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Herzl and Chamberlain

Lawrence Bush
April 22, 2017

British Minister for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain held a meeting with Theodor Herzl on this date in 1903 to discuss the possible Jewish colonization in the Ugandan British Protectorate (the land discussed is in present-day Kenya). Herzl would bring this plan before the Sixth Zionist Congress four months later, proposing Uganda as a temporary refuge for Russian Jews who were suffering pogroms and other persecution. Chamberlain had written in his notes: "If Dr. Herzl were at all inclined to transfer his efforts to East Africa there would be no difficulty in finding land suitable for Jewish settlers, but I assume that this country is too far removed from Palestine to have any attractions for him." The Congress, in fact, voted 295-178 to send an "investigatory commission" to Africa to consider the proposal, but passions against the idea ran high, and by the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905, the Zionist movement rejected it.

“The East Africa proposal led to one of the fiercest controversies in Zionist history and nearly destroyed the still young and fragile Zionist movement. . . . In Herzl’s concluding speech to the Sixth Zionist Congress . . . he dramatically displayed his commitment to Palestine by raising his right hand and solemnly declaring in Hebrew, ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning’ (Psalms 137:5-6) . Despite this pledge, Avraham Menachem Mendel Ussishkin (1863-1941) and other Russian Zionists continued to oppose the plan, as did the British Sephardic Chief Rabbi and Vice President of the First Zionist Congress, Rabbi Moses Gaster (1856-1939).” --Ari Zivotofsky, Jewish Action (website of the Orthodox Union)

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.