31.08.

1897: World’s First Zionist Congress in Basel

1897: World’s First Zionist Congress in Basel
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/The Municipal Casino in Basel where the Congress took place

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 31 August 1897
  • It was chaired by Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. He was a Hungarian Jew, but spent most of his life in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. The congress was attended by about 200 delegates from 17 countries.

Zionism is known as movement whose goal was the establishment of an independent Jewish state. The First Zionist Congress was held from 29 to 31 August 1897 in the Swiss city of Basel.

It was chaired by Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. He was a Hungarian Jew, but spent most of his life in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time.

Herzl wanted the Zionist Congress to be something akin to a symbolic parliament of the Jewish state, which they wanted to establish.

They planned to hold the first congress in Munich, but Herzl moved it to Basel. Namely, the Jews in Munich were against Zionism. In fact, many European Jews opposed Zionism and thought it threatened their position among the Christians in Europe.

The Congress took place in the concert hall of the “Municipal Casino” in Basel (at the time, “casino” was the word for a theater or a ballroom).

The congress was attended by about 200 delegates from 17 countries. It is interesting to note that some participants (17 to be precise) were women, but did not have the right to vote (a year later, they were allowed to vote).

The participants of the Congress established the Zionist Organization (which was later renamed the World Zionist Organization), whose president was Theodor Herzl.

This organization was supposed to be something akin to a precursor of the Jewish state. In Basel, they decided to use the famous song “Hatikva” (HaTiq’vah – literally meaning “hope”) as the anthem of the Zionist Organization.

Max Nordau (he was also a Hungarian Jew) and Moses Gaster were elected vice presidents of the CO.

After the Congress had finished, Herzl wrote: “At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it.”

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