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Zionist Congresses: The Kharkov Conference


KHARKOV CONFERENCE, a consultation of the leading Zionists from the various parts of Russia convened at the beginning of November 1903 in order to organize the opposition to the *Uganda Scheme . When the Sixth Zionist Congress adopted *Herzl 's proposal to send a commission to investigate whether Uganda was suitable for Jewish settlement, a storm of protest was aroused in the Zionist Movement, especially among the Russian Zionists – the overwhelming majority of those who voted "no." Menahem *Ussishkin , who did not attend the Congress because he was in Ereẓ Israel at the time, was the head of the opposition movement. Upon his return to Russia, he published a sharp open letter in the Zionist press against the Congress' decision and the "diplomacy and exaggerated politization" of the Zionist Movement, stressing that the Congress had no right to adopt a resolution that constituted the abandonment of Zion. In reaction to this letter, Herzl accused Ussishkin (in the official Zionist Die *Welt , Oct. 30, 1903) of a breach of discipline and severely criticized his activities in Ereẓ Israel.

At the beginning of November of that year, the Russian members of the Zionist General Council and their deputies (together numbering 15) met in Kharkov on the initiative of Ussishkin, who was the moving force at the conference, and demanded a condemnation of Herzl. The conference decided to oppose the Uganda scheme as a contradiction of the *Basle Program and to present Herzl with an ultimatum under which he was to commit himself in writing to the following demands: not to propose in the future any territorial programs other than the settlement of Syria and Ereẓ Israel; to withdraw and dissolve the Uganda Scheme entirely by no later than the Seventh Congress, and to convene a special session of the General Council to discuss the matter prior to the dispatch of the commission to Uganda; and to embark immediately on practical settlement work in Ereẓ Israel.

Should Herzl reject the ultimatum, another consultation would be convened to devise measures of opposition to the Zionist leadership, including withholding contributions to the Zionist Executive in Vienna, a publicity campaign, the dispatch of opposition propagandists to all Zionist centers in Europe and America, a convention of the opposition prior to the Seventh Zionist Congress, establishing an independent Zionist organization, appealing to world public opinion and before a British court against the rights of the "East African majority" (supporters of the Uganda Scheme) to the finances of the Zionist Organization-the *Jewish Colonial Trust and the *Jewish National Fund . *Z. Belkowsky , *V. Tiomkin , and *S. Rosenbaum were chosen as members of the delegation to present the ultimatum to Herzl with *J. Bernstein-Kogan as an alternate member. It was also decided that the transfer of funds to the Zionist treasury in Vienna should be suspended until the conclusion of negotiations with Herzl and that the money should be kept temporarily in Russia.

The delegation arrived in Vienna on Dec. 31, 1903, but Herzl, who was gravely offended by the aggressive tone of the Kharkov resolutions, refused to receive it officially. He agreed, however, to meet with each of its members privately and invited them to attend the meeting of the Executive as guests after they had declared for the record that they did not come as emissaries and that they did not intend to deliver any ultimatum. In the meantime, the British government, under pressure from the English settlers in Uganda, withdrew its offer to the Zionist movement. As a result, a reconciliation took place between Herzl and the Russian Zionists on April 11, 1904.


A. Bein, Theodor Herzl (Heb., 19627), 453–503; Th. Herzl, Complete Diaries, 5 (1960), index S.V. Kharkov; S. Schwarz, Ussishkin be-Iggerotav (1949), 79–87; J. Klausner, Ha-Oppoziẓyah le-Herzl (1960), 231–49; M. Heymann, The Uganda Controversy, 1 (1970).

[Yitzhak Maor]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.