The First Zionist Congress
and the Basel Program
The first Zionist
Congress was called by Theodor
Herzl as a symbolic Parliament for those in sympathy with the implementation
of Zionist goals. Herzl had planned
to hold the gathering in Munich, but due to local Jewish opposition
he transferred the gathering to Basel, Switzerland. The Congress took
place in the concert hall of the Basel Municipal Casino on August 29,
There is some dispute as to the exact number of participants
at the First Zionist Congress; however, the approximate figure is 200
from seventeen countries, 69 of whom were delegates from various Zionist
societies and the remainder were individual invitees. In attendance
were also ten nonJews who were expected to abstain from voting.
Seventeen women attended the Congress, some of them in their own capacity
and others who accompanied representatives. While women participated
in the First Zionist Congress, they did not have voting rights. Full
membership rights were accorded them the following year, at the Second
Following a festive opening in which the representatives
were expected to arrive in formal dress, tails and white tie, the Congress
got down to the business at hand. The main items on the agenda were
the presentation of Herzl's plans, the establishment of the World
Zionist Organization and the declaration of Zionism's goals-the
In the version submitted to the Congress on the second
day of its deliberations (August 30) by a committee under the chairmanship
of Max Nordau, it was stated:
"The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in
EretzIsrael secured by law."
To meet halfway the request of numerous delegates,
the most prominent of whom was Leo
Motzkin, who sought the inclusion of the phrase "by international
law," a compromise formula proposed by Herzl was eventually adopted:
Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people
in EretzIsrael secured under public law. The Congress contemplates
the following means to the attainment of this end:
1. The promotion by appropriate means of the settlement in Eretz-Israel
of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.
2. The organization and uniting of the whole of Jewry by means of
appropriate institutions, both local and international, in accordance
with the laws of each country.
3. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment
and national consciousness.
4. Preparatory steps toward obtaining the consent of governments,
where necessary, in order to reach the goals of Zionism.
At the Congress, Herzl was elected President of the
Zionist Organization and Max Nordau one of three Vice-Presidents. Thereafter,
the Zionist Congress met every year (18971901), then every second
year (1903-1913, 1921-1939). Since the Second World War, meetings have
been held approximately every four years.