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Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Excerpts from The Controversy of Zion
(Addison-Wesley, 1996)

From Chapter Four

'I have the solution . . .'

IN his own words in his diary, [Herzl wrote] 'I have the solution to the Jewish Question. I know it sounds mad; and at the beginning I shall be called mad more than once -- until the truth of what I am saying is recognised in all its shattering force.' This solution was presented to the public in February 1896 as Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). It revolutionized the argument. It sounded mad. It had indeed a shattering force for some -- far from all or even most -- Jews, but that force produced radically different effects.

Herzl's first and essential premiss was that antisemitism was now an insoluble problem. 'No one can deny the gravity of the Jewish situation. Wherever they live in appreciable number, Jews are persecuted in greater or lesser measure.' Although 'oppression and persecution cannot exterminate us', the Jews were not going to be left in peace. Emancipated Jews longed for assimilation, but this was an illusion; or, rather, true assimilation could be achieved only by intermarriage. The only answer was to recognise that the Jewish question was not a social or religious one but a national question, which must have a national answer: 'We are a people - one people.' And as a people they needed a homeland of their own. It might be Palestine or the Argentine: he would take whatever was offered and whatever Jewish public opinion favoured, though 'Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland'. Years later, Chaim Weizmann, by then the leader of Zionism, was to say that Herzl evidently had somewhere like the Argentine in mind while he was writing The Jewish State and had only added the emphasis on the Holy Land as an afterthought.

Wherever it was to be, once established in a land of their own, 'a wondrous breed of Jews will spring up from the earth. The Maccabees will rise again. . . . The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. . . .

'We shall live at least as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die.'

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    Copyright © 1996 by Geoffrey Wheatcroft. All rights reserved.