From the First Zionist Congress (1897)
to the Twelfth
By David Mendelsson
First Congress - Basle
The first Zionist Congress was to have taken place in Munich, Germany.
However, due to considerable opposition by the local community
leadership, both Orthodox and Reform, it was decided to transfer the
proceedings to Basle, Switzerland.
Theodore Herzl acted as chairperson of the Congress which was attended by some
200 participants. The major achievements of the Congress were its
formulation of the Zionist platform, known as the Basle program and
the foundation of the World Zionist Organization. The program
"Zionism seeks for the Jewish people a publicly recognized
legally secured homeland in Palestine."
This gave clear expression to Herzl's political Zionism in contrast
with the settlement orientated activities of the more loosely
organized Hibbat Zion. Herzl was elected President of the Zionist
organization and an Inner Actions Committee and a Greater Actions
Committee were elected to run the affairs of the movement between
In his diary Herzl wrote,
Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word - which I shall
guard against pronouncing publicly - it would be this: At
Basle I founded the Jewish State.
Second Congress -
In the face of a more active opposition to Zionism from amongst
various Jewish leaders, Herzl called on the Congress to conquer the
communities. In essence, this was a demand that the Zionist movement
focus its attention not only on political activity for Palestine but
also on work within the Jewish communities. At this Congress, the
foundations were laid for the establishment of the Jewish Colonial
Trust, a financial body aimed at the development of Palestine. It was
also at this Congress that a group of Socialists first appeared
demanding representation within the Zionist leadership.
Third Congress - Basle,
Herzl opened the Third Congress with a report on his meetings with
Kaiser William II in Constantinople and Jerusalem. Despite the fact
that these meetings produced no practical results, the fact that they
took place was of considerable symbolic value.
The Congress spent a good deal of its time discussing the political
dimensions of Zionism although opposition to this orientation was
voiced by those who thought that the more practical efforts of
settlement should be encouraged. In a debate on the Jewish Colonial
Trust, Congress decided that its funds could only be spent in
Palestine or Syria.
Whilst delegates were increasingly concerned with what was called the
question of culturethe Zionist attempt at a national/ethnic
identity for the JewsHerzl was preoccupied with the political
matters at hand. Some historians argue that Herzl was not so much
disinterested in these cultural matters as he was frightened of their
potential to split the infant movement.
Fourth Congress -
The Congress was held in London in order to affect public opinion in
that country in sympathy with the Zionist idea. The Congress met in
an atmosphere of growing concern over the situation facing Rumanian
Jewry where many thousands had been forced to leave and the remainder
were subject to persecution. Although this appeared to provide
further evidence of the need for a Charter, Herzl had nothing
substantial to offer that might bring succor to these Jews.
On the cultural question, the religious Zionists led by Rabbi Yitzhak
Yaakov Reines demanded that the Zionist movement restrict itself
solely to political matters. The Congress also discussed the problems
of the Jewish workers in Palestine and the question of a national
Jewish sports movement.
Fifth Congress - Basle,
Herzl reported to the Congress of his meeting with Sultan Abdul Hamid
II of Turkey and of the progress of the Jewish Colonial Trust. These
achievements did not satisfy all the delegates, in particular those
associated with the recently formed Democratic Faction.
The group led by Leo
Buber and Chaim
Weizmann called on the Zionist movement to adopt a program
of Hebrew culture and a greater degree of democracy within
the organization. The more concrete achievement of the Congress
was the establishment of the Jewish
National Fund (JNF) which was to raise funds for land
purchase in Palestine.
At the Fifth Zionist Congress, a resolution was adopted determining
that the next Congress would take place every alternate year and not
as had been the practiceannually.
In his opening speech, Herzl detailed the efforts to secure a Charter
on behalf of the movement, but these attempts were increasingly
desperate as the situation of the Jews, particularly following the
Kishinev pogrom, deteriorated. This gave rise to various temporary
solutions such as the El Arish project, which was negotiated with
the British statesmen, Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Landsdowne.
After the collapse of this scheme, the British then offered Herzl the
possibility of an autonomous Jewish settlement in East Africa
(commonly known as the Uganda project). Herzl called on the Congress
to give serious consideration to the plan, even though he appreciated
that it could not replace Palestine as the Jewish Homeland. In the
lively debate that followed, Max Nordau, Herzl's major confidante,
argued that Uganda would be a night refuge. Despite considerable
opposition and a demonstrative walk-out by the Russian Zionists, the
delegates agreed by 295 in favor, 178 against and 98 abstentions that
a committee should be dispatched to examine the possibility of Jewish
settlement in East Africa.
Among other matters discussed at the Congress was a report by Franz
Oppenheimer on the possibility of cooperative settlement on the land,
a program that was to have influence on the creation of various
settlements in Palestine a few years later. This was to be Herzl's last Congress: he died a year later.
Seventh Congress -
The Congress opened with a eulogy on Herzl by Nordau. Immediately
thereafter, debate resumed on the question of settlement outside
Palestine. The Congress heard the report of the Commission that had
been sent to East Africa which had concluded that Uganda was
unsuitable for mass Jewish settlement and proceeded to vote against a
national home anywhere except Palestine and its immediate vicinity.
The Territorialists, led by Israel Zangwill left the Congress in
protest and established the Jewish Territorial Association.
The Congress also discussed practical work in Palestine e.g. giving
support to agricultural settlements and industrial activity. Although
Nordau seemed the natural choice to succeed Herzl as President of the
Zionist Organization, he refused and instead David Wolfsohn assumed
this position. The Executive of the WZO moved its offices from Vienna
Eighth Congress -
The Hague, 1907
The decision to hold the Congress in the Hague was based on the
knowledge that the Second International Peace Conference was to be
held in that city.
At the Congress the major debate concerned the conflicting approaches
of the practical and political Zionists.
The political Zionists demanded that a charter be secured
before practical work began in Palestine, while the practical
Zionists argued that without substantial settlement there was
little hope of gaining legal sanction from one or more of the
In the event, the movement supported a number of practical
efforts and established a Palestine branch of the WZO to be
headed by Arthur Ruppin.
However, the adoption of synthetic Zionisma synthesis of
the two positionsbecame the clarion call of not a few
delegates, their major spokesperson being Chaim Weizmann.
Ninth Congress - Hamburg,
At this Congress, Wolffsohn and Nordau expressed the hope that
following the Young Turk Revolution, Zionist endeavors might enjoy a
change in fortune.
In the meantime, the Congress once again divided over the question of
how to implement the Zionist program. The practical lobby accused
Wolffsohn of focusing on political activity and his executiveof
judging projects by their commercial value. This rival leadership
included Menahem Ussishkin, Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow who
gained support from the representatives of the workers' movement in
Tenth Congress -
This Congress has often been described as the Peace Congress because
it finally laid to rest the debate between the practical and political
Zionists with Synthetic Zionism becoming the operational mode of the
Considerable attention was given to the question of practical work in
Palestine as well as Hebrew culture. Shlomo Kaplansky raised the
question of Zionist relations with the Arabs and, for the first time,
a session of the Congress was held in Hebrew.
David Wolfsohn was succeeded as President by Otto Warburg, a German
Jew and distinguished scientist who was identified with the practical
Zionist camp. The WZO moved its headquarters from Cologne to Berlin.
- Vienna, 1913
The Congress spent much of its time discussing settlement activities
in Palestine and the work of the organization's office in Jaffa.
Nordau, who had objected to this deviation from Herzl's approach was
conspicuous by his absence.
Weizmann and Ussishkin won the support of Congress for the
establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, twelve
years were to pass before the facility opened.
- Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary), 1921
This was, of course, the first Congress to be held after the First World
War, during which time the Zionist movement had won British support
for its endeavors to create a Jewish national home in Palestine (the Balfour Declaration). The Congress passed resolutions welcoming the
decision of the principal Allied Powers to grant the mandate for
Palestine to Britain and encouraged the ratification of the Mandate
by the League of Nations.
With the end of the war, the defeat of Germany and the success of the
London branch of the movement, it was clear that the leadership there
would be rewarded. Weizmann became President of the WZO and
Sokolow President of the executive.
The Congress discussed the activities and organization of Keren
HaYesod, which had been established a year earlier at the London
Conference and whose purpose it was to raise funds for the upbuilding
of Palestine from among the Jewish communities of the Diaspora.
A further issue discussed at the Congress was the question of
Zionism's relations with the Arabs. This matter had become serious as
a result of Arab riots in Jerusalem (1920) and in Jaffa (1921). The
Congress passed a resolution declaring that Zionism seeks,
to live in relations of harmony and mutual respect with the
and called on the Executive to achieve a,
sincere understanding with the Arab people.
The Congress reflected the growing trend of party and territorial
divisions within the Zionist movement. The Executive now met in London
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