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August 29, 1897: Theodor Herzl Leads First Zionist Congress


Theodor Herzl Memorial

The tombstone of Zionism foundder Theodor Herzl at Theodor Herzl Memorial Park in Jerusalem.

ImageMD via Flickr (flickr.com/photos/imagemd/)
August 29, 1897: Between 200 and 250 delegates from 24 countries attend the Zionist Organization's first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Created by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, the organization becomes the driving force toward the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine . The notion of a "home" or "homestead" for the Jewish people in Palestine is adopted as a basic principle of the Zionist organization. Nevertheless, delegates fiercely debate the wording of their final declaration and finally decide not to use the words "Jewish state" in order not to antagonize Turkey, Russia and the European powers.

The Congress ended on Sept. 3. "Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word," Herzl writes in his diary, "it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State.... Perhaps in five years, and certainly in 50, everyone will know it." Herzl was off by one year (Israel declared its existence in 1948).

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