The Zionist Movement
One of Herzl's legacies was the establishment of the World Zionist Organization. Due in large part to his efforts, on August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland. In attendance were approximately 200 delegates from seventeen countries. The congress established itself as the World Zionist Organization and elected Herzl as president.
One of the congress's most significant achievements was the declaration of the goal of Zionism—creation of a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) in accordance with international law. To reach this end, the Congress adopted the Basel Program, which included the following points:
Eretz Yisrael would be settled by Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.
All of Jewry would be united on the local, national, and international levels to accomplish the objective of Zionism.
Jewish national consciousness would be raised.
Efforts would be made to obtain the consent and support of governments for the establishment of a Jewish nation.
After centuries of being a “dead” language used only for religious study and prayer, Palestine saw the revival of Hebrew. Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda (1882–1943), the first son of a Hebrew scholar and linguist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, is considered to be the first person whose native language was modern Hebrew. Today, Hebrew is the official language of Israel.
Subsequent Zionist Congresses were held every year thereafter until 1901, and then every other year with the exception of a hiatus during World War I. After 1945, meetings have been held approximately every four years. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, the meetings have taken place in Jerusalem.
Points of Controversy
The Zionist movement did experience some deep divisions, particularly in its early years. Some Zionists were secular Jews who supported “cultural Zionism,” emphasizing Jewish culture and awareness. Opposing this group were the Orthodox Zionists, who wanted to combine Herzl's political goals with traditional religious identity. In 1902, the religious camp formed the Mizrahi movement.
Another divisive issue occurred at the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, when Herzl suggested serious consideration be given to the British recommendation of using Uganda as a place of temporary settlement for the Russian Jewish refugees. For the next four years, Zionists studied and passionately argued for and against the Uganda proposal.
At the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905, a delegation seceded and formed the Jewish Territorial Organization to seek another location more practical than Palestine. But for most Zionists, Palestine was the only land for a Jewish country, and the Eighth Zionist Congress, held in 1907, rejected the Uganda proposal. Instead, all efforts would be concentrated to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.