Bible Truth & Prophecy | The Year 2017 Or “The year of Commemorations”: 1897 Theodore Herzl

The Year 2017 – Or “The year of Commemorations”

1897       29-31 August

The first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland is convened by Theodore Herzl

1897 Theodore Herzl

Theodore Herzl, as the Paris correspondent of Neue Freie Presse, was assigned to cover the court-martial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army, who was convicted of treason in 1894 (later found to have been accused unjustly). Herzl watched the discontent and suspicion towards Jews spread from the trial like a rising tide. The feeling ran so high that when noted French author Emile Zola wrote in defence of Dreyfus in an article “I Accuse”, he was publicly hounded and convicted for libel. Herzl witnessed the resulting cataclysmic violence that gripped the nation. He heard the howling of the mob as Dreyfus was led to trial, “Death, death to the Jews.”  He was deeply shocked.  He had seen anti-Jewish feeling before, but this twisted, unreasonable, mindless reaction in France, the home of “liberty, equality and fraternity” in which Jews had been emancipated, disturbed him. It also galvanised him into action.

For eight years, the public rampaged against Jewish homes, shops and businesses. The French police fought to keep some sort of order, to prevent another “Saint Bartholomew’s Day” massacre of the Jews[1] dreamed about by the anti-Semites. The police records of the time show beyond doubt the association of the Catholic Church and Catholic schools with the anti-Semites in turbulent France.


The forging of the documents to draw attention away from Esterhazy, the real culprit, supported the serious charges against Captain Dreyfus, ‘whose only crime was his birth’. The course of justice in several trials and courts-martial was perverted, and even the War Minister defended the culprits. The trials and public unrest continued. Half of France believed a great injustice had been done; the other half held that the honour of the army was more important than the comfort of a Jew. Once it became undisputed that the incriminating document was a forgery perpetrated by Colonel Henry, head of the Intelligence Department, he was arrested but avoided a trial by committing suicide. Still, even then, there were attempts to fan public sympathy for the Colonel Henry’s family.

Out of this harrowing experience, Herzl wrote his famous paper Der Judenstaat published in Leipzig and Vienna early in 1896. It seemed to him that the only solution for his despised, homeless people was to have their own country. The book and Herzl’s ideas rapidly spread attracting international attention and controversy. Herzl was possessed by a mission as he moved heaven and earth trying to achieve his purpose. Without being aware of it, he was driven by the will of God. God’s purpose required such a man. It is of interest to note that he had a similar background to Moses; both were of Jewish parentage, and both had been reared in affluence and social acceptance. While Moses belonged to the Court of Pharoah, Herzl participated in the comfortable Viennese society.

Herzl became convinced that the Jews would never be fully assimilated within Europe. He suggested that the only answer to the Jewish problem was a national homeland for his people and set about arousing the world’s conscience to achieve this. This was the beginning of political Zionism.

A man of Theodore Herzl’s standing was a necessary instrument in arousing public awareness, and as a journalist he was well equipped to eloquently plead the cause of his people. Theodore Herzl travels seeking support for a Jewish homeland involved a decade of intense activity. He called for the first Jewish Congress

The first Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland from 29-31 August 1897 with around 200 attendees. By 1921, 12 such conferences had been held. The stated objective was: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine under public law.” Several days later, Herzl wrote in his diary: “At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this today I would be greeted with universal laughter; in five years perhaps and certainly fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”



1917       2 November    The Balfour Declaration

9 December     Jerusalem surrenders to the British

1947       29 November  The United Nations votes for the formation of the State of Israel

1967       7 June              Jerusalem is captured during the Six Day War.

In this year of our Lord, 2017, there are a series of notable dates each which opens the way to the preparation for the Kingdom of God.


Sis Beulah Edwards

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