Chapter VI


1.The Dreyfus Affair, 1894-18982.Theodor Herzl – The Father of Modern Political Zionism3. Zionism Becomes Organised4. The Diplomatic Offensive

Chapter V referred briefly to the precursors of modern Zionism as a political movement predicated upon the Jewish Nationalist aspiration. Nevertheless, these early dreams and debates, whilst striving for self determination all lacked the strong leadership and the political impetus needed to translate emotion into action, and above all, organisation which could command respect internationally.

The material presented in this Chapter is intended neither to be comprehensive nor to duplicate or summarise what has already been researched and recorded elsewhere. Much of the background to the Jewish immigration to and land acquisition in Palestine is to be found in the many published histories on the origins of Zionism, such as 

Gideon Shimoni, ‘The Zionist Ideology’ (Brandeis University Press, Hanover NH , 1995); David Vital, ‘The Origins of Zionism’ (Oxford University Press, London 1975); together with Ben Halpern and Jehuda Reinharz, ‘Zionism and the Creation of a New Society’(Oxford University Press, New York, 1998);  and in the biographies of Zionist leaders: Chaim Weizmann, ‘Trial and Error’ (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn, 1972); Shabtai Teveth’s  ‘Ben Gurion, The Burning Ground 1886-1948, (Houghjton Mifflin, Boston, 1987); and Menachem Begin, ‘The Revolt’ (Nash Publishing New York 1977). 

Accordingly, this Chapter will confine itself to a review of 

    (1) the political events, specifically the Dreyfus Affair which converted debate into action. 
    (2) the leadership of Theodor Herzl, who was a visionary with the necessary ability and zeal to transform the concept from ideology to realisation through diplomatic means. He was the right man at the right place and at the right time to create the Zionist Organisation
    (3) the Zionist Organisation (ZO) as the vehicle for Jewish Self Determination in Palestine, its deliberative and executive institutions;
    (4) implementation of the ZO goals both politically and instrumentally.

Where appropriate, reference will be made to the impact of these events on contemporaneous Jewish-Arab relations and the historical radiations of such events on currently.

1.The Dreyfus Affair, 1894-1898

Despite the liberal attitude of the Napoleonic regime in Western Europe and the move to ‘emancipate’ its minorities- including the Jews - anti-Semitism continued to be expressed not only against those who refused to assimilate but even those who had succeeded in erasing all visible symbols of being Jewish.

In France, key segments of French society, notably the Catholic Church and in some French governmental institutions, particularly the army, continued to reject Jewish attempts at assimilation. Instead in some quarters, rabidly anti-Semitic sentiments became openly expressed in action. Nowhere was this better exemplified in the court martial proceedings launched against Captain Alfred Dreyfus a French military officer born of Jewish parents.

On the basis of an incompetent investigation and procedural irregularities, he was charged, tried, found guilty and convicted in 1894 for espionage, following which he was publicly degraded in the École Militaire. The degradation was accompanied by violent public anti-Semitic demonstrations.

However it transpired some two years later that his conviction was based on false evidence and that another officer, Ferdinand Esterhazy was in fact the enemy agent. Drefus was retried in June 1899, but was still found guilty because fabricated evidence had been planted in his file to protect the image of the France’s Military hierarchy.

His conviction might have passed unnoticed but for but for the public denunciation by Emil Zola published in the front page of the  Parisian daily newspaper, L'Aurore, on January 13, 1898 in which he accused the government of anti-Semitism, the unlawful jailing of Dreyfus over the security leak and a general white-wash of the incompetent  French senior military establishment.

2.Theodor Herzl – The Father of Modern Political Zionism

Prior to the Drefus Affair, Herzl, even as a thoroughly assimilated Jew, had encountered anti-Semitism both as a law student at University of Vienna when he joined Albia, a German students’ society, and in his political reading of E. Duehring's “Die Judenfrage als Rassen-Sitten-und Kulturfrage.”

At the time of the Dreyfus trial, Herzl was the Paris correspondent of the influential Austrian newspaper the Neue Freie Presse. Although initially convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt, the trial raised the ‘Jewish problem’ to full consciousness and convinced him of the necessity of providing a solution to the failure of Jewish ‘emancipation’ into French cultural life as the panacea for anti-Semitism. The Affaire revealed both to Herzl and to many other Jewish literary, financial and political leaders that their assimilation into the majority culture was illusory. 

Anti-Semitism arose because the Jews were everywhere seen as foreigners without a homeland to which they could retreat. The solution, in Herzl’s view was to be found in the creation of such a homeland, the establishment of which would command international acceptance and respect for Jews as for any other people.

Herzl first articulated his ideas in an “Address to the Rothschilds” in which he sought to gain their financial support and that of other Jewish financial magnates such as Baron de Hirsch (the founder of Jewish settlements in Argentina) and Samuel Montagu as well as the Chief Rabbi of Vienna. They rejected his ideas as impractical as did the Jewish Establishment of Vienna, Paris, and London with whom he was in contact during the second half of 1895.

(D. Gutwein,  Herzl and the struggle within the Jewish plutocracy : The Rothschilds, Baron de Hirsch and Samuel Montagul 1997, vol. 62, Historical Society of Israel no1, pp. 47-74,)

Failing in this endeavour he redrafted his ideas for wider dissemination at the grass roots level in a booklet early in 1896 entitled “Der Judenstaat.  The basic premises to his argument were:

    •    anti -Semitism cannot be solved by assimilation because of the Jewish will to survive as one people (Volk) despite the fact that they live as strangers in all countries;
    •    the societal and political solution to the Jewish problem lies in the establishment of an independent Jewish state, with the consent of the great powers, in Eretz Yisrael, preferably, or elsewhere, if so desired.

The booklet resonated both within the intellectual sectors of Western Europe’s emancipated Jewry and more particularly influenced Jews in Eastern Europe. As a consequence, and unaware that a similar but ineffective attempt by Hovevei-Zion groups to convene such a Congress had been made earlier, Herzl succeeded in bringing together some 204 participants from seventeen countries on August 29,1897, in Basle, Switzerland to constitute the first Zionist Congress. 

(See also Nathan Birnbaum who studied law, philosophy and Near Eastern studies at the University of Vienna from 1882 to 1886. Aged 19, in 1883, he founded Kadimah, the first Jewish (Zionist) student association in Vienna, well before Theodor Herzl became the leading spokesman of the Zionist movement. While still a student, he founded, published and partly wrote the periodical Selbstemanzipation! ("Self-Emancipation!" (1885-1894) in which he coined the terms "Zionistic", "Zionist", "Zionism" (1890), and "political Zionism" (1892).

3. Zionism Becomes Organised

    a. Congresses

        First Congress August 29–31, 1897:
        The Basel Platform

With Herzl in the Chair, and Nathan Birnbaum as Secretary-General, the 1897 Congress resolved to establish the Zionist Organisation (“ZO”). It adopted as its platform the following:
“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz-Israel 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.

Conspicuous by its absence in sub-paragraph 1 is any reference to the indigenous Arab population of Eretz-Yisrael and the anticipated impact which the Basle Platform, if implemented, might have upon such people.

The drafting language of paragraph 4 of the platform appears to contemplate the ZO obtaining a charter, not unlike those granted to colonial development companies (such as the East India company) which would give some degree of security to the establishment and international recognition of a Jewish national home wherein a high degree of self government for its population would be guaranteed by one of the Great Powers.

From Herzl’s perspective, such proposed concept would not come as a surprise to the Ottomans, who, under the Capitulations (see Chap. 4, section 3 (a)) had already conceded the right to the major European powers to protect non Ottoman citizens residing within the Empire.

As the central parliamentary organ of the Zionist movement, Congresses were convened on a regular basis.  From 1887 to 1901, it met annually and thereafter biennially.

The success of the 1st Congress gave considerable impetus to the growth if the Organisation. Its size increased eightfold in the one year period between the 1st and 2nd congresses.

However, the Congress, in its second assembly demanded that in addition to its political activities in Palestine, more attention should be paid to strengthening the Jewish cultural and nationalist activities within Europe, especially Russia. Subsequently the implementation of this policy impacted negatively on Herzl’s efforts to persuade Tsarist Russia to support the Zionist programme.  

On the positive side, the 2nd Congress authorised the foundation of a financial institution, the Palestine Jewish Colonial Trust, to raise money for the advancement of the ZO’s objectives in Palestine.

In the seven years following its inception, the ZO grew into a Jewish mass movement, its organisation more sophisticated, its membership continuing to increase at a steady rate and with it, increasing demands from its subscribers many of could not be met due to financial constraints.

(For a summary of Congress resolutions and events between the first and the twelfth see:
David Mendelsson From the First Zionist Congress (1897) to the Twelfth (1921) )

    b.The Organisation

            i. Membership

The Congress was seen both as a deliberative and legislative body. It decided that simple membership to the ZO would be open to anyone over 18 years upon the purchase of one Zionist ‘sheql’ (the biblical coin used to carry out a census). Congress delegates, however, had to be over 21 years. Although women delegates did not have the right to vote in the 1st Congress this was rectified in the 2nd Congress.

Number of delegates accredited to future Congress would be proportionate to the number of “sheqlled” paid up members of the ZO located in each country. Although 17 countries were represented at the 1st Congress, the mainstay of support for the entire movement came from the Russian Zionists who comprised over one third of the delegates. By the 4th and 5th Congresses, they accounted for over one half of its representatives and demanded extra representation on the Action Committees (see below). 

The lack of cultural and ideological homogeneity characteristic of the 1st Congress became a constant factor in the Organisation. Inasmuch as the number of Congress delegates were to be proportional to the number of ZO members in a particular country, this has influenced the manner in which the contemporary Israeli parliamentary structure of the Knesset is composed. 

There the allocation of parliamentary seats among the various parties is determined by proportional representational vote exercised by the electorate within in a single national constituency. Such manner of election gives a more than proportionate power to smaller parties to influence the composition of government. Coalition in present day Israel has been the rule rather than the exception and as such prevents government from establishing a coherent and consistent political policy.

            ii. President

The 1st Congress elected Herzl as its first President, a position which he held until his death in 1904. He was followed by David Wolffsohn (1905–1911) and Otto Warburg (1911–1921).

            iii. Action Committees

Of major importance in the day to day running of the organisation was the creation of the Inner and Outer Action Committees (“IAC” and “OAC” respectively) which became responsible for strategic implementation of the ZO platform. The IAC, later known as the “Executive”, in effect became the “Cabinet” while the OAC – later named the Zionist General Council - fulfilled the wider function of Government and Parliament in between the Congresses.

            iv. Field Offices: Constantinople and Jaffa

In order to advance its interests internationally and particularly with the Ottomans and to implement the Organisation’s land acquisition and immigration settlement programmes the IAC established two important field offices in 1908.

• The Constantinople Office acted as a modern-day lobbyist among the Sultan’s advisors. 

• The Jaffa Office dealt with the nuts and bolts of building under the management of Arthur Ruppin, assisted by Dr. Jacob Thon, Joshua Radler-Feldman, Joshua Hankin.

Initially it provided information for potential immigrants and confined its operational activities to land acquisition and immigrant support. 

In 1911, as a result of increasing Arab opposition to Jewish migration and settlement, it also acted as the intelligence and propaganda arm of the ZO. Its role was extended to encompass public relations with the Arabs in Palestine and “ to read the Arab press, and to report on, and translate into Hebrew and reply to articles concerning Jews and Zionism. “

It was the Jaffa office and its staff which had direct contact with the Arab absentee landowners, the urban notables, village headmen and occasionally with the Arab fellah living on and working the land, the ownership of which, was transferred to the ZO’s land development company, over his head and often without his knowledge.

The management and operation of the settlement operations conducted by the Jaffa Office directly influenced and affected the relationship between Jew and Arab.

Yaacov Ro’i, The Zionist Attitude to the Arabs 1908-1914, in E. Kedouried & S.G. Haim (eds), Palestine and Israel in the 19th and 20th Centuries, pp.15-59, Frank Cass & Co Ltd., London, 1982; 

Abigail Jacobson, Sephardim, Ashkenazim and the ‘Arab Question’ in pre-First World War Palestine, 39 Middle Eastern Studies, No.2 April 2003, pp. 105-130

            v. Finance

                    1. Jewish Colonial Trust

Herzl’s approaches to the West European Jewish magnates for financial support for his Zionist project having been rejected, he was compelled to turn to the Jewry’s grass roots for support.

The Jewish Colonial Trust (JCT), the founding of which had been approved by the 2nd Congress, was duly incorporated in London on March 20, 1899, with the threefold goals of:

--attracting funds from a wide catchment area

--acquiring immigration permits for settling in Palestine during the Ottoman Rule; and

--providing credit for the establishment of a Zionist enterprise in Palestine.

The JCT Founder Share Capital was authorised in the amount of £2,000,000. Unfortunately subscribers  took up less than a quarter of the founder share capital, and the Bank only reached the minimum statutory requirement to be able to commence business in 1902 when it succeeded in issuing 250,000 £1 shares

In Palestine, the JCT’s financial activities were carried out by its subsidiary, the Anglo-Palestine Bank. Formed in 1902, the bank opened its first branch in Jaffa in 1903 under the management of Zalman David Levontin with land purchases being among its early transactions.

Thus it was clear from the very beginning of its existence, that the ZO would be strapped for funds in the pursuit of its goals. This was to have significant repercussions in the 20’s and 30’s on the ZO’s ability to support Jewish migration into Palestine and the continuation of its land acquisition projects.  

David Mendelsson, From the First Zionist Congress (1897) to the Twelfth (1921), Jewish Virtual Library 

Nili Kadary,  “Herzl and the Zionist Movement: From Basle to Uganda”

4. The Diplomatic Offensive

As part of his early attempts to enlist the support of the European and British Jewish Establishments and their financial magnates, Herzl had already commenced his international diplomatic assault even before the establishment of the Zionist Organisation.

In the knowledge that Germany maintained close political and economic ties with the Ottoman Empire and that German support would be crucial in gaining the Turkish Sultan’s agreement, Herzl initially sought the aid of German intermediaries in attaining his objectives. When this failed he tried approaching the Ottoman government directly. When this, too, proved unsuccessful, he turned to other European governments.  

All these efforts involved numerous visits to Istanbul, and to other major European cities, meeting not only with high and low ranking political leaders and government officials but also with Heads of State including German Emperor Wilhelm II, in Istanbul on October 18, 1898, and later in Palestine on October 28 and November 2; Sultan Abdülhamid II on May 17, 1901; the King of Italy on January 23, 1904 and the Pope on January 25, 1904. 

From June 1896 and until his death in July 1904, Herzl tried in vain, to obtain the right of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael. Throughout this period Russian Jews came under constant threat of pogroms culminating in the Kishinev Massacre of 1903. This event compelled Herzl of the necessity to find an immediately feasible solution and caused him to consider settlement possibilities other than in Erez Yisrael – a move which was to create a schismatic ideological split in the Zionist Organisation. 

These aforesaid efforts are summarised below.

       a.  German Intermediaries

On April 23, 1896, supported by an introduction from the Anglican Chaplain serving the British Consulate, Rev. W. Hechler, Herzl was received by Frederick, the Grand Duke of Baden and uncle of the German Kaiser, William II.

Now, as President of the newly established Zionist Organisation and with the publication in 1897 of the movement’s weekly newspaper, Die Welt, Herzl felt able to increase his international diplomatic offensive.

In October and November 1898 Kaiser Wilhelm II paid a visit to the Ottomans. Herzl saw this as an opportunity for the Kaiser to intercede and persuade Sultan to consider the Zionist proposals seriously. Through the Grand Duke’s good offices, Herzl succeeded in meeting the Kaiser three times:

  • On October 18, 1898 in Istanbul, Herzl ‘lectured’ the Kaiser on the need to settle the Jews in Palestine. After making a number of comments that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, he nevertheless asked Herzl: "Tell me in one word: what should I demand from the Sultan?" to which Herzl replied: "A franchise company [that will accept Eretz Israel] with German backing." 
  • In late October – early November, during the Kaiser’s visit to Palestine, Herzl succeeded in meeting him twice but on both occasions the Kaiser made no promises.

In all of these meetings, Herzl presented the fundamental ideas of Zionism and the necessity to apply a constructive Realpolitic view to solve the “Jewish Problem.”  

In his younger days the Kaiser had had a friendly disposition towards the Jews, however, by the time of Herzl’s audience, Wilhelm II, influenced by his household clergy, had become very anti-Semitic. Consequently, the Kaiser’s support for Herzl’s initiative should be seen as an attempt to rid Germany of its Jews, rather than as an expression of being pro Jewish.

That the Kaiser would be unsuccessful in persuading the Sultan to grant Jewish autonomy in Palestine should have come as no surprise. The Kaiser’s Foreign Secretary Bernhard, Fürst von Bülow, (later to become Chancellor in 1900) was well aware that the Sultan and his officials lay in constant fear of erosion in their attempts to control of the Ottoman Empire. 

(John C. G. Rohl,  The Kaiser and his Court: Wilhelm II and the Government of Germany, especially Chapter 8 Kaiser Wilhelm II and German anti-Semitism, Cambridge University Press, 1995; 

Isaiah Friedman, Germany, Turkey and Zionism 1897-1918,  Clarendon Press, 1977,Oxford, especially Ch’s 4 -5 ‘First Encounter with Zionism’

    b. Direct negotiations with the Ottomans

In June 1896, assisted by Michael Nevlinski, a Polish diplomatic agent, Herzl met with the Ottoman Grand Vizier in Istanbul with the proposal that the Jews would undertake to correct the Ottoman Empire's grave financial situation in return for which the Sultan would relinquish his rule over Erez Israel and agree to the country's becoming an independent Jewish state. 

In negotiating with the Sultan and his officials, Herzl initially sought an independent Jewish State.  After being rejected, he retreated and proposed a Jewish state under the Sultan’s suzerainty. This proposal, too, was rejected, forcing Herzl to modify his request again. Now he asked for a Charter allowing for dense and concentrated Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel enjoying autonomy and the right of self-defence. 

In return Herzl somewhat rashly undertook to cover the enormous Ottoman national debt – presuming, without investigating in advance, whether the Jewish financial magnates would undertake the task when presented with an affirmative answer from the Sultan.

In this, Herzl was mistaken in both of his assumptions.

  • The Jewish magnates were unenthusiastic and Rothschild ridiculed the idea that Palestine could be a home for the Jews. Nevertheless Herzl continued to negotiate with the Sultan apparently unaware that that the Ottomans were simultaneously negotiating to refinance their debt on cheaper terms in France.

  • From the Ottoman perspective, such a proposal could not be countenanced. Their loss of control over Greece in 1826 had set a precedent for other nationalistic movements in the Balkans. In 1875, Bosnia and Herzegovina sought their independence of the Ottomans as did the Bulgarians. Although the insurgents were defeated by the Turkish armies, the Ottomans were not about to encourage the emergence of any nationalist movement, especially one located in the very heart of what remained of their empire.

Turkish American Political Action Committee,  ‘Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire’ 

Furthermore, the Sultan, Abdulhamid II also feared that a Jewish held territory, populated by European immigrants would invite even more European intervention in Turkish affairs than previously under the Capitulations, particularly from Russia.

Although the Sultan was unwilling to allow a concentration of Jews in Palestine, he was instead prepared to admit Jewish immigration to any part of the Ottoman Empire –other than Palestine, provided (i) the immigrants relinquished their foreign nationality, (ii) assumed Turkish nationality with all the duties that that imposed, including compulsory military service, and (iii) Herzl undertaking to form a syndicate for the consolidation of the public debt.

At this point, in February 15, 1902, Herzl’s attempt to negotiate directly with the Ottomans came to a final end.

    c. Negotiations with Britain – Her Middle Eastern Interests

British interests in Palestine at that time were multiple - religious, political, commercial and military - all of which impacted on potential Anglo-Jewish relations. These interests encouraged Zionists generally and Herzl particularly to look to Britain for support in their search for Jewish self-determination in Palestine, certain in the knowledge that by 1903, Britain had became sufficiently directly involved in Ottoman Imperial domestic affairs and therefore capable of assisting the Zionists to realise their ambitions.

            i.Religious Interests

The Earl of Shaftesbury, a social reformer and Christian evangelical activist within the Church of England, is generally believed to have persuaded British Foreign Secretary Palmerston, to whom he was related by marriage, to establish a consulate in Jerusalem in 1838 and to extend to non Ottoman Jews in Palestine its protection under the Capitulations. Their motivation arose from their Non-Conformist belief that the return of the Jews to Palestine and their conversion to Christianity would, according to New Testament Scriptures, hasten the Second Coming. Shaftesbury saw Palmerston as God’s chosen instrument to achieve this objective.  Similar motivations may have influenced Prime Minister Lloyd George in the next century.

However there is considerable evidence to support the claim that Britain’s consular establishment in Jerusalem was initially motivated by political considerations intended to constrain the expansion of unopposed Russian and French influence in the region: Russia defended the Orthodox institutions and community within the Empire generally and particularly in Palestine,  as did France in respect of the Catholic institutions and communities. For want of Protestants in the region, Britain adopted the Jews as her protégé so as to claim a similar interest. It was only with the appointment of James Finn in 1845 as British consul in Jerusalem that Shaftesbury and Palmerston conceived that he could also extend British protection to non-Ottoman Jews. 

David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace, Pheonix  Press, London, 2000, pp 268-269; A Verite,  Why Was a British Consulate Established in Jerusalem? 85 English Hist. Rev 316-345 

            ii. Political Interests

In addition to its attempts to limit Russian and French political influence and commercial expansion into the Ottoman Empire, Britain also had a strong interest in maintaining its political integrity and internal stability of her Empire.

In 1831-1833 Ibrahim Pasha, Mehammed Ali’s son had invaded and occupied Syria (including Palestine) under the pretext that the Sultan had promised him control of the territory as due compensation for suppressing the Wahhabi takeover the Najd area of the Arabian Peninsula, especially the holy city of Mecca (1813-16) and crushing the Greek uprising against the Ottomans in 1824.

Britain may have also have viewed (somewhat mistakenly) that the Egyptian advance into Syria might have been retarded by placing along his line of march a British backed Jewish homeland. (Fromkin, p.269). Given Ibraham Pasha’s military ability, this seems unrealistic.

While Ibraham Pasha’s rule of Syria brought some degree of modernisation it also created considerable political opposition such that the Sultan turned to Britain and France for their intervention. 

Asad Jibrail Rustum Syria under Mehemet Ali  41 (1) The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures (Oct., 1924), pp. 34-57

Britain and France responded in 1838 by instituting a diplomatic offensive against Egypt culminating in the 1840 Convention of London whereby Ibrahim Pasha withdrew his forces from Syria (including Palestine ) and Mehammed Ali accepted the hereditary and effective rule over Egypt and the Sudan as the Khedive - the title of the Turkish viceroys who effectively governed the territory from 1867 to 1914 while under nominal Turkish rule.

However, Mehammed Ali and his successors were viewed by Egyptian nationalists as "Turks" responsible for a series of Egyptian financial and economic crises; in particular a crisis in 1876 which gave Britain the opportunity to acquire a large financial and therefore political interest in the recently completed Suez Canal.

            iii.    Commercial Interests

The Suez Canal, constructed with French financing and employing Egyptian forced labour between 1856 and 1869 was originally opposed by Britain on the grounds that British shipping would gravitate towards the canal, become dependent on it, and then suffer interruptions during war time because of its vulnerability to attack. 

The Canal’s opening was nevertheless opportune for Britain for at least three reasons:

                    Faster Communication with India

India had rebelled against the maladministration of the subcontinent by the East India Company between 1857-1859. After regaining control, Britain exercised governmental power directly. Policy was set by the India Office headed by the Secretary of State for India, and implemented by a Governor-General holding the new title of Viceroy. 

The opening of the Suez Canal, would now enable Britain to exercise more efficient communication and control over the Indian affairs, and advance her trading interests into the Far East.

                    British Mercantilism

The canal allowed British commercial interests to reduce their shipping costs of importing raw material for Britain’s burgeoning cotton textile industry. The American Civil War (1861-1865) had sharply reduced supply and Egyptian cotton was found to be an acceptable alternative. This new source influenced heavy British investment in the region. 

Commercially, British merchants sought business opportunities in the Nile Valley and Suez. Although an "overland route" opened between the port of Alexandria and the Gulf of Suez in the 1840s and a railway was completed in the 1850s, it was unable to handle bulk cargo. The Canal therefore gained a position of crucial commercial importance.  

During its first thirteen years of operation, the freight through the canal each year increased from just under a half million to more than five million tons. Although the Canal was owned mainly by French investors (55%) and the Khedive (45%), British ships paid only nominal fees to pass through the canal. As a consequence, by 1882 British ships carried more than eighty percent of the cargo passing through the canal.

Jim Jones, Egypt and Europe in the 19th Century, 

The impact of the American civil war had an impact also on economic development in Palestine. The direct agricultural producers - the fellahin- benefited only to a small extent. The primary beneficiaries were those who invested capital, engaged directly in trade and indirectly in agriculture - merchants, middlemen, big landowners and tax-farmers.  

Alexander Scholch, The Economic Development of Palestine, 1856-1882, 10 J. Palestine Studies, 35-44 

                    British Acquistion of a 45% Financial Interest in the Canal

During the period 1856-1869 Egypt investment in the construction of the Canal had been enormous leaving her with overwhelming debt. This was compounded by further public expenditure in infrastructure and military reorganisation.

  • Revenues from the Canal were lower than expected; 
  • The demand for Egyptian cotton fell once the American civil war ended;
  • Investment in railway construction, the development of a deepwater port at Alexandria and land reclamation and irrigation projects, all of which were directed to modernising Egypt, required international financing; 
  • American military expertise was imported to train the Egyptian army.

The Khedive’s public debt under Ismail (1863-1879) rose from £3 million to nearly £100 million. His attempts at refinancing made matters worse; service fees on foreign loans absorbed a large part of their value.  Although by 1875, Egypt had repaid £29 million on its loans, it still owed £46 million and the country was near bankruptcy. 

To extricate itself from its financial distress, the Khedive was forced to sell its 45% interest in the ownership of the canal in 1876. Acting without parliamentary authorisation, Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli bought the Khedive’s shares for the British government. This acquisition greatly increased not only Britain’s concern with Egypt’s financial strength but also its political stability. This was soon to be put to the test. 

Marjie Bloy, A Web of English History

    iv.Military Interests

The financial crisis was made worse by an abnormally low flooding of the Nile in 1876 and 1877, food shortages and starvation in Upper Egypt, civilian riots, and mutiny by the Army for failure to pay its wages. Despite British support, the incumbent viceroy, Tewfik, was overthrown in 1882 by Egyptian nationalists led by Colonel Ahmed Arabi Pasha.

This provided Britain with the pretext that its commercial interests and those of other nationals were in jeopardy. She took military control of the Canal in August following her victory over the Egyptian army at Tel-el-Kebir and exiled the nationalist leaders to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka).

In the absence of any effective Egyptian government, Britain maintained her control in the Canal Zone, and exercised considerable political influence over Khedive policy, remaining   there until her expulsion by Egypt’s President Nasser in June 13, 1956

Notwithstanding her control Egypt and the Sudan, Britain’s military and commercial interests in the Suez Canal were, however, vulnerable to attack from the north. This weakness could be overcome by supporting settlement in the region of a friendly population politically indebted to her. 

Robert F. Hunter, "Egypt under the successors of Muhammad 'Ali", in "Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the twentieth century", Eds. M. W. Daly, Cambridge University Press, 1998, Cambridge Histories Online, Cambridge University Press.28 July 2011,   

Stephen Luscombe, The British Empire: Egypt  

    d.  British Assistance in Attempts to Resolve European Jewish Refugee Crisis

From Herzl’s perspective, given (i) France’s pre-existing deep seated cultural and commercial commitment in the Levant including the protection of Catholic Church interests; (ii) Germany’s increasing economic, political and military penetration into Ottoman governmental administration, and (iii) Ottoman rejection of any proposal for Jewish settlement in Palestine, concentrated or  otherwise, Britain remained the only other major power in the Palestine region at the turn of the century to whom she could appeal for help in finding refuge for Russian, Austrian and Polish Jews fleeing the pogroms.

British power and influence in the Middle East had already induced Herzl to establish the Society of Jews in Britain, the incorporation of the Jewish Colonial Trust and the Anglo-Palestine Company, as well as the Jewish National Fund (founded by the Fifth Congress in 1901), as British companies.

As a demonstration aimed at gaining the support of British statesmen and public opinion for Zionism, the Fourth Zionist Congress was held in London between 13 - 16 August 1900. Assisted by the journalist, L.J. Greenberg, the Congress gave Herzl the opportunity of establishing contacts with the British government which was becoming increasingly politically concerned over the increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants arriving in Britain.

To investigate the matter, the Government appointed a Royal Commission on Alien Immigration in 1902, before whom Herzl was invited to testify as an expert witness in June of that year.  He expressed the view that Jewish immigration into Britain could be reduced if the British government were to offer a territory for independent Jewish settlement. In a subsequent private discussion with the Chairman of the Commission, Herzl intimated that in the then increasingly violent situation in Eastern Europe, he considered Cyprus and the Sinai Peninsula - areas under British protection close to Erez Israel  - appropriate for temporary, emergency refuge for Jews in immediate danger and this without compromising a major plank of the Basle Programme. Such a move might also bring about concessions on the part of the Ottoman government.

It is important to note that notwithstanding contemporary Palestinian claims to the contrary, Herzl never abandoned Palestine as the final location of the Jewish Homeland and was willing to consider alternative locations. 

    a. British Proposals for Jewish Settlement of El Arish and Uganda

British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain rejected Cyprus as a solution to Jewish immigration, but did agree to recommend to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Landsdowne,  the Sinai Peninsula as appropriate for the purpose. The latter intimated that if a Jewish Commission sent to Sinai by Herzl for the purpose was investigating its suitability were to submit a favourable report, the British government would support the proposal before the Egyptian government.

            i.El Arish

Thus, on December. 18, 1902, a Zionist commission supported by the British Foreign Office was despatched to investigate the possibilities of settlement in Sinai and the area around El Arish bounded on the north by the Mediterranean, by the River Nile on the west and on the East by the Gulf of Aqaba extended by a line from Aqaba to Gaza. The Commission found the area suitable for settlement. However, after protracted negotiations between the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Lord Cromer,  on the one hand and the Zionists represented by Herzl, Greenberg, and A.E.W. Goldsmid, on the other, the Egyptian government  rejected the proposal on the grounds that such settlement would demand the diversion of substantial quantities of water from the Nile Valley.  The British government, therefore also withdrew its support. Refusing defeat, the parties sought another solution.

            ii.  Uganda and Kishinev Pogrom April 6-7 1903

Greenberg, and A.E.W. Goldsmid continued to discuss possible solutions to the Russian refugee crisis with British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. The latter proposed granting to the Zionists an area of some 5,000 square miles located on the Mau Plateau in what is today Kenya and Uganda. 

Meanwhile Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe, especially in Czarist Russia reached new heights. Although pogroms had increased following the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881,  the violence in Kishinev, (then the capital of the Bessarabian province of the Russian Empire) was considered, at the time, as one unprecedented by its ruthlessness; 47 Jews killed and 92 severely wounded. 

The massacre deeply shocked the Russian intelligentsia, including Gorky and Tolstoy, as well as European public opinion. The pogrom was copied in other areas under Czarist rule with the connivance of Vyacheslav von Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior and publicly well known as an anti-Semite. This notwithstanding, on August 5, 1903, Herzl travelled to Russia hoping to alleviate the situation of the Jews there. He had two meetings with von Plehve, in the course of which he was promised that the Russian government would intervene with the sultan on behalf of the Zionist program.

While Herzl was still in Russia, on Aug. 14, 1903, Greenberg received a message from the British government to the effect that if the Zionist Organization were to send a commission to East Africa, and if that commission were to locate an area suitable for Jewish settlement there, the British government would be prepared to permit the establishment of an autonomous Jewish colony in the area headed by a Jewish governor under British suzerainty.
In the circumstances and for political, tactical, and practical reasons, Herzl now felt justified in considering the British Ugandan proposal. He believed that 

  • the establishment of close ties between the Zionist Organization and the British government would result in the political recognition of the Jewish people by the British and would thus facilitate the full realisation of Zionist aims; 

  • the publication of the Uganda Scheme might induce Turkey to make far-reaching concessions with regard to Erez Israel, in order not to forego the support of the Jewish capital, which would presumably be at its disposal if Turkey were to agree to autonomous Jewish settlement in Erez Israel

  • the Uganda Scheme would allow the conversion of Russian Jewish frenetic flight into an organized migration to a country that would eventually serve as an auxiliary project to the main centre in Erez Israel

All of this, Herzl believed, could be achieved without undermining his efforts aimed directly at securing Erez Israel for Jewish settlement.

Unfortunately, the Zionist Congress failed to agree.

            iii. Internal Zionist Opposition: Uganda Proposal Rejected

With the approval of the Zionist Executive (the "Actions Committee"), Herzl submitted the Uganda Scheme to the Sixth Zionist Congress, held in Basle on Aug. 22-28, 1903.

Notwithstanding vehement opposition, the Congress approved the creation of a committee to assist the Zionist Executive in deciding on the advisability of dispatching a survey commission to East Africa. The decision, however almost caused an irreparable split in the Congress. Herzl avoided it by referring the matter to the Greater Actions Committee for decision at its meeting held in Vienna on April 11-12, 1904 and his success in convincing the Committee that he had remained faithful to Erez Israel as the Jewish Homeland. 

(See also Ami Isseroff, Theodor Herzl, for the extract of Herzl’s speech at the Committee. )

The rejection of the Uganda proposal induced Britain to withdraw it, but the fact that it was even considered as a temporary way-station has been used by anti-Zionists to demonstrate that Jews have no special tie to Eretz Yisrael- Palestine - Israel. 
The internecine conflict took its toll on Herzl’s health, aggravating his heart condition and ultimately causing his death from pneumonia on July 3, 1904. Ari Zivotofsky,  What’s the Truth about … the Uganda Plan?

The Zionists' focus on finding a diplomatic-political solution to the plight of East European Jews in Palestine appears to have caused them to overlook, ignore or play down the significance of (i) the Ottoman government’s negative attitude to increasing Jewish mass immigration; (ii) the Arab stirring towards self-determination and resistance to continued Ottoman domination, and (iii) local Arab opposition to a Jewish settlement in the Palestine. 

It is to these issues that we now turn our attention and to examine the efforts of ‘Practical’ Zionists and the stance of the Ottoman government and Arab nationalists towards Zionist migration, and the interaction between Jewish - Arab socio-political and economic elites and those of the East European Jewish immigrants of the Second ‘Aliyah’ (ascent or going up to Eretz Yisrael) at the turn of the twentieth century.

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