Theodor Herzl was certainly not the first Jew to dream of Zion, but he nevertheless put the wheels in motion (Zionism 1). Zionism is the name given to the political and ideological creation of a Jewish national state. The rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century culminated in the creation of this state in Palestine in 1948.
Herzl was born of well to do middle-class parents. He first studied in a scientific secondary school, but to escape from its anti-Semitic atmosphere he transferred in 1875 to a school where most of the students were Jews. In 1878 the family moved from Budapest to Vienna, where he entered the University of Vienna to study law. He received his license to practice law in 1884 but chose to devote himself to literature. Remaining in Vienna, he became o correspondent for Neue Freie Presse (New Free Press), the liberal magazine of the bourgeoisie.
In 1889 he married Julie Naschauer, daughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman in Vienna. The marriage was unhappy, although three children were born to it. Herzl had a strong attachment to his mother, who was unable to get along with his wife. These difficulties were increased by the political activities of his later years, in which his wife took little interest.
These political activities culminated in 1896, when Herzl published Der Judenstaat, an informational pamphlet in which he proposed that the Jewish question was a political question to be settled by a world council of nations. Although the liberal magazine he worked for tried to prevent the publication of Der Judenstaat and never so much as mentioned it in it’s columns, Herzl would not be deterred. He gathered a small coterie and set out to convene the First Zionist Congress that same year. Being the first political movement to unify the diverse proto-Zionists, five delegates among 200 men and perhaps as many as 10 women convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Although there are no reliable lists of attending members, there are pictures. Herzl’s own mother can be seen sitting on the dais during some of the proceedings. As a result of the congress, Palestine was chosen as the seat of the Jewish state (because of its associations with Jewish history), and Herzl was made president of the World Zionist Organization (WZO).
Jerusalem at that time was under Turkish control, so it was the charge of Herzl and the WZO to negotiate with the Sultan Abdul al-Hammid. Although the sultan was a sympathizer with the Jewish cause, the negotiations were fruitless. Herzl wrote about the First Zionist Congress in his diary “If I had to sum up the Basel Congress in one word–which I shall not do openly–it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I were to say this today, I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years, perhaps, and certainly in 50, everyone will see it.” (Herzl 1). Theodore Herzl died on July 3, 1904, before realizing the creation of the Jewish state.
In 1917, in the midst of a war with Turkey, Great Britain established the Balfour Declaration, a promise to help the creation of a Jewish homeland. By 1920, Britain was given a mandate by the League of Nations to allow Jewish colonization of Palestine, but under Arab pressure they limited their interpretation of the declaration. Despite movements for mass forced colonization and for right-wing revolution against Britain, the general Zionists remained friendly toward Great Britain and further negotiated their claim until 1948.
Shortly after the Second World War, two crowning achievements pushed ahead to the establishment of the Jewish state (Breyer 18). First, the Nuremberg Trials held worldwide attention to the plight of the Jew and for the necessity of a refuge. Secondly, as an effect of the Trials, United States Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter persuaded the Philippine delegate in the United Nations to cast the majority vote for the creation of the state of Israel. Theodore Herzl’s (and the predecessors of the same philosophy) dream was realized. In 1949, Herzl’s remains were disinterred and moved to Palestine, where they were placed on a mountain later named Mount Herzl.
The Jewish state was the product of many complex historic forces, including two World Wars and the efforts of Herzl’s many followers, it was he who organized the political force that was able to take advantage of the political influences necessary to the creation of the Jewish state.