a historical miracle had occurred … it was as if the Messiah, son of David, stood before us. A powerful desire seized me to shout through this tempestuous sea of joy: Jechi Hamelech, Long live the King.


Zangwill, the Anglo-Jewish writer, was a more sophisticated man, less given to sudden enthusiasm, but he too was deeply impressed: ‘A majestic oriental figure, not so tall as it appears when he draws himself up and stands dominating the assembly with eyes that brood and glow – you would say one of the Assyrian kings whose sculptured heads adorn our museums.’ Herzl was in some respects the ideal diplomat. He could exude great charm, his manners were impeccable, he had great self-possession; the years in Paris had made him a man of the world. But the kings and their ministers, unlike the delegates to a Zionist congress, were not swayed by moral pathos and romantic visions. Their first question was always: whom does he represent? And of what possible benefit can he be to us?

What could Herzl say in reply? In the early phases of his activity he represented no one but himself, and later on a dedicated but uninfluential minority among the Jewish communities. It was most doubtful moreover, whether this small group of visionaries could be of assistance to anyone, even to weak and impoverished Turkey, which held the key to all of his schemes. In the circumstances it was miraculous that he even gained access to dukes and ambassadors, and later to kings and ministers. His two chief aides in the diplomatic field, both non-Jews, were, to put it mildly, highly unconventional people. William Hechler, chaplain at the British Embassy in Vienna, believed that according to the prophets Palestine was to be restored to the Jews, and he was firmly resolved to do his share towards the fulfilment of this biblical prophecy. He had been tutor to the son of the Grand Duke of Baden, and knew the German emperor, and could thus provide useful introductions in Berlin.

Philip Michael Nevlinsky, an impoverished nobleman, had been a minor Austrian official in Turkey until he incurred debts which compelled him to leave the diplomatic service. He then established a newspaper, Correspondance de l’Est, devoted to Turkish and Near Eastern affairs. He knew a great many people in the Turkish capital, and once on Herzl’s payroll could provide useful contacts. Herzl was already in two minds about his two closest diplomatic advisers: Hechler (‘an impecunious clergyman with a taste for travel’) he thought a naïve enthusiast with a streak of collector’s mania – an incredible figure when looked at with the quizzical eyes of a Viennese Jewish journalist – ‘but I have to imagine that people altogether different from us see him quite differently’. Perhaps he was after all a suitable instrument for Herzl’s purposes? Nevlinsky was an even greater riddle: far better educated than most noblemen, he was both payable and proud, wily and sincere. He was, as Herzl wrote in June 1896, the most interesting figure he had met since taking up the Jewish cause. Herzl had merely wanted to use him as an instrument, but had come to love and respect him. One year later he was less certain; both Hechler and Nevlinsky were to attend the first Zionist congress: ‘It will be one of my tasks to keep them from seeing too much of each other.’

When Nevlinsky died in April 1899 it transpired that his newspaper had been a swindle: ‘A dozen subscribers, and blackmail did the rest’. A Turkish diplomat told Herzl that the late-lamented secret agent had cheated Herzl, had never brought his ideas to the knowledge of the sultan and his advisers, but on the contrary had volunteered to spy on him for the Turks. Nevlinsky took most of his secrets with him to the grave. He was, as Herzl wrote, ‘never presentable’, and those who made use of him always took care to conceal the fact. He had cost Herzl a great deal of money, but then he could have done the Zionists a great deal of harm. Herzl concluded that it was impossible to establish whether ‘he had done anything for us with the sultan or even if he was in a position to do so’. And yet Nevlinsky had shown courage and concern: ‘He seems in my eyes, after his death, to loom head and shoulders above the whole scum -to sink to whose company was the tragic blunder of his life.’*

A small circle of young Zionists rallied to Herzl’s side after the publication of the Judenstaat, mainly members of the Vienna Jewish students organisations. There were also encouraging letters from Galicia and Bulgaria. Two early converts were David Wolffsohn and Max Nordau. The former, born in Lithuania, became a timber merchant in Cologne and was one of the leaders of the German Lovers of Zion. An eminently practical man, he was rooted to a far greater degree than Herzl in Jewish tradition and was the first to explain to Herzl that without the active help of the Jewish masses in eastern Europe his whole scheme would remain no more than an abstract construction. Max Nordau, like Herzl born in Budapest, was Herzl’s senior by eleven years. When Herzl came to know him in Paris he was already one of Europe’s best known literary essayists. In fact his Conventional Lies and Degeneration were the best-sellers of the 1880s and 1890s. He was to play a leading role in the Zionist movement up to the outbreak of the first world war, even though he lacked that ultimate measure of devotion and self-sacrifice which Herzl brought to the movement.

These then were Herzl’s earliest supporters and sympathisers. There was no Zionist organisation, not even the nucleus of one when he set out on his first self-imposed diplomatic mission. The Grand Duke of Baden, one of the more sympathetic of the German princes, with whom he had a long conversation, was impressed by Herzl’s personality and promised to intervene with the German emperor on his behalf. But the key to success or failure was in Constantinople, and Herzl decided to go there before trying his luck in the European capitals. He saw the grand vizir, the secretary-general of the Foreign Ministry, and a great many other officials, but he did not succeed in meeting the sultan, who in running the government often ignored even his closest advisers. It was Herzl’s intention on this as on his subsequent visits to explain to the Turkish officials that the Jews could help them to reassert their independence vis-à-vis foreign powers by providing major loans. On more than one occasion he referred to the story of Androcles and the lion. The thorn to be removed by the Jews was of course the Turkish debt. In return he asked that the Jews should be given Palestine as a vassal state.

But the sultan and most of his advisers had no intention of giving away any part of the Ottoman empire. They were willing to consider Jewish immigration into Asia Minor, but the newcomers would have to adopt Turkish citizenship and their colonies would have to be scattered, not concentrated in one area. The Turks also had doubts about Herzl’s real influence. On whose behalf was he speaking, and did he really have the necessary money at his disposal? Herzl was of course bluffing. He had as yet no organisational support behind him, and the leading Jewish communities and the great banking families wanted nothing to do with his schemes. He simply hoped that he would be able to raise both political and financial support on the strength of a promise from the sultan. The Turks probably realised this but did not want to turn him down altogether; perhaps his presence in Constantinople would act as a spur to other, more substantial, financial offers from other quarters.

Herzl returned from Constantinople with the Medjidje order and some vague promises. He had made no tangible progress at all, but at least he had been received and listened to. The news about his mission spread through the Jewish world and sparked off many exaggerated hopes. At Sofia railway station masses of Jews were waiting for him, their spokesman kissed his hand, he was hailed in speeches as the Leader, the Heart of Israel. Herzl was dumbfounded, embarrassed, and profoundly moved. So far he had appealed to the rich and powerful, who had rejected him; his confrontation with the French Rothschilds still lay ahead, but the outcome was to be as negative as other such meetings in the past. The idea of appealing directly to the Jewish masses must have occurred to him just before he went to London, almost immediately after his trip to Turkey. He had been to England the previous year, to try out his Jewish state concept with the Maccabeans, a group of Anglo-Jewish professional men who had given him a sympathetic hearing. Zangwill had expressed support, and in Cardiff a colonel commanding a Welsh regiment had told him: ‘I am Daniel Deronda’. Born a Christian of baptised Jewish parents, he had found his way back to the Jewish people. His daughters, Rahel and Carmela, were learning Hebrew and he, Colonel Goldsmid, wanted to devote his life to the Jewish people.

The second London visit was not a success. Some supporters excused themselves; Colonel Goldsmid had to inspect one of his battalions; Sir Samuel Montagu the banker (on whom Herzl had counted to raise at least £200,000 for a pilot loan to impress the Turks) said that Edmond de Rothschild had to be won over. Herzl’s English publisher told him that he had sold altogether 160 copies of The Jewish State. The Maccabean dinner was a flop, and Herzl was to refer to them henceforth as the Pick-wickians. He had genuinely believed that this dining and debating club could be transformed into a militant action committee. But many thousands of poor Jews came to a mass meeting at the Working Man’s Club in the East End, where in a fearful heat Herzl spoke extemporaneously for one hour. He later wrote in his notebook:


As I sat on the platform … I underwent a curious experience. I saw and heard my legend being made. The people are sentimental; the masses do not see clearly. … But even if they no longer see my features distinctly, they still sense that I mean truly well by them and that I am the little people’s man.*

After the unsuccessful London trip, and a disastrous meeting with Rothschild in Paris (‘I consider the house of Rothschild a national misfortune for the Jews’, he wrote to Zadok Kahn, the French chief rabbi), his mind was made up. The rich Jews were all against him. He would now appeal directly to the masses. An organisation with branches all over the world would be set up. Above all he would get the support of the enthusiastic young generation. So far he had engaged in secret diplomacy, but the inactivity and hesitations of his followers compelled him to become a popular leader. There were moments of despair. On 13 October 1896 he wrote in his diary:


I must frankly admit to myself: I am demoralised. From no side, help, from every side, attacks. Nordau writes to me that nobody stirs any longer in Paris. The Maccabeans in London are more Pickwickian than ever. … In Germany I have only opponents. The Russians look on sympathetically while I slave away, but none of them lends a hand. In Austria, especially Vienna, I have a few adherents. Those who are not self-seekers do absolutely nothing; the others, the active ones, want to ‘get a boost’ in their career.


But nine days later Herzl was invited to a gala reunion of the Jewish students’ union and he notes: ‘A series of ovations … All the speakers referred to me. On ne parle que de moi là dedans.

Visitors and letters began to arrive from all parts of the world. Zionism, Herzl realised, was gradually winning the esteem of ordinary men in all sorts of countries, people ‘are beginning to take us seriously’. But one million florins was needed to put the movement squarely on its feet. Unless he could overcome these initial difficulties ‘we shall have to go to sleep, although it is full daylight’. Meanwhile, as a Zionist friend wrote from London, everybody was waiting to see how the cat would jump. If he succeeded they would join. If not, he would be ridiculed and forgotten. And so Herzl laboured on, unaided and singlehanded. He still believed (as he wrote the year before) that gravity (and inertia) could be overcome by movement, the dynamic element was all: ‘Great things need no firm foundation. An apple must be placed on a table to keep it from falling. The earth hovers in the air. Thus I can perhaps found and secure a Jewish state without a firm anchorage. The secret lies in movement. Hence I believe that somewhere a guidable aircraft will be discovered.’

During the early months of 1897 he needed all the faith he could muster. On 4 June the first issue of Die Welt was published. It was to remain the central organ of the world Zionist movement up to the First World War. Herzl had not only to provide the money and attend to all the technical details. He had also at first to supply much of the contents. He worked himself to utter exhaustion, while the outcome of the venture seemed highly doubtful. Ten days before the publication of the first issue only two subscriptions had come in, and this despite a considerable promotion campaign. (Ten months later it had 280 subscribers in Vienna among a Jewish population of about 100,000.) A little later Herzl convened a small committee in Vienna which decided to call a Zionist congress in Basle. It was first scheduled to take place in Munich because the Russian delegates were wary of Switzerland and the German city had kosher restaurants. But the leaders of the Munich Jewish community did not want to act as hosts to the congress. This resistance was typical of the attitude of many Jewish institutions and individuals towards Zionism. They claimed that there was no Jewish question, certainly not in central and western Europe. Why stir up trouble and supply ammunition to the antisemites who had argued all along that the Jews constituted a nation apart with their own secret government, that they were not and could not be loyal citizens? Herzl was not disheartened by the wave of protests and the great disunity in his own ranks. The Lovers of Zion in Britain and France, and some of the Russians, decided to boycott the meeting. Some of his early German supporters also tried to sabotage the plan from within. Several Viennese Zionists attended, but only to try to oust him from the leadership. Herzl remained firm: ‘The congress will take place.’ As a result of his unceasing efforts, pleadings, and his willingness to make constant financial sacrifices, the first Zionist congress was opened on 29 August 1897.

Despite the preparatory talks, there was a great deal of confusion. No one knew exactly what the congress was to decide and who was going to attend. Herzl, as a participant later wrote, was the only one who knew what he wanted. He had few illusions about the strength of his movement. On the eve of the congress he again noted in his diary: ‘I stand in command of striplings, beggars and sensation mongers … some of them exploit me. Others are already jealous or disloyal. Still others desert me as soon as any little career gives them an opening. Only a few are unselfish enthusiasts. Nevertheless, even this army would do the job if success were in sight.’

The task of the congress, as he formulated it in his first speech, was ‘to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation’.* For Herzl this was a most delicate operation – an ‘egg dance, with the eggs invisible’. He could not offend the rabbis or the modernists; he had to accommodate the Austrian patriots and not arouse the suspicions of the Turks. Nothing disagreeable could be said about the Russian government for fear that it might outlaw altogether the semilegal Zionist movement. But how could the situation of the Jews in Russia be passed over in any survey of the situation of world Jewry? The question of the Holy Places was a major egg, and so was the Rothschild family, which could not openly be criticised because of the help they gave to the Palestinian settlers. Herzl attached tremendous importance to the solemnity of the occasion. One of his local followers had hired a large hall with a gaudy vaudeville stage, but Herzl immediately decided to move to more dignified quarters. When Nordau appeared in a frock coat Herzl implored him to change into full dress (swallow-tails and white tie for the opening session). Everything was to be in the grand style, impressive and solemn. These elaborate preparations came as a surprise to the 197 delegates attending the congress; for most it was their first encounter with Herzl.

The congress was opened by Dr Lippe, an old Lover of Zion who recited the prayer Shehekheyanu: ‘Blessed art Thou o Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast kept us alive and brought us to witness this day.’ He was to have spoken for ten minutes, but instead went rambling on, with well-meaning platitudes, making, as Herzl saw it, one embarrassing slip after another. Herzl sent word to him four times, and finally ordered him to stop. He concluded his speech by proposing an address of thanks and devotion to the sultan. The two speeches which followed, by Herzl and Nordau, were the highlights of the congress. There was nothing startling or novel in Herzl’s message: the feeling of union, of solidarity among the Jews, had been fading when modern antisemitism broke on them. But now ‘we have returned home. Zionism is the return of Judaism even before their return to the Jewish land.’ The world again recognised that the Jews were a people. They needed a strong organisation. They had nothing to hide since they would engage in no conspiratorial activities. They wanted to revive and cherish the Jewish national consciousness and to improve the material conditions of the Jewish people. The eyes of hundreds of thousands of Jews were fixed on them in hope and expectation. The merits of sporadic colonisation were not to be ignored, but the old, slow methods, without any basis of legal recognition, would not help to solve the Jewish problem. Only recognised right should be the future basis, not sufferance and toleration. The movement would have to become far greater, much more ambitious and powerful if it was to achieve any of its aims: ‘A people can be helped only by itself; and if it cannot do that, then it cannot be helped.’*

Herzl was greeted with tremendous applause lasting fifteen minutes. (‘I remained altogether calm and deliberately refrained from bowing so as to keep the business at the outset from turning into a cheap performance’, he noted in his diary.) He was followed by Nordau, who presented a brilliant survey of the situation of the Jews in various parts of the world, its material and moral aspects and implications. Nine-tenths of world Jewry were literally starving, fighting for their bare existence. Western Jewry was no longer subject to legal discrimination but it had been emancipated well before their host peoples had been emotionally prepared to give them equal rights. The emancipated Jew had given up his old Jewish characteristics but he had not become a German or Frenchman. He was deserting his own people because antisemitism had made him loathe it, but his French and German compatriots were rejecting him. He had lost the home of the ghetto without obtaining a new home.

This was the moral Judennot which was even more difficult to endure than material suffering, because it affected sensitive and proud people. The emancipated Jew was uncertain of himself and of other people, fearful, lacking equilibrium, suspicious of the secret feelings even of his friends. Some Jews, new Marranos, were trying to escape the danger by conversion, but the new racial antisemitism did not recognise this easy way out. Still others were joining the revolutionary movement, hoping that with the destruction of the old order, antisemitism too would disappear. Lastly there were the Zionists. It was the task of the first Zionist congress to consider ways and means of tackling the acute emergency facing the Jewish people. Nordau spoke freely, almost without notes. Always a superb orator, he rose to new heights at this congress. Herzl noted in his diary: ‘He spoke gloriously. His address is and will continue to be a monument of our age. When he returned to our table I went over to him and said: Monumentum aere perennius – a monument more lasting than bronze.’

Subsequent speakers dealt in detail with the situation of the Jews in eastern and western Europe, and there were comments on the historical and economic justification of Zionism, and on colonisation in Palestine. One of Herzl’s close collaborators suggested that no more Jews should emigrate to Palestine until there was an internationally recognised legal basis for their settlement. This was in accordance with the official programme of the movement adopted at a previous session:


Zionism seeks to secure for the Jewish people a publicly recognised, legally secured home in Palestine for the Jewish people. 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, labourers and those pursuing other trades.

2.     The unification and organisation of all Jewry into local and wider groups in accordance with the laws of their respective countries.

3.     The strengthening of Jewish self-awareness and national consciousness.

4.     Preparatory steps to obtain the consent of the various governments necessary for the fulfilment of the aims of Zionism.

The preamble was adopted after a lengthy debate. The original draft had mentioned only a legally secured home (or homestead), but some of the younger delegates, like Schach from Cologne, and Leo Motzkin, argued that Zionism had nothing to hide. Its aim should be to win over the sultan for its aspiration to gain autonomy in Palestine. Without international legal guarantees there was no future and no security for the Jewish people. To the argument that such youthful impetuosity could harm the already existing colonies, Motzkin replied that ‘the old style colonisation will lead to nothing anyway’. A few thousand Jewish peasants had been settled in Palestine in fifteen years, but this had not aroused much interest among other Jews and the original impetus had petered out.* After these interventions the weaker formula was discarded and the definition originally used by Herzl, ‘publicly recognised, legally secured’ (öffentlich-rechtlich), reinstated. The congress also dealt with organisational questions. How was Zionism to be transformed from an inchoate movement into an effective, powerful organisation? It was decided that the Zionist congress should become the supreme organ of the movement and that for dealing with current political questions an action committee of twenty-three members was to be elected. All those over the age of eighteen accepting the Basle programme and paying a shekel (one shilling or 25 cents) had the right to vote in elections to the congresses.

In the discussions a great many ideas and suggestions which were in later years to play a large role in Zionist activities were first aired. Bodenheimer, a close friend of Wolffsohn in Cologne, outlined a plan for the establishment of a Zionist bank and central fund. Herman Shapira, a Russian-born professor of mathematics at Heidelberg, suggested that a Hebrew university should be opened in Palestine. As the third day of deliberations drew to its close, Max Mandelstam, one of the oldest Lovers of Zion, asked for the floor and in a tremulous voice expressed his and the other delegates’ gratitude to ‘that courageous man who was primarily responsible for the gathering of Jews from all countries taking counsel on the future of our people’.* Amid shouts of thanks and loyalty and tumultuous applause, the first Zionist congress came to an end.

It was a milestone in modern Jewish history. In contrast to the Kattowitz conference fifteen years earlier, it was not a small meeting of a few notables, receiving no publicity and leaving no traces. Acclaimed with fervent enthusiasm by some, attacked with equal intensity by others, the first Zionist congress achieved exactly the aim which Herzl had set himself: to reopen public discussion on Zionism. Jewish and non-Jewish newspapers all over the world reported the congress and reflected on its significance. For Herzl the foundation of a Zionist organisation was of tremendous importance. In his diplomatic activities he would now have the official backing of a new, dynamic movement. No longer was he simply Dr Herzl of the Neue Freie Presse, but the head of a world-wide organisation. Of great importance for the future of the movement was his meeting with the representatives of Russian Jewry, who with seventy delegates had constituted the strongest contingent in Basle. Herzl was impressed by the calibre of these men, of whose existence, with very few exceptions, he had been only dimly aware.

The Russian Jews, on the other hand, accepted Herzl as their leader, though not without reservations. Weizmann, who came to know Herzl only at the second congress, wrote: ‘I cannot pretend that I was swept off my feet.’ He was impressed by the man’s deep sincerity and great gifts, but he also felt that Herzl had undertaken a task of immense magnitude without adequate preparation. Herzl, as Weizmann saw it, was naïve, not a man of the people, and his leaning towards clericalism (or rather his excessive respect for the rabbis) distressed him. Weizmann’s teacher, Ahad Ha’am, who had been present in Basle, took an even more negative, in fact almost apocalyptic view: the Zionist congress had destroyed more than it had built up, Ahad Ha’am argued. Who knew whether this was not the last sigh of a dying people? Herzl seemed to him little better than a well-meaning confidence trickster. Be careful, he admonished his readers, ‘the salvation of Israel will come through prophets, not diplomats’. But Herzl was more than satisfied, and in the immediate postcongress euphoria he noted in his diary that Zionism had now entered into the stream of history: ‘If I were to sum up the congress in a word – which I shall take care not to publish – it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loudly today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.’ On various occasions Herzl and his friends discussed how long it would take to realise the Zionist dream. Nordau thought it might take three hundred years to carry out a task of such magnitude; Herzl’s prediction was nearer the mark: fifty years and nine months after he made this entry in his diary the Jewish state was proclaimed in Tel Aviv.

The euphoria of Basle did not last long. Herzl had not revealed to the delegates that his first mission to Constantinople had ended in virtual failure. The sultan had stated, if Nevlinsky was to be trusted, that he could not dispose of any part of the Ottoman empire, for it belonged not to him but to the Turkish people. The Jews might as well save their money. And he had added, prophetically: ‘When my empire is divided, perhaps they will get Palestine for nothing. But only our corpse can be divided. I will never consent to vivisection.’ Herzl did not give up hope, but persuaded his followers that the success or failure of any future approach to the sultan depended on whether the Zionists would be able to raise the money needed for a loan. But the collection of money for the Colonial Bank (its official name was The Jewish Colonial Trust), the share capital of which was to be £2 million, did not go at all well. Subscriptions came in slowly, the Rothschilds had decided to stay out, the rich Berlin Jews were lukewarm, and the Russian Jewish millionaires, although they made substantial promises, did not follow them up.

Much of Herzl’s energies during the next few years were devoted to fund-raising, a task for which he was not suited and which he loathed. How often he was to complain of the absence of a ‘lousy million’ which made it impossible for him to conduct large-scale propaganda and give him freedom of manœuvre in his negotiations in Constantinople. The Zionist organisation was so poor, the income from subscriptions so small, that the executive kept its finances secret for years in order to avoid ridicule.

The second Zionist congress, which took place a year after the first, reflected the growth of the movement. The number of delegates doubled (four hundred), and it was announced that whereas before the first congress 117 Zionist groups had been in existence, their number had now risen to 913. Nordau again gave a brilliant survey of the state of world Jewry; Herzl in his address demanded the capture of the Jewish communities; and the Zionist left wing, the Socialists under Nahman Syrkin, made its first appearance. Herzl showed himself a little more conciliatory towards the Hoveve Zion. One of their leading representatives, Mandelstam, suggested a synthesis between Herzlian (political) Zionism and the principles of Ahad Ha’am, aiming at gradual colonising work as a result of which Palestine would become a cultural centre.

The first congress had aroused great expectations. How much progress could Herzl report in good faith one year later? He knew best that there were no tangible successes, and with one notable exception – the mass meeting in London in 1898 when he hinted that the time was not far off when their dreams would come true – he carefully refrained from raising false hopes. What if his diplomatic attempts in Turkey were to fail altogether? In that case the Jews would have to wait until the general eastern crisis came to a head. As he noted in his diary, ‘A people can wait.’ But there were already occasional signs of impatience. Even before the second congress he considered whether the movement should not be given a nearer territorial goal, such as Cyprus, reserving Zion as the final aim. Or perhaps an eye should be kept on South Africa or America until Turkey disintegrated? For mass emigration from eastern Europe continued. The poor Jewish masses needed immediate help and Turkey was not yet so desperate as to accede to Zionist wishes.*

Herzl engaged in unceasing diplomatic efforts to make fresh converts to his cause. He met Philip Eulenburg, one of the closest friends of Wilhelm 11, on several occasions, and he also tried to reach the German emperor through the Archduke of Baden. But the kaiser’s entourage, including Bülow the foreign minister, was hostile, and in any case Herzl tended to overrate the kaiser’s interest in middle eastern affairs. (He also overrated the kaiser’s strength of character and general intelligence: ‘He has truly imperial eyes – I have never seen such eyes. A remarkable, bold, inquisitive soul shows in them.’) In his memoranda Herzl played on the fear of the kaiser and his collaborators of revolutionary Socialism: Jews would continue to supply the revolutionary parties with leaders and lieutenants unless a remedy was found for their plight. At one stage Herzl took it for granted that the kaiser would intervene on his behalf with the sultan and support the Zionist demand for a German protectorate under the suzerainty of the Porte. To live under the protection of this strong, great, moral, splendidly governed, tightly organised Germany, Herzl wrote in his diary, could only have the most salutary effect on the Jewish national character. He had a great talent for being carried away by his own frequently changing ideas; six weeks later, when his efforts had failed, he concluded that the fact that the kaiser did not accept the protectorate was of course an advantage for the future of the Zionist cause, because ‘we would have had to pay the most usurious interest for this protectorate’.*

Between these two diary entries the German emperor had visited Palestine, and Herzl had followed him to Constantinople and Jerusalem with a small group of supporters. This was Herzl’s first visit to the Holy Land but he was not overwhelmed. The landing at Jaffa was uncomfortable. He was struck by the confusion in the streets and in the hotel – poverty, heat and ‘misery in gay colours’. Even much praised Rishon-Lezion, the nearby Jewish colony, struck him as a very poor place. There was thick dust on the roads, and again great poverty; plank beds and squalor in the houses of the Jewish labourers. The railway trip to Jerusalem in cramped, crowded and hot compartments was sheer torture, the countryside looked dismal and desolate, and Herzl was running a fever.

Jerusalem he found magnificently situated, a beautiful city even in its decay, but the ‘musty deposits of two thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance, and uncleanliness lying in the foul-smelling little streets’ made a terrible impression. In a Jewish hospital he found misery and dirt, but for appearance’s sake he had to testify in the visitor’s book to its cleanliness: ‘This is how lies originate.’ The local Jewish leaders and rabbis were afraid of meeting him for they were worried about the reaction of the Turkish authorities. Herzl was favourably impressed, on the other hand, by the cavalcade of twenty young and daring Jewish horsemen who, singing Hebrew songs, welcomed him in Rehovot. They reminded him of the cowboys of the American west: ‘I had tears in my eyes …’. It showed into what the young trouser-salesmen could be transformed.

Herzl and his friends were received by the emperor in Jerusalem on 2 November 1898. ‘That brief reception will live on forever in Jewish history, and possibly may entail world consequences’, he noted in his diary. The date is of interest, but for a different reason. On the same day, nineteen years later, Balfour wrote his famous letter to Lord Rothschild. Herzl and his colleagues were so excited on the eve of the meeting that Dr Schnirer, his friend and also a member of the Inner Action Committee, wanted to prescribe a bromide. But Herzl refused. ‘I wouldn’t want it for the sake of history.’ The audience came as an anti-climax. The kaiser replied, to Herzl’s appeal for a German protectorate, that further investigation of the whole problem was necessary. ‘He said neither yes nor no’, Herzl commented, and this, in the circumstances, was not good enough.

The official German communiqué simply stated that the emperor had expressed benevolent interest in the efforts directed towards the improvement of agriculture in Palestine as long as these accorded with the welfare of the Turkish empire and fully respected the sovereignty of the sultan. Wilhelm II, who at one time had shown some interest in Zionist projects, had obviously lost his earlier enthusiasm. The German ambassador to Turkey, and some of the emperor’s advisers, notably in the Foreign Ministry, had reservations, foreseeing strong opposition on the part of the sultan. It was also thought that what the kaiser saw of the sorry state of the Jerusalem Jews had not made him any better disposed towards the Zionist cause and its prospects. Be that as it may, the critics within the Jewish camp seemed to be vindicated: the Zionist goal was a chimera. Despondency reigned in the circle of Herzl’s friends, for this was the end of one of the leader’s fondest dreams. For once Herzl had no illusions: ‘We shall not achieve our Zionist goal under a German protectorate’, he wrote to the Grand Duke of Baden. ‘I am sorrier than I can tell you.’*

The Zionist movement desperately needed a tangible achievement if it was to maintain its original impetus and dynamic character. One of Herzl’s chief fears was that a decline would set in once the novelty had worn off unless it could show some striking success. It was at moments like this, when all seemed lost, that he showed his greatness. He was very tired, the symptoms of heart disease were increasing. He went through moments of black despair. On I May 1900 he entered in his diary: ‘I have thought of an appropriate epitaph for myself: “He had too good an opinion of the Jews”.’ Nevlinsky’s death was a further blow. But Herzl carried on as if success were within reach, liberally distributing baksheesh from the limited funds of the Action Committee among the flunkeys surrounding the sultan. He enlisted Arminius Vambery, the legendary traveller and a friend of Abdul Hamid, orientalist and free-wheeling political agent, of Hungarian-Jewish origin, who had in the course of a long life professed five religions, two of them as a priest. Vambery advised Herzl that the sultan was both mad and an arch liar and explained that nothing could be achieved in Constantinople by way of frontal assault. Vambery helped to arrange an interview between Herzl and the sultan in May 1901, but in addition the initiative of a great power was needed. Herzl no longer expected active German support, and as his Palestinian mission had failed his eyes turned to England as the power most likely to help. Lord Salisbury, then prime minister, was preoccupied with the Boer War and displayed little interest, but Herzl was not discouraged. The fourth Zionist congress was held in London in August 1900, for ‘we had outgrown Basle’. England, Herzl said, was the only country in which God’s old people was not confronted with antisemitism: ‘England, free and mighty England, whose vision embraces the seven seas, will understand us and our aspirations. It is from here that the Zionist movement, we may be sure, will soar to further and greater heights.’*

Herzl had decided that a world Zionist congress should be convened every year. He feared that the movement would lose momentum if there were too long an interval between these meetings. The third congress had taken place in Basle in August 1899, the fourth exactly one year later in London, the fifth again in Basle in December 1901, the sixth, the last in which he took part, also in Basle in August 1903. The first congress, small and improvised as it was, had stirred profound emotions. The subsequent meetings attracted many more participants but as organisational routine developed their character began to change; they became less exciting and more businesslike. The congresses were always opened by Herzl (always greatly acclaimed) with relatively short programmatic speeches. He was followed by Nordau, who would present a masterly survey of the situation of world Jewry. These were brilliant and deeply moving speeches, but essentially they were variations on the same theme: the material deprivations of the Jews in eastern Europe and their moral and spiritual plight in the west. Nordau reported the reappearance of the old murder charges, and fresh anti-Jewish persecutions, which made it all the more imperative that a haven should be found for the victims. The reports of the Inner Action Committee contained impressive figures on the organisational growth of the movement. Between the third and fourth congresses, for example, the number of local Zionist organisations rose in Russia from 877 to 1,034 (with 100,000 paying the shekel), and from 103 to 135 in the United States. At the fifth congress it was reported that Zionism had spread to Chile and India, to New Zealand and Siberia, in fact to the furthest corners of the globe.

There was less optimism in the financial reports: at the fourth congress it was announced with regret that it had not yet been possible to establish the Colonial Trust which Herzl regarded as the essential prerequisite for any future political and economic action. Instead of the £250,000 needed, only about half that sum had been collected, and that only after enormous efforts. The rich Jews were obviously not putting their money on the Zionist horse. There were lectures about the physical degeneration of east European Jewry (Professor Mandelstam at the fourth congress, and Nordau – a physician by training – at the fifth), and the urgent necessity to do something about it. But all agreed that little could be done in the given circumstances; physical and spiritual recovery would follow economic and national normalisation, but this would happen only in their own country. East European Jewish spokesmen such as Sokolow put a great deal of stress on the discussion of cultural issues, in contrast to Herzl and his Viennese friends. The speeches and debates on the ‘cultural question’ dominated entire sessions of the early Zionist congresses and even provoked violent clashes. For the kind of spiritual renaissance advocated by Sokolow, Motzkin and Weizmann (partly under the influence of Ahad Ha’am) was not what the pro-Zionist rabbis had in mind. Weizmann tried to convince Herzl that the importance of the rabbis to the Jewish public and their potential support for the Zionist movement was much less than Herzl assumed. Motzkin provoked a minor storm when he said that the rabbis had not been present at the first congress and that their attempt to join the bandwaggon and impose their views on the whole movement should be resisted.* Herzl agreed that religion was a private affair, but his policy all along was to preserve the unity of the movement and to eliminate factors making for dissension. The young Russians, however, resented both the autocratic way he stage-managed the congresses and the way he ran the movement in between. The smaller Action Committee in Vienna was made up of his cronies: Marmorek, Schnirer and other well-meaning mediocrities.

The minutes still reported long applause and stormy ovations when Herzl appeared at the congress, but he was no longer a figure beyond reproach. Motzkin criticised him at the third congress for having promised too much, arousing false hopes. The Zionist students from Russia organised a ‘democratic fraction’ which appeared as a pressure group at the congresses. Under the leadership of Syrkin and others there also emerged, much to Herzl’s dismay, a Socialist-Zionist party demanding the establishment of a Socialist state in Palestine and the neighbouring territories. Syrkin bitterly attacked the domination of the Zionist movement by the bourgeois and religious-orthodox elements, as well as the ‘rotten intellectuals’ who wanted the movement to dissociate itself from the high ideals of progressive mankind. Such heretical views pained not only Herzl, who had never shown much interest or sympathy for the Socialist movement; they were even more strongly resented by young Weizmann, who in his Russian environment had acquired a fairly close knowledge of it. Commenting on one of the early Zionist-Socialist pamphlets, he wrote to his future wife: ‘A red cap with a blue and white ribbon, a national group hailing internationalism with childish yells, dancing around great names; self-worship and Jewish impudence. What an outrageous mixture of meaningless phrases and sheer stupidity.’ Weizmann was to become more friendly towards Socialist Zionism in later years, but at this time he clearly regarded it as a ‘kind of pestilence’.*

Herzl was disappointed by the lack of progress and aggrieved by the attacks on him. By 1899 he had spent the larger part of his fortune and that of his wife on the movement, which made him more than ever dependent on his journalistic activities. On his forty-first birthday he wrote in his diary that it was almost six years since he had started on this movement, six years which had made him old, tired and poor. What sacrifices had been made by the penniless young Zionists from the east who were always so quick to criticise him at the congresses? He was equally dissatisfied with his close collaborators. Herzl was not a good judge of character, and utterly lacked business experience, and he quarrelled with his nearest and most devoted friends such as Wolffsohn. They in turn reproached him for his inability to suffer around him men with opinions of their own and to delegate authority.

Spells of dejection were followed by bouts of hyperactivity. In February 1901 the new Turkish restrictions on immigration came into force, which in some ways hit Herzl less hard than the Russian Zionists, for unlike them he had always believed in a charter, not in ‘infiltration’. Shortly after, in May 1901, Vambery informed him that the sultan would at last receive him, not as a Zionist but ‘as a chief of the Jews and an influential journalist’. Vambery warned him: ‘You mustn’t talk to him about Zionism. That is a phantasmagoria. Jersalem is as holy to him as Mecca. Nevertheless Zionism is good [as far as the sultan is concerned] against Christianity. I want to keep Zionism alive and that is why I have secured the audience for you as otherwise you would not be able to face your congress. You must gain time and carry on Zionism somehow.’* It is interesting that Herzl’s Turkish advisers had also advocated the strategy of indirect approach: ‘There are questions which must not be tackled head-on,’ Nuri had told him years earlier. ‘Take Aleppo, buy land around Beirut and then keep spreading out. When the time comes that things go badly [in Turkey] and your services are needed, you step forward and ask for Palestine.’

On 17 June, Herzl was called to an audience in the royal palace. He was made to sit in the shade (a rare favour) and watched the long procession of soldiers, eunuchs, pashas, diplomats and other dignitaries. An official suddenly appeared to offer him the Order of the Medjidie, second class. After politely refusing it, the Grand Cordon of the same order was bestowed on him. Then the formal audience began. Herzl described the sultan as a small, thin man with a great hooked nose, full, dyed beard and a weak, quavering voice; he was sitting on a divan with his sword between his knees. He introduced himself as a constant reader of Herzl’s newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse, a somewhat surprising statement since he knew no German. Herzl began with his favourite analogy, that of Androcles and the lion: the Jews would help Turkey to repay its foreign debt, the thorn in its side, so that it would be able to gather fresh strength. The great powers wanted to keep Turkey weak, to prevent its recovery, but Herzl could enlist the help of world Jewry and promote the country’s industrialisation. And unlike the Europeans, the Jews would not enrich themselves quickly and then hurry away with their spoils. Palestine was not mentioned, but the sultan stressed that he was a great friend of the Jews, that he would make a public pro-Jewish announcement and give them lasting protection if they sought refuge in his lands.

The negotiations with the sultan’s aides continued for a few more days. Herzl had made a good impression on Abdul Hamid: ‘That Herzl looks like a prophet, like a leader of his people’, the sultan told Vambery a few years later. Herzl received a present, a diamond scarf pin, but this was, as he sadly noted in his diary, about all he had achieved that day. He had distributed some fifty thousand francs among the various agents who maintained that they had been instrumental in arranging the audience, and there was no one who did not stake such a claim. Even Vambery was no exception, although when he first met Herzl he had said that he was a rich man, with a quarter of a million to his name.

The sultan’s advisers formulated a number of conditions which were altogether unacceptable to Herzl: the Jews would establish a syndicate with £30 million to help liquidate the Turkish debt; they would be permitted to settle in Turkey, but would have to become Turkish citizens; above all there could be no concentrated mass immigration but only scattered settlement – five families here and five there. Herzl countered by proposing the establishment of a land company to take over uncultivated Turkish property in Palestine. Before his departure he was given to understand that the sultan expected definite financial proposals within a month. Herzl left Constantinople in a cautiously optimistic mood. He had been received by the sultan and had talked to him for almost two hours, something of which few ambassadors could boast. He had been impressed by the sultan as a ‘weak, craven, but thoroughly good-natured man’ surrounded by a criminal gang.* He had kept the dialogue going and had actually entered upon negotiations for the charter, something which Vambery had thought quite impossible. Herzl realised that he had not yet achieved anything tangible, but he felt confident that it now needed ‘only luck, skill and money, to put through everything I had planned’. For years to come he was to claim that he could have got Palestine for the Jews on that occasion if only the money had been available. At the same time he was not unaware that the Turks were merely using him as a pawn to get a loan from a more substantial financial consortium headed by the Frenchman Rouvier. Herzl’s attempts to win the support of the moneyed Jews whom he invoked so often in his negotiations were quite unsuccessful, but he continued to act as if it was within his powers to relieve the sultan of the Turkish debt, estimated at a nominal £85 million, and that as a result he would at last receive his charter.

In February 1902 the sultan (who had been given the code name Cohn in Herzl’s private correspondence), again called him to the Turkish capital. He complained that nothing concrete had so far emerged from the talks. Herzl had made a few friendly declarations in public, but that was all. The sultan was prepared to open his empire to Jewish refugees on condition that they would become Ottoman subjects and that they could establish themselves in all provinces except – at first – Palestine. He suggested that in return Herzl was to form a syndicate for the consolidation of the Ottoman public debt and he was also to take over the concession for the exploitation of all mines in Turkey. This was a charter at long last, but since it excluded Palestine and unlimited immigration it was unacceptable. When Herzl continued to insist on Palestine, his Turkish interlocutors explained that the sultan could not agree to sponsor a scheme which would be so unpopular among his subjects. Cohn, as Herzl wrote Vambery, offered far too little and demanded too much.

Negotiations did not however break down. In July 1902 Herzl was again summoned to Constantinople to what was to be the final showdown. Again the old, by now familiar picture: ‘Dirt, dust, noise, red fezzes, blue waters’; the baksheesh snatchers at the palace entrance greet Herzl with their familiar grin. He suggested that his friends could greatly improve on the rival French scheme if the charter for colonisation in Mesopotamia offered to him a few months before were to include the Haifa region. He pointed out that the Jews likely to immigrate were neither a dangerous nor a troublesome element, but on the contrary sober, industrious and loyal, ‘bound to the Moslems by racial kinship and religious affinity’.*

Yet it was all to no avail. The Turkish officials were like sea foam, Herzl noted in his diary. Only their expressions were serious, not their intentions. He indicated that he would always remain a friend of Turkey and its pro-Jewish sultan, but the misery of the Jewish people in eastern Europe was such that he could not wait any longer. He would have to ask the British, with whom contact had already been established, for a Jewish colony in Africa.

This was to all intents and purposes the break, the end of a chapter in Zionist diplomacy. Yet even then Herzl did not despair altogether. They had grown accustomed in Constantinople to look upon him as someone interested in the vilayet of Beirut. One day perhaps, when reduced to beggary, they would send for him and throw the thing in his lap. But these were distant hopes. Having returned from Turkey empty-handed it was pointless to make any further advances, and Herzl knew he had to concentrate his efforts on London with, perhaps, some manœuvring in Rome and Berlin.

Herzl’s negotiations in Constantinople had been an educational experience but the price paid was high. ‘So here I am, escaped again from the murderers’ den and the robbers’ country’, he wrote after his final visit. He had been compelled to sweat for hours in anterooms, to distribute a small fortune among lackeys, to put a great many dignitaries on his payroll, to ‘die of boredom listening to the childish claptrap of the various ministers’. He had had to eat with exclamations of delight countless ‘loathsome meals of those innumerable barbaric dishes – veritable snake food’. He had had to praise the lofty wisdom of the sultan and to stress his own unalterable devotion in countless epistles, all in the end to no purpose. Worse still, he had had to intimate time and time again that he could be of help to the sultan against his enemies, which had been understood as a proposal to make the Neue Freie Presse a channel for Turkish propaganda. But the editors of the paper would not have cooperated, nor had Herzl had the slightest intention of prostituting his pen (though proud and independent as he was, his attitude on some issues he considered marginal was not above suspicion; he was ready to use his influence to play down the anti-Armenian persecutions which provoked the ire of some of his collaborators, among them Bernard Lazare).

Herzl with his restless and inventive mind had made constant suggestions and offers to the sultan to ingratiate himself and to show that his movement could be of great help. It was embarrassing, even degrading, but had there been any other way to attain his aim? In May 1902, for instance, he had suggested the establishment of a Jewish university in Jerusalem. To make it more palatable to the sultan he had explained that such an enterprise would be of the greatest service to the Ottoman empire. It would help to eradicate any ‘unhealthy spirit’; the Turks would no longer have to send their young people abroad for higher education where they became infected by dangerous, revolutionary ideas.

Herzl had been forced to adapt himself to the Byzantine atmosphere, the mendacity and duplicity prevailing in Yildiz Kiosk. His diary is full of anecdotes revealing his horror at the kind of people with whom he had to associate. He was carried away more than once into making suggestions and proposals of whose full implications he was probably not aware. Fortunately for him and for his place in history they were not taken up. His intimates were aware only of a small part of his activities, but even what they knew stirred deep misgivings among them. What was the point of all this secret diplomacy? Would it not deeply compromise the Zionist movement? Herzl in this respect was unscrupulous. He was firmly convinced (as he told his nearest confidants) that there was simply no other way by means of which a small, impecunious group of intellectuals, with no political or military backing at their disposal, could attain their aims. This attitude was in line with his views about propaganda and public relations. At the very outset of his Zionist career one of his friends had expressed doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of making so much noise. Noise, Herzl replied in anger, was everything. World history was nothing but noise – noise of arms and advancing ideas: ‘Men must put noise to use – and still despise it.’* And this precisely was his attitude towards secret diplomacy.

In 1902, after the failure of his Turkish ventures, the centre of Zionist diplomatic activities shifted to London. Although, as noted earlier, Lord Salisbury showed no interest, there was one issue which came to the fore. Public opinion in Britain was becoming concerned about Jewish immigration from eastern Europe, and the consequent growing threat of cheap labour. A royal commission was appointed to investigate the question and this gave Herzl an opportunity to propagate his schemes in the British capital. The British Zionists managed to have him invited as a witness, much to the dismay of Nathaniel Meyer Lord Rothschild, who was a member of the commission. Despite his early disappointments, Herzl had not given up hope of gaining the support of the Rothschild family, and while in London it was again impressed on him that he would find it very difficult to make any headway with the British government without at least their tacit support. So yet another attempt was made to win over the leading Jewish family. The ‘Lord of Banking Hosts’ told Herzl that he did not believe in Zionism, that the Jews would never get Palestine, and that in contrast to France there would never be appreciable antisemitism in England. Herzl’s appearance before the commission, Rothschild argued, could only have two effects: the antisemites would be able to say that Dr Herzl, the expert, maintained that a Jew could never become an Englishman; and if Herzl harped on the bad situation of the Jews in eastern Europe and their need to emigrate this would lead to restrictive legislation.

There was a heated exchange, another Rothschild brother was called in, and at last Herzl had a chance to discuss his own plans:


I moved my chair round to the side of his better ear, and said: ‘I want to ask the British government for a colonisation charter.’ ‘Don’t say “charter”. This word has a bad sound’, Rothschild replied. ‘Call it what you please,’ I replied. ‘I want to found a Jewish colony in a British possession.’ Rothschild said: ‘Why not take Uganda?’ ‘No,’ I answered, ‘I can only use – and as there were other people in the room I wrote on a slip of paper’: Sinai peninsula, Egyptian Palestine, Cyprus. And I added, ‘Are you for it?’ He thought it over, chuckling, and said: ‘Very much.’ This was victory.*

The next day Herzl mentioned his plan to Lord James of Hereford, chairman of the Aliens Commission, who thought he might be able to carry out his Sinai-Cyprus project with the help of the Rothschilds. Herzl’s appearance before the commission was in his own view less than successful. He wanted to propagate Zionism and to win new adherents, without, however, saying anything which could be used as an argument for restricting immigration into Britain, for however grandiose its vision, there was nothing the Zionist movement could do at that moment to alleviate the fate of east European Jewry. Herzl could not, as he said in a letter to Rothschild, refuse to consider any scheme for emigration and settlement. He claimed that he had drawn up a plan for the organisation of a Jewish Eastern Company because the Rothschilds (‘the most effective force our people has possessed since our dispersion’) had declared themselves opposed to Palestine. Yet the idea of Jewish territory, if not a Jewish state, in a country other than Palestine had occurred to him more than once before. Back in 1898 he had noted in his diary that the Jewish masses needed immediate help and could not wait until Turkey was so desperate as to give the Zionists what they wanted.

How to set an immediatly accessible goal without yielding any historical rights? After the third Zionist congress, when the position of Rumanian Jewry was deteriorating, he thought the Cyprus plan might be a possible alternative to be submitted to the British government if no progress were made with Turkey over Palestine: ‘I … shall have the congress decide to go to Cyprus next.’ But whereas some of Herzl’s collaborators, such as Davis Trietsch, had been strong supporters of the Cyprus project for years, the great majority, above all the Russian Hoveve Zion, would not hear about it, and Herzl had to move cautiously even in regard to his own closest collaborators.

In October 1902 he was received by Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary, that famous ‘master figure of England’. The moment was well chosen: British public opinion felt that something should be done for east European Jewry if they were to be barred from entering England. Chamberlain did not reject in principle the idea of founding a self-governing Jewish colony in the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean. Herzl described his negotiations with the sultan:


You know what Turkish negotiations are. If you want to buy a carpet, first you must drink half a dozen cups of coffee and smoke a hundred cigarettes; then you discuss family stories, and from time to time you speak again a few words about the carpet. Now I have time to negotiate, but my people have not. They are starving in the Pale. I must bring them help.*

Chamberlain made on Herzl the impression of a competent businessman; not a man of imagination but with a clear and unclouded head. He could talk to Herzl only about Cyprus – Herzl would have to take up the El Arish and Sinai project with Lord Lansdowne, the foreign secretary. As for Cyprus, Britain would not evict the Greeks and Muslims for the sake of newcomers.

Chamberlain was in favour of the idea of Jewish settlement in the Brook of Egypt (Wadi el Arish) if Lord Cromer, the viceroy, accepted it. As for Egypt itself, briefly mentioned by Chamberlain, Herzl immediately retorted: ‘We will not go to Egypt – we have been there.’ But he did mention his Haifa hinterland idea; he was hoping to induce the Turks to lease the Haifa district at a lower rate once the Jews turned up at El Arish and showed that Zionism meant business.

Next day Herzl again briefly saw Chamberlain and, at greater length, Lord Lansdowne, whose attitude was on the whole sympathetic. He asked for a written memorandum for the cabinet and promised to write to Cromer about it. Herzl dispatched to Cairo Leopold Greenberg, an English Zionist who was later to become editor of the Jewish Chronicle. Greenberg met both Cromer and the Egyptian prime minister, who mentioned various difficulties, such as Turkish claims on the territory in question and the failure of a previous attempt to establish a Jewish colony in the region of ancient Median. Cromer suggested the dispatch of a commission of experts. Herzl accepted the idea, emphasising that since the Jews had no alternative they would accept land considered unsuitable by others. It did not take him long to realise that Cromer was all important; the British government would go as far as Cromer, no farther.

The expedition was dispatched and Greenberg continued his talks in Cairo, but Herzl, who felt left out and feared that things were not proceeding as smoothly and rapidly as he wanted, also decided to go to Cairo. His meeting with Cromer (‘the most disagreeable Englishman I have met’) was not a success. The viceroy told Herzl that he need not bother about the Turkish representative in the Egyptian capital. But the question of water supplies was of vital importance. Water for irrigating land could come only from the Nile, and Herzl would have to wait for an expert report. With this Herzl was dismissed. ‘A bit too much arrogance’, he noted in his diary; ‘a touch of tropical madness and unlimited vice-regalism.’ After meeting Cromer he felt sympathy for Egyptian nationalism. He had been struck by the intelligent-looking young Egyptians whom he had met at a lecture: ‘They are the coming masters. It is a wonder that the English don’t see this. They think they are going to deal with fellahin forever.’* Herzl stayed in Egypt only a few days, but the negotiations dragged on for many months. In the end there was yet another failure. The Egyptian government turned the El Arish project down because their irrigation expert had reached the conclusion that five times as much water as originally thought would be needed to make the scheme a success. The diversion of so much water from the Nile was thought to be impossible. On 12 May 1903 Herzl received a cable that the plan had definitely been rejected. Four days later he noted in his diary that he had thought the Sinai scheme so certain that he no longer wanted to buy a family vault in the Doebling cemetery where his father had been provisionally laid to rest: ‘Now I consider the matter so utterly shattered that I have been to the borough court and have acquired vault 28.’

Herzl did not give up. In London a month earlier a new project had been mentioned. Chamberlain, who had meanwhile been on a tour of Africa, told Herzl that he had seen Uganda and had thought: ‘There’s a land for Dr Herzl – but of course he only wants to go to Palestine or its neighbourhood.’ Uganda, Chamberlain reported, was hot on the coast, but the climate in the interior was excellent for Europeans. Sugar and cotton could be raised there. Herzl brushed the idea aside. The Jewish base would have to be near Palestine. Later on the Jews could also settle in Uganda, for there were great masses of them ready to emigrate. But one month later, after the failure of the El Arish project and after a further meeting between Greenberg and Chamberlain, Herzl was more inclined to consider the East African scheme. The political significance of the offer seemed considerable. Perhaps it could be used as a training ground for the Jewish national forces? On 30 May he wrote Rothschild: ‘I am not discouraged. I already have another plan, and a very powerful man is ready to help me.’* Thus began yet another fateful chapter in Herzl’s desperate efforts to find a country for the people without a land, and it was to involve the Zionist movement in the deepest crisis it had so far faced.

Before the discussions on Uganda reached a decisive stage Herzl was to engage in yet another political mission which aroused deep misgivings and bitter criticism within the ranks of his own movement. In August 1903 he went to St Petersburg to discuss with leading members of the tsarist government various possibilities to speed up the emigration of Russian Jews. How could Herzl talk to Plehve, the arch reactionary, who as minister of the interior had to bear responsibility for the terrible wave of pogroms which had swept Russia only a few months before, the man ‘whose hands were stained with the blood of thousands of Jewish victims’? (Weizmann). Only a few months earlier, between 6 and 8 April, a pogrom had taken place in Kishinev in the course of which about fifty Jews had been killed, many more wounded, and many Jewish women raped. The feeling in the Jewish community was one of horror, but also of terrible shame that Jews had been beaten and killed like sheep without offering resistance. ‘Great is the sorrow and great is the shame’, Bialik wrote after the massacre; ‘and which of the two is greater, answer thou, o son of Man.’ ‘The grandsons of the Maccabeans – they ran like mice, they hid themselves like bedbugs and died the death of dogs wherever found.’

Kishinev was a turning point in the history of the Jews in eastern Europe, the beginning of Jewish self-defence. The Russian pogroms of 1903 had produced a wave of indignation in western Europe, and Herzl assumed, not incorrectly, that the tsarist government, eager to refurbish its image, might be willing to make certain concessions. Plehve had given instructions in June to take energetic measures against Zionist propaganda which, he asserted, had deviated from its original aim, namely the emigration of Jews to Palestine, and was directed instead to strengthening national consciousness among the Jews and the organisation of closed societies. Above all, the sale of shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust had been banned, as well as collections for the Jewish National Fund, and this constituted a real danger for the Zionist movement.

Herzl hoped that the tsarist government, eager to get rid of at least some of its Jews, could be induced to exert pressure on Turkey to absorb some of them. This idea was more than a little fanciful, for Turkey was in any case concerned about encroachments of its powerful northern neighbour, and Russian Jews were in Turkish eyes potential Muscovite agents. Herzl had introductions to both Plehve and to Witte, the minister of finance. Plehve, who had been described to him as a brute, made a far better impression on him than Witte, who had the reputation of a liberal and even friend of the Jews. Plehve spoke with cynical frankness: the Jews lived in a ghetto and their economic situation was bad; the benefits of higher education were extended to a few only, ‘as otherwise we should soon have no positions left to give to the Christians’. Of late their situation had grown worse because so many of them had joined the revolutionary parties. Herzl suggested Russian intervention with the sultan to secure a charter, the removal of the restrictions on Zionist work in Russia, and Russian financial aid for emigration. Plehve showed himself astonishingly well-informed about the affairs of the Russian Zionist movement. He claimed that since the Minsk conference (in September 1902) it had been more interested in promoting cultural and political work than in its original aim, emigration, and anyway, its leaders with a few exceptions were up in arms against Herzl. Herzl countered by comparing his situation with that of Christopher Columbus: a revolt of the sailors against the captain, as week followed week with no land in sight: ‘Help us faster to land and the revolt will end. So will defection to the socialist ranks.’

When Herzl saw Plehve again a week later, the tsar had been informed about his proposals and it was agreed that the Zionist movement should receive moral and material assistance with respect to measures which would lead to a diminution of the Jewish population in Russia, but there was also a warning that Zionism would be suppressed if it were to lead to any intensification of Jewish nationalism. The tsar announced that he had been hurt at the thought that anyone should have dared to assert that the Russian government had abetted the pogroms. Did not the tsar, in his great and well-known kindness, extend his goodwill to all his subjects? He was therefore particularly grieved at even being thought capable of the slightest inhumanity. Plehve, a more honest man than his master, again admitted that the situation of the Jews was unhappy: ‘If I were a Jew I too should probably be an enemy of the government.’ But there were too many Jews and the tsarist government was unable to change its policy. It wanted to keep those of superior intelligence, able to assimilate themselves, but had to get rid of the rest, and for that reason favoured the establishment of an independent Jewish state capable of absorbing several millions of them.

Herzl’s meeting with Witte was less of a success. According to Herzl’s report, Witte said that the Jews were arrogant, poor, dirty, repulsive, and engaged in the vilest pursuits, such as pimping and usury. Witte was opposed to making their lot even more miserable, but there was no way out – they would have to continue to endure the present state of affairs. The ideas of Zionism seemed to him not unattractive but on the whole impractical. When Herzl left Witte he wondered how the minister of finance had ever acquired a reputation for being a friend of the Jews when he had done less than nothing to help them during his thirteen or fourteen years in government. Perhaps Witte merely wanted to capitalise on Plehve’s troubles over the Kishinev affair, in the hope that it would lead to the downfall of his rival? The results of Herzl’s mission to Russia have been bitterly disputed. Herzl related that Plehve told him that but for his (Herzl’s) intervention Zionism would have been banned in Russia. But Plehve was killed by a terrorist the following year, and there were more pogroms, often with the tacit approval of the government, which was far too preoccupied with other problems to take any constructive initiative on the Jewish problem. Herzl’s critics maintained that his negotiations were indefensible, that he had made a deal with Plehve promising that the Jewish Socialists would no longer attack the tsarist government, and that he had tried to influence the Poale Zion, the left-wing Zionists, in this direction. Herzl did in fact declare at the sixth Zionist congress that the Russian government would put no obstacles in the way of the Zionist movement if its activities remained within a legal framework.*

This statement provoked indignation, not only among the Left. Weizmann thought that Herzl’s talks in Russia had been utterly pointless: he was overwhelmed by the calamities of Russian Jewry, foresaw further persecution, and wanted a quick solution. But his assumption that men like Plehve would be of any help was totally unreal: ‘Antisemites are incapable of aiding in the creation of a Jewish homeland; their attitude forbids them to do anything which might really help the Jewish people. Pogroms, yes; repressions, yes; emigration, yes; but nothing that might be conducive to the freedom of Jews’.* It was a dilemma which faced Zionist leaders from Herzl onwards and caused them much heart searching. Thirty years later Weizmann was to be received in audience by Mussolini. Should they have restricted their diplomatic activities to liberal and democratic statesmen? To have refrained from meeting dictators and antisemites would have saved them a great many moral conflicts. But it would have severely limited their freedom of action and might have hampered their efforts to save Jewish lives.

Whatever the scruples of Zionist leaders and militants, the Jewish masses prepared a welcome for Herzl such as had never been accorded to any Jewish leader. Tens of thousands shouted ‘Hedad’ (Hail) as he passed. About the reception in Vilna, Herzl wrote in his diary that the day would remain engraved forever in his memory. It was the first time that he had come face to face with the Jewish masses in eastern Europe. The unhappiness of these oppressed people was only too genuine: ‘There was a note in their greetings which moved me to a point where nothing but the thought of the newspaper reports was able to restrain my tears.’ He had been warned of the bitter opposition of the Bundists – the anti-Zionist Jewish Socialists – and he watched with some misgivings the approach of some young working men, with hard, determined expressions on their faces, whom he took to belong to that party. Much to his amazement one of them came forward and proposed a toast to the day when ‘Melech Herzl’ (King Herzl) would reign. Such was the fathomless despair of the Jewish masses, such – to quote Weizmann again – the great surge of blind hope, baseless, elemental, instinctive and hysterical, attending his visit.

One week after his Russian trip Herzl was in Basle for the sixth Zionist congress. He reported to the Action Committee on his negotiations in St Petersburg and was amazed and embittered by the ingratitude of the Russian Zionists: ‘It didn’t occur to a single one of them that for my unprecedented labour I deserved so much as a smile, let alone a word of gratitude.’ All he got was a shower of reproaches. The next day he informed his colleagues of a message just received by Greenberg from Sir Clement Hill, chief of the Protectorate Department in the Colonial Office, in which the Zionist movement was told that the British government was ‘interested in any well considered scheme aimed at the amelioration of the position of the Jewish race’. As for the talks with Dr Herzl about the establishment of a Jewish settlement in Africa, time had been too short to go into the details of the plan and it was therefore impossible to pronounce any definite opinion. But the British government was willing to give every facility to a Zionist study commission which should go there to ascertain personally whether there were any suitable vacant lands. If the result were positive, and the scheme commended itself to the government, there would be a good chance of a Jewish colony or settlement being established under a Jewish official as chief of the local administration in which the members would be able to observe their national customs.*

The letter, formulated in the usual cautious diplomatic language, created a profound impression. Chlenov, the Russian Zionist leader, broke spontaneously into the Shehekheyanu – the ritual blessing upon receiving good news. This was both a recognition of the Jewish people as such by a major power and the expression of its willingness to help. Others were more sceptical. But to all the scheme came as a surprise. Herzl himself was not entirely happy about it. Greenberg had written that Joseph Chamberlain was considering a region between Nairobi and the Nan escarpment. Herzl was not certain whether this area was suitable for European colonisation, nor was it clear whether the British government was willing to give the colonists the independence he envisaged. Lastly, he knew of course that any such scheme could be realised only with a great deal of enthusiasm to overcome the many initial difficulties. And even Herzl, with his immense prestige and great hold over the movement, must have doubted whether he would be able to induce the Zionists to follow him to Uganda.

At first all seemed plain sailing. When the congress was told about the British message there was a storm of applause. Shmaryahu Levin, one of the secretaries, saw on the faces of the delegates ‘amazement, admiration – but not a sign of protest. … The first effect of the magnanimity of the British offer was to eclipse all other considerations.’ Yet when the various factions and caucuses withdrew to consider the scheme in detail there was much opposition, and this despite the fact that the congress was not even asked to decide between Uganda and Palestine but merely to give support to the dispatch of an investigation commission to East Africa. Herzl made it clear in his opening speech that Uganda was not, and could never become Zion. It was envisaged as an emergency measure, to help those Jews forced to emigrate immediately, to prevent their scattering all over the world, and to promote colonisation on a national and state basis. Nordau, who had considerable misgivings, used the phrase Nachtasyl – a temporary shelter for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who could not as yet enter Palestine, a shelter which would provide a political training ground for the greater task ahead. The Jews owed it to England to subject the Uganda project to thorough examination, but Zion would always remain the final aim. There was yet another consideration: with each year Jewish immigrants would find it more difficult to enter other countries. The presence of little more than a hundred thousand Jews in Britain had sufficed to provoke restrictions. How much longer would the gates of America remain open?

Nordau was not at his most persuasive, and the fact that a great many west European delegates supported him did not help. Most Russian Jews were instinctively against Uganda and it was from eastern Europe that the immigrants were expected to come. As one of them put it, while they were enthusiastically promoting the Palestine idea they were now suddenly told by their leaders that they had been dreamers, that they had been wasting their time building castles in the air. Zion was the great ideal, but it could not be attained, redemption would come only from Uganda. This was quite unacceptable, and how could the leaders negotiate with the British government without even consulting the Jewish people, the Sovereign, on whose behalf they were acting? Practical arguments were also used: East Africa was quite unsuitable for mass immigration; both the man power and the funds at the disposal of the Zionist movement were strictly limited, and any diversion of either would have fatal consequences. Herzl and Nordau had recommended Uganda in order to find a palliative for the steadily growing Judennot. But the Jews had waited for Palestine so long that they could wait a little longer. Was it not symbolic that the delegates from Kishinev, the town which had suffered the worst pogrom, were unwilling to go anywhere except Palestine? As Weizmann said in a speech to his fellow delegates: ‘If the British government and people are what I think they are, they will make us a better offer.’

Everyone realised that the movement faced the most important decision in its history. Tempers were running short and excitement mounted hourly. An eye-witness described the scene at the end of one critical session:


For about half an hour people were shouting; some were singing Russian songs, others climbing on chairs, throwing leaflets from the galleries into the hall, banging the chairs on the floor. There was a tremendous noise in the galleries; some twenty girls had entered the hall through a side door and were adding to the clamour. Zangwill and Greenberg left the platform in an attempt to calm the public but the demonstrators just carried them shoulder high and the turmoil did not cease even after the lights had been turned off. … The tumultuous scenes continued into the small hours of the morning; the casino where the congress took place was besieged by masses of excited people. Only a very few could think of sleep that night.*

Herzl’s tremendous prestige sufficed to push the resolution through. By 295 votes to 178 it was decided to send a commission to East Africa. But there could be no mistake: the east European Jews would not go to East Africa. Herzl was called a traitor to his face, and a short time after the congress a Zionist student tried to kill Nordau.

There was a real danger that the movement would split. The opposition, which had already walked out, returned and declared that their action had not been a political demonstration against the leadership but the spontaneous expression of a profound spiritual shock. Herzl in his closing speech said that hope for Palestine was not lost, since the Russian government had promised its help. There was to be no break, no alteration in the Basle programme. With his right hand uplifted he said: ‘Im eshkakhekh Yerushalayim’. … If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.

Outward unity was restored, but Herzl was profoundly depressed and so were most of the delegates. When, after the final session, he left the congress completely worn out, he told his closest friends what he would say at the seventh congress if he was still alive. He would have either obtained Palestine by then or have realised the complete futility of his efforts. In the latter case he would say: ‘It was not possible. The ultimate goal has not been reached and cannot be reached within a foreseeable time.’ But since there was a land in which the suffering masses could meanwhile settle on a national basis, the movement was not entitled to withhold this relief for the sake of a beautiful dream. This choice would lead to a decisive rupture, and since the rift would centre on his own person he would step down. Two executive bodies would come into existence, one for Palestine, the other for East Africa, but he, Herzl, would serve on neither.

Herzl’s health deteriorated during 1903. The excitement of the sixth congress had been an additional, intolerable strain. There were frequent forebodings of death in his diaries. But for him there was no long rest cure, and soon he was setting off on yet another diplomatic mission. In Rome he met Victor Emanuel III, the young king who had succeeded to the throne a few years earlier, as well as Pius x, the new pope. The king, who had been to Palestine, noted that the country was already largely Jewish and would no doubt one day belong to the Jews. When Herzl remarked that they were no longer allowed to enter, the king replied: ‘Nonsense, everything can be done with baksheesh.’* The pope was less helpful: ‘We are unable to favour this movement’, he told Herzl. ‘We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we could never sanction it.’

Herzl’s last months were embittered by the quarrel with the Russian Zionists. Ussishkin, their most aggressive leader, who had been in Palestine at the time of the congress, published a letter after his return accepting his election to the Action Committee while stressing that he did not feel bound by the Uganda resolution. This was open rebellion, and Herzl in his answer sharply attacked Ussishkin and the policies advocated by the Russian Hoveve Zion whom he represented. What was the purpose of private land purchases in Palestine? Ussishkin could buy up every plot in his native Yekaterinoslav but it would still remain part of Russia. The Russian Zionists at their conference in Kharkov passed a resolution to the effect that Herzl had violated the Basle programme, and appointed three of their number to meet him, to demand in categorical terms that he drop his autocratic methods and in future submit all his projects to the supreme elected body, the Action Committee. He was also to promise in writing that he would not ask the support of the congress for any territorial projects other than those concerned with Palestine and Syria. The ultimatum greatly offended Herzl and caused much resentment within the Zionist movement outside Russia. It was regarded as an attempt to overthrow the leader. Herzl refused to meet the committee but saw the emissaries individually, and at the meeting of the Action Committee in April 1904 made a successful effort at reconciliation. He said he would not go to Uganda, nor would he exert any pressure in favour of East Africa. He wanted the Jewish people to decide on the basis of the facts. But he insisted on the primacy of political Zionism over the old Hoveve Zion approach. The Russians were always telling him that they had already been Zionists for twenty or twenty-five years, but what had they achieved without political Zionism? They had met in their small groups and had collected a little money. The Russians accepted Herzl’s argument that the Action Committee had done all it could for Palestine and would continue to do so, and gave Herzl a vote of confidence. The Uganda scheme receded into the background. Conflicting reports came from London about whether the British government still supported it. There had been adverse comments by experts and the white settlers in East Africa had protested against an influx of Jews.

Herzl did not live to see the seventh Zionist congress officially bury the scheme. His condition rapidly worsened, and he died on 3 July 1904 at the age of forty-four. The severity of his disease had not been known even to his nearest friends, and his death came as a tremendous shock to the movement. For hundreds of thousands of Jews in eastern Europe this was the saddest day of their life. Herzl had created the Zionist movement almost singlehanded. He symbolised their dearest hopes and their longing for a better future. He had been the new Moses who would lead them out of the house of bondage to the promised land. There was a great deal of hero worship, even among his central European followers. One of them relates how on the day the message about Herzl’s death was received he wanted to bow when he saw Herzl’s small son and to pay respects to him as crown prince.* Herzl had stipulated in his will that he should be buried like the poorest of the poor. But many thousands came to pay their last respects and the Herzl cult became even more intense. Such adulation appeared strange and inexplicable to his critics, for Herzl was a failure, not only in their view but also in his own eyes. All his hectic diplomatic activity had been in vain. When he died, the Zionists were further away than ever from receiving Palestine. The German and the Russian governments were neither willing nor able to do anything on their behalf, and others were even less friendly. They had turned down Uganda and there was no reason to believe that the British would make a better offer. Herzl’s diplomatic activity had largely been Schaumschlaegerei, a public relations operation. The dramatisation of the Jewish problem was all he had managed to achieve. Governments and peoples in Europe had at last become interested in the Jewish problem and had heard about a possible way to solve it.

Herzl had a burning ambition to achieve fame as a writer and dramatist, yet in these fields he had no outstanding talent. He was very much taken by the bearing and the way of life of the non-Jewish aristocracy. He despised journalists and mediocre Jewish intellectuals, though he was himself very much one of them. Fame but not success came to him as a man of action during the last years of his life. There was a strong narcissistic streak in him; he was totally singleminded and demanded from his followers blind obedience. The psychological pattern must be seen in the light of the devotion which was lavished on him, their only son, by his parents, their boundless indulgence, their immense admiration (especially his mother’s), which hampered his maturing and crippled his judgment both of the world and of himself.* He was closely attached to his mother, who had the highest ambitions for him. As far as the origins of political Zionism are concerned, such explanations are of course quite irrelevant. Nor is it very helpful to interpret Herzl’s ideological development in terms of the general breakdown of liberalism which he witnessed during his Paris years. Herzl was not an original political thinker. His analysis of the Jewish question did not go any deeper than Pinsker’s, written two decades earlier. True, he despaired of liberalism inasmuch as the solution of the Jewish question was concerned. This has induced some to see him as part of the same tradition which gave rise to nationalist movements all over Europe towards the end of the century. He realised that assimilation did not work, and he sensed that the Jews faced great dangers in eastern and central Europe. But in all other respects he was very much a son of the liberal age; certainly he was not a narrow-minded nationalist. His desire to find some solution to the Jewish question preceded his wish to see a Jewish state established in Palestine.

There was, as Herzl’s east European critics often pointed out, very little that was specifically Jewish in Herzl. This emerges perhaps most clearly in his vision of the Jewish state, Altneuland, a novel published in 1902. Half political fantasy, half early science fiction à la Jules Verne, it describes the visit of the two narrators to Palestine which by 1923 has become a modern Jewish state. The exodus of European Jewry having been accomplished, Palestine has flourished and with the help of modern technology and modern methods of irrigation has become a prosperous and modern country. A new, progressive society has come into being based on cooperative effort, not Socialist in the orthodox Marxist sense but located somewhere between individualist capitalism and collectivism. Land does not belong to individuals. The open air factories are models of their kind. Women are fully emancipated, education is free, criminals are not punished but re-educated. There is a clear division between religion and state and full freedom of conscience. Tolerance is the supreme principle on which the new state is based. ‘The stranger must feel at home with us’ are the last words of the dying president of the state, who is modelled on Professor Mandelstam, the veteran Russian Zionist. The Arab problem has been solved without any difficulty: Reshid Bey, one of the closest friends of the hero, asks: ‘Why should we have anything against the Jews? They have enriched us, they live with us like brothers.’

Herzl’s vision of the future state is that of a typical liberal, permeated with optimism and enlightened ideals, a model society on a progressive pattern. Altneuland thus refutes any attempt to regard the breakdown of liberalism as the key to Herzl’s political thought. He had despaired of Jews finding a place in European society, but his vision of the future state was in fact so tolerant and cosmopolitan that it was bound to provoke resentment among cultural Zionists like Ahad Ha’am. What was specifically Jewish in the new state, Ahad Ha’am asked. The very name Zion did not once appear, its inhabitants did not speak Hebrew, and there was little if any mention of Jewish culture. It was just another modern, secular state, and Ahad Ha’am resented what he regarded as one more manifestation of assimilationism. If African Negroes managed one day to build a state of their own, he argued, it might well be very similar in character to Herzl’s vision. Such criticism was justified inasmuch as Herzl envisaged a modern, technologically advanced and enlightened state inhabited by Jews, not a specifically Jewish state. Ahad Ha’am looked in vain for some specific Jewish qualities in Herzl’s vision, or, as Nordau put it, maliciously and somewhat crudely but not altogether without justification, he could not or would not leave his ghetto.

Herzl’s vision and his policies have been criticised on many counts. His ideas on social policy were primitive and he underrated the importance of the Socialist movement. Nor did he foresee the clash with the Arabs, but those who criticise him in this respect tend to forget that the total number of Arabs in Palestine at the time was little over half a million and a Palestinian Arab national movement did not yet exist. In his negotiations in the world’s capitals he used questionable arguments and methods, but then being a general without an army, he was not exactly negotiating from strength. His autocratic style and his fondness for secret diplomacy were justly criticised on occasion, but no other form of diplomacy would have yielded results, and no one but an autocrat could have brought a minimum of discipline into that unruly band of followers, each of whom was a politician in his own right. Herzl was in some respects astonishingly blind, but this may well be a prerequisite for the man of action. Only total singlemindedness was likely to make any impact on friend and foe alike. Mass movements are not created by men who fail to exude confidence, who are not utterly sure of themselves. In his innermost heart Herzl may have lacked the conviction that he would ever attain his aim. Certainly there were many moments of despair. But this did not for a moment affect his outward behaviour, proud, utterly sure of himself and the success of his cause. He never relaxed his efforts, knowing only too well that without some tangible results in the not too distant future, the movement he was leading would disintegrate and the hopes he had raised would give way to despair.

When Herzl died there was no longer any real hope that the Zionist movement would gain a firm foothold in Palestine before the disintegration of the Ottoman empire. The political Zionism which he had preached seemed bankrupt, and a few years after his death the leadership of the movement passed more or less by default into the hands of the ‘practical Zionists’, those who had claimed all along that there would be no sudden miracle, that only as a result of steady and necessarily slow colonisation would the bases be created in Palestine for political action at some future date. And yet Herzl’s work was not in vain. But for him Zionism would have remained a movement of fairly narrow appeal, aiming at a cultural renaissance which incidentally also engaged in philanthropic-colonising activities. Herzl transformed a mood into a political movement and put it on the European map as one of the national movements aspiring to what in a later age was to be called ‘national liberation’. Through his efforts a tremendous uplift was given to the self-confidence of hundreds of thousands of Jews in eastern Europe who could not be integrated into their countries of origin, and to many in the west who acutely felt the problematic, marginal character of their whole existence in a non-Jewish society. Lastly, Herzl laid the foundations for the subsequent achievements of the Zionist movement, and he can be called with some justification the architect of the Balfour Declaration.

A detailed study of Herzl’s motives, his mental and emotional make-up, lies beyond the scope of this history of the Zionist movement. For his friends and followers he was a messianic figure selflessly working for the redemption of his people, for whom in the end, saint-like, he sacrificed himself. Later historians, outside the spell of his political ideas and his personal magnetism, have stressed the complicated character of his personality, the deeper reasons of his conversion to Zionism, the sources of his behaviour.*

That men and women enter politics for a great many reasons, usually involved and complicated ones, goes without saying: vanity, the search for self-fulfilment, a sense of mission, must all play a part, as well as a great many other factors. To disentangle them is a fascinating but usually not very rewarding task, for on the substance of the subject’s ideas it throws little light. It would not be difficult to point to many similarities in the characters and thoughts of Herzl and Lassalle: their dreams about leading the Jews out of servitude, the romantic elements in their thought, their fascination with the aristocratic tradition, showmanship and duels, their unsuccessful literary ambitions, and so on. They were about equally estranged from Judaism, but the one despaired altogether of the Jews whereas the other made a Jewish national revival the central idea of his life.

As far as history is concerned all that matters is that in the 1890s a Jewish journalist named Theodor Herzl expressed in a famous pamphlet the mood of a growing number of his contemporaries, and that subsequently he provided leadership for the movement that developed among them. His inspiration was basically romantic, his ideas inconsistent and often muddleheaded. He compares unfavourably with the more sophisticated political thinkers of his age. Yet on one issue, the central one in his life, he was right: he sensed the anomaly of Jewish life in Europe and the dangers that would face the Jews during the years to come, and he was looking desperately for a solution before it was too late. Perhaps those of his critics were right who argued that antisemitism was a transient phenomenon and not even a very important one sub specie aeternitatis. But these critics were concerned with mankind in general not with the fate of the Jews: Herzl felt – and in this respect the fin-de-siècle Austro-Hungarian background is of importance – that the Jews could simply not wait. He was a prophet in a hurry.

* M. Lowenthal (ed.), The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, New York, 1956, pp. 96-7.

* Der Judenstaat, quoted here from the translation in Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, New York, 1959, p. 209, which is based on the first English translation by Sylvie d’Avigdor.

* R. Patai (ed.), The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, vol. 1, New York, 1960, p. 299.

 Alex Bein, Theodor Herzl, Philadelphia, 1945, p. 50.

* Complete Diaries, vol. 4, p. 1283.

* A Jewish State, London, 1896 (first English translation), p. 3.

 Nordau, his colleague, likewise rejected the possibility of a holocaust. In a speech at one of the first Zionist congresses he said that he did not believe the dreadful persecution of the past would recur, though recent events had shown that the murder of a whole people was possible even in modern times. It was unlikely that tens of thousands of Jews would be killed and the rest expelled from a country. ‘There is now a European conscience, a world conscience which (even if it is not yet broad enough) prescribes certain outward forms and does not easily tolerate mass crimes’ (Max Nordau, Zionistische Schriften, p. 83). But he added: ‘On the other hand I am convinced that our ice age will still last a long time. … People are knifed and die at the stake, but he who freezes to death is also no longer alive.’ It should be noted that earlier Russian Zionists like Lilienblum and Smolenskin had on occasion been more pessimistic and had not ruled out the physical destruction of the Jews in the diaspora.

* See G. Kressel (ed.), Hisione Medina, Tel Aviv, 1954, p. 64 et seq. It also predicted an attack by its neighbours on Jehuda (as the new state was to be called) from which the Jewish state would emerge victorious.

* Conversation with Bodenheimer, Complete Diaries, vol. 1, p. 335.

* Moritz Güdemann, Nationaljudentum, Leipzig and Vienna, 1897, p. 42.

* Carl E. Schorske, ‘Politics in a New Key: An Austrian Triptych’, in Journal of Modern, History, December 1967, p. 343 et seq.

* The Diaries, pp. 304–10.

* Ibid., p. 182.

 Ibid., pp. 198–9.

* Protokoll des ersten Zionisten Kongresses in Basel (reprint), Prague, 1911, p. 15.

* Ibid., p. 17.

* Ibid., pp. 131-4.

* Alex Bein, Theodor Herzl, p. 242.

* Complete Diaries, vol. 2, p. 644.

* Ibid., p. 769.

* The Diaries, p. 302.

 Ibid., p. 325.

* Ibid., p. 330.

* Stenographisches Protokoll der Verhandlungen des IV. Zionisten Kongresses in London. Vienna, 1900, p. 100.

* The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann, vol. I, London 1968, p. 137; Dr I. Klausner, Oppositzia leHerzl, Jerusalem, 1958, p. 80; Ben Elieser, Die Judenfrage und der sozialistische Judenstaat, Berne, 1898; Manifesto to Jewish Youth, London, 1901, p. 16.

* The Diaries, p. 333.

* Ibid., p. 350.

* Complete Diaries, vol. 4, p. 1321.

* The Diaries, p. 231.

* Ibid., p. 367.

* Ibid., p. 374.

* Complete Diaries, vol. 4, p. 1449.

 The Diaries, p. 385.

* Complete Diaries, vol. 4, p. 1501.

* Boehm, Die Zionistische Bewegung, vol. I, p. 256; Protokolle des Sechsten Kongresses, p. 82.

* Trial and Error, p. 82.

 The Diaries, p. 404.

* The letter was first published in Die Welt, 29 August, 1903.

 Quoted in Bein, Theodor Herzl, p. 455.

* Jüdische Rundschau, no. 33, 1903, p. 412.

 Stenographisches Protokoll der Verhandlungen des VI. Zionistenkongresses, Vienna, 1903, p. 340.

* The Diaries, p. 424.

* Dr E.E. Zweig, in Theodor Herzl Jahrbuch, Vienna, 1937, p. 283.

* Ludwig Lewisohn, in Herzl Yearbook, vol. 3, New York, 1960, p. 274.

 Henry J. Cohn, ‘Theodor Herzl’s conversion to Zionism,’ in Jewish Social Studies, April 1970, p. 101 et seq.

* ‘Disappointed in marriage, bereft of his dearest friends, Herzl’s emotional life in the Paris years was thus more than usually impoverished. It may help to explain his readiness to abandon his aloofness from the social world, to identify himself heart and soul with a wider cause. The Jewish body social became a collective love object to him as he returned to a fostering mother he had never adequately recognised.’ Thus Professor Schorske, following the inspiration of Norman O. Orown (Journal of Modern History, December 1967, p. 375). The same writer maintains that Herzl sketched out his dream of the Jewish secession from Europe after attending a performance of Tannhaeuser, ‘exalted, in a fever of enthusiasm akin to possession’, with Wagner as the ‘vindicator of the heart against the head’ (ibid., pp. 377–8).

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