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Zionist Congress:
First Zionist Congress & Basel Program

(August 1897)


Zionist Congress: Table of Contents | Definition | Congresses in Israel


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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, 1897.

There is some dispute as to the exact number of participants at this First Zionist Congress, however, the approximate figure is 200 people from seventeen countries, sixty-nine of whom were delegates from various Zionist societies and the remainder 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 Zionist Congress.

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 Basel program.

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 World War II, meetings have been held approximately every four years.


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