The delegates at the First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
It was in Basel that the Jewish state was founded, visionary Theodore Herzl wrote, but 120 years later – even after the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionism is anything but dead.
"Zionism will not cease to be an ideal even after the Jewish people attain their land, the land of Israel," Gregory Lafitte, European Coalition for Israel France representative quoted the Zionist visionary to guests attending an event commemorating the 120th anniversary of the final day of the first Zionist Congress in Basel on Thursday night.
In his keynote address Lafitte pointed out that Herzl's vision may have come to pass with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 but he believed the fulfillment of his dream is not yet over, not yet complete. He went on to quote Theodor Herzl who once called Zionism “an infinite ideal.”
Despite the State of Israel canceling its plans to commemorate the anniversary in Basel, a small celebratory dinner was hosted by the European Coalition for Israel, as well as the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy. The event took place in the historical Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois where Theodor Herzl stayed during the congress in 1897.
Israeli ambassador Jacob Keidar thanked the Christian group for making sure this momentous event in world history was properly celebrated in Basel on the very day of the anniversary. The official national event to mark the anniversary was held two weeks earlier at the same location.
The head of the Jewish community in Basel, Guy Rueff explained that it was no coincidence that Basel was chosen in 1897 as the host city of this historic congress.
"While the Zionist vision was rejected in Munich and Zurich seemed too risky for the event, the general population in Basel seemed favorable to the Jewish cause," he said.
Prince Philip Kiril von Preussen spoke about the failure of his great-great-grandfather, the last emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II, to help the Jewish cause.
"History could have taken another turn if Kaiser Wilhelm would have agreed to become the protector of the Jewish state in Israel as requested by Theodor Herzl," he said. "Sadly, also for Germany, the kaiser refused. Shortly after Germany lost the First World War and the emperor lost his crown. It would not take long before Hitler came to power and the rest is history."
The host of the evening, founding director of ECI, Tomas Sandell pointed out the importance of remembering the important dates in Jewish history that have paved the way for the creation of the Jewish state. August 31, 1897, the closing date of the First Zionist Congress is one such date, he said.
"In a day and age when Jewish history is being denied in Israel by UNESCO resolutions and many Jews have to hide their identity in Europe, it is important that we learn to properly recognize and celebrate these dates in Europe."sign up to our newsletter