Herzl began his quest to establish a homeland for the Jewish people, he sought out the support of the great powers to help achieve his goal. In 1903, Herzl turned to Great Britain and met with Joseph
Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary and others high ranking officials who agreed in principle
to Jewish settlement in East Africa.
At the Sixth
Zionist Congress at Basel on August 26, 1903, Herzl proposed the
British Uganda Program as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia in
immediate danger. By a vote of 295-178 it was decided to send an expedition
("investigatory commission") to examine the territory proposed. Three days later the British government released an official document allocating a "Jewish territory" in East Africa "on conditions which will
enable members to observe their national customs."
While Herzl made it clear that this program would
not affect the ultimate aim of Zionism, a Jewish entity in the Land
of Israel, the proposal aroused a storm at the Congress and nearly
led to a split in the Zionist movement.
The Jewish Territorialist Organization (ITO) was formed as a result
of the unification of various groups who had supported Herzl's Uganda
proposals during the period 1903-1905.
The Uganda Program was finally rejected by the Zionist
movement at the Seventh
Zionist Congress in 1905, but Nahum
Syrkin and Israel Zangwill called an alternative conference to continue the plan of the Uganda
The fortunes of the territorialist movement depended
to no small degree on the seriousness of anti-Semitism on the one hand and the failure of the political dimension of Zionist
activity on the other. So, for example, the movement's ranks swelled
somewhat following the pogroms in 1905, but declined considerably
after the securing of the Balfour
Zangwill became the movement's undisputed leader. After the rejection
of the Uganda scheme on the grounds of impracticability by the British,
Zangwill turned his attention to settlement in Canada and Australia.
But opposition from local residents led him to abandon the scheme.
Expeditions were sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq), Cyrenaica (Libya) and
Angola but little came of these expeditions.
A project that had some concrete success was the
Galveston scheme which contemplated the settlement of Jews in the
American Southwest, in particular in Texas. The project received the
assistance of Jacob Schiff,
the American Jewish banker, and some 9,300 Jews arrived in that area
between 1907-1914, through the Emigration Bureau of the Territorialist
With the publication of the Balfour
Declaration, the ITO faced a severe crisis since many of its members
came to the conclusion that Eretz-Israel was not so utopian after
all. The organization's failure was due to its inability to secure
a definite project, and its lack of sensitivity toward the historic
and traditional sentiments of Jewish identity.