Herzl, Theodor


Herzl, Theodor
(1860–1904)
   The founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl was born in Budapest, Hungary. Herzl grew up in the spirit of the German-Jewish Enlightenment. In 1878, the family moved to Vienna and Herzl studied law, graduating in 1884. Rather than pursuing a career in law, Herzl became a playwright and a journalist. His early work was of the feuilleton order and in no way related to Jewish matters.
   In 1891, he became Paris correspondent for the New Free Press , an influential liberal Viennese newspaper. He still regarded the Jewish problem as a social issue and wrote a drama, The Ghetto (1894), in which assimilation is rejected. In Paris, Herzl witnessed anti-Semitism, which resulted from the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer, who was falsely convicted of treason in a humiliating ceremony in 1895. The trial triggered a wave of anti-Semitism in the cradle of European liberal democracy. Herzl resolved that the only solution to the Jewish problem was the exodus of Jews from their places of residence. He eventually realized that a national home in Palestine was the answer.
   In 1896, Herzl published a pamphlet, The Jewish State. Herzl declared that the Jews could gain acceptance only if they ceased being a national anomaly. The Jews are one people, he argued, and their plight could be transformed into a positive force by the establishment of a Jewish state. He saw the Jewish problem as an international question to be dealt with in the arena of international politics. Reaction to his plan was mixed. Many Jews rejected it as too extreme; others responded with enthusiasm and asked Herzl to head what was to become the Zionist movement. He convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, on August 29–31, 1897. This first interterritorial gathering of Jews on a national and secular basis adopted the Basel Program and established the World Zionist Organization to help create the economic foundations for a Jewish state as a socialist utopia. Herzl was elected president of the organization. He met with world leaders trying to enlist financial and political support and collected funds from Jews around the world. He died in 1904 before his ideas could become reality.
   FURTHER READING:
    Falk, Avner. Herzl, King of the Jews: A Psychoanalytic Biography of Theodor Herzl. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993;
    Friedman, Isaiah, ed. The Rise of Israel. Herzl’s Political Activity, 1897–1904. New York: Garland, 1987.
   MARTIN MOLL

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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