Theodor Herzl (1860-1904)
founder of the political form of Zionism, a movement to establish a Jewish homeland. His pamphlet The Jewish State (1896) proposed that the Jewish question was a political question to be settled by a world council of nations. He organized a world congress of Zionists that met in Basel, Switz., in August 1897 and became first president of the World Zionist Organization, established by the congress. Although Herzl died more than 40 years before the establishment of the State of Israel, he was an indefatigable organizer, propagandist without whose vision the state of Israel might have turned out altogether different and out of step with the times.
A Jew in name but in all other things totally assimilated into the prevailing consciousness of Germanic culture as an ideal,he even joined a fencing club Albia in his Vienna days to prove he was unlike the typical Jew bred in the dingy ghetto. 1881 pogrom in Tsarist Russia coincided with closer at home politicians of the Right and Catholic clergy inveighing against liberalism that had given Jews certain exceptions. The Church of Rome had singled the Jews for their ire since they supported Bismarck’s anti-clerical policies. The changing political climate was something like the verse from the Exodus. ‘There arose up a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph.’(ex.1:8)
It is however difficult not to bring in Moses for comparison. The original Moses turned back on the Egyptian culture but Herzl wanted to create a secular nation than a Jewish homeland revolving about the Torah. He did not even believe Moses as the author of Penteteuch. He was a Reluctant Moses who set out achieve his goal once he was sure of the vast scope of his mission. It appealed to the dreamer in him, and the oversized ego that equalled matched his commanding presence.
Born and brought up in the dual monarchies of Austro-Hungarian empire he spoke German and not Hungarian. Born to parents who were well to do (assimilated in secular ideals) he preferred literary fame above all. Among earliest of his heroes none were of Jewish persuasion. In his youth he had seen the Iron Chancellor creating a grand German Federation and in his life mission it must have unconsciously served as the template. Pan-Germanism was inclusive of all peoples subscribing to German culture that cut across various client states about Berlin. Growing up in Vienna Herzl was well tuned to the growing trends. There was also anti-semitism running into all levels of the society. As a reporter in Paris during the Dreyfus Affair he realized there was no other way to recast the proverbial Shylock image into a citizen of the world. It would require a nation. People don’t change from within, but change their social structure they would also change, a dictum that seems very valid. There were quite many detractors but it certainly speaks of the optimism and impermeable spirit of the man to stay his course.
In a sense his dedication to the cause to which personally he had great antipathy but nevertheless a great cause to give his all, makes him ‘King’ Herzl. He is rightly called the father of the nation of Israel.