Tuesday, December 26, 2017

History records that Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, came before the Sixth Zionist Congress on August 26, 1903, and presented the "Uganda Plan," suggesting that Jews accept a place other than then-Palestine as their national home. It was voted down.

Not surprisingly, there is more to the story.

Theodor Herzl; photo by Carl Pietzer. Public domain

In his book, A Peace To End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, David Fromkin writes that as an assimilated Jew, Herzl's knowledge of politics far outstripped his knowledge of Judaism. After witnessing the backlash against the Jews in France following the Dreyfuss affair, Herzl recognized the need for a Jewish state, but was not picky about the location.

At first.

Herzl created a Jewish organization through which to negotiate with various European governments. As he started plan, Herzl came into contact with the Jewish leaders and organizations that sponsored and supported Jewish settlement in Palestine. It was then that he realized the special appeal Palestine held for Jews around the world -- an appeal that would make his efforts more successful.

However, finding a government to support his plan was more difficult. After meeting with the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and finding him unresponsive to his arguments, Herzl began to look for other, more sympathetic governments.

In 1902, Herzl met in Great Britain with Joseph Chamberlain, the powerful Colonial Secretary (and father of Neville Chamberlain). Chamberlain was sympathetic not only to the idea in general, but also to its location. Herzl suggested a long-term strategy, where Jews would originally settle nearby either in Cyprus or El Arish at the edge of the Sinai until Palestine became available. While Cyprus and El Arish were considered part of the Ottoman Empire, they were both occupied by the British at the time. Chamberlain turned down the idea of Cyprus, but did offer to help Herzl get approval for El Arish. Towards that end, Herzl hired the lawyer David Lloyd George, who later went on to become the British Prime Minister, 1916 -1922.

Joseph Chamberlain. Public domain

However, by mid-1903, Herzl was informed that Al Arish was considered impractical.

It was then that Joseph Chamberlain suggested Uganda as a substitute to Herzl. Actually, Alona Ferba writes in Haaretz that the land in British East Africa offered to Herzl was 15,500 square km territory in today's Kenya. The idea was supported by the British Prime Minister at the time -- Arthur James Balfour.

Arthur James Balfour, public domain

Lloyd George drafted a Charter for the Jewish Settlement, which was submitted to the British government for approval. According to Fromkin:
In the summer of 1903 the foreign Office replied in a guarded but affirmative way that if studies and talks over the course of the next year were successful, His Majesty's Government would consider favorably proposals for the creation of a Jewish colony. It was the first official declaration by a government to the Zionist movement and the first official statement implying national status for the Jewish people. It was the first Balfour Declaration. [p. 274]


We know that is was not the last, just as we know that Uganda/Kenya was rejected by Jews as a state.

After all, Uganda could never truly become a Jewish state. It was not the national Jewish homeland. Uganda was not the indigenous home of the Jews. There were no historical, religious, and culture ties binding the Jews to any place other than the one the Western World refered to as Palestine. So even though Herzl rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest and influential British politicians of the time, in the short term - he failed.

But Herzl was successful in harnessing the pro-Jewish and pro-Zionist feeling that existed in the British government at the time. In doing so, Herzl set in motion forces that a over the following years would grow and snowball, leading to the Balfour Declaration and the eventual recreation of the Jewish State of Israel.

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