I’m not here going to debate the etymology of the word, only to say that I believe the term ‘Judeophobic’ to be better because capable of more accurate definition. But I have a question; was Herzl antisemitic?

I was struck reading his ‘The Jewish State’ (in translation) by his apparent belief that antisemitism was in some way a feature of Jewish presence, almost as if it was caused by them. This is what he writes:

The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers. Where it
does not exist, it is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations. We naturally
move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces
persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly
civilized--for instance, France--until the Jewish question finds a solution on a political
basis. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of Anti-Semitism into
England; they have already introduced it into America.

For Herzl the case is hopeless; only a Jewish nation state will solve the ‘Jewish Question’.  Wherever Jews are welcomed there are two dangers. One is that the culture, the sense of identity, will be lost by assimilation. The other is that, attracted by security, an influx of Jews will turn the temporary security into persecution  because that is what happens to Jews. Of course, for Herzl it wasn’t essential that the Jewish state be in Palestine. He was happy with the British government’s ‘offer’ of part of Uganda; the joys of imperialism!


2 thoughts on “Herzl and antisemitism

  1. Concerning Uganda, it needs be noted that Herzl was driven by a sense of apocalyptic doom hanging over the Jews of Europe. A vision which was 100% accurate. On April 19, 1903 the infamous Kishinev pogrom occurred. On April 23, he was offered Uganda by Joseph Chamberlain, but refused it. With the collapse of the Sinai project, however, undertaken to get the Jews as close to Palestine as possible, and under the stress of Kishinev, on May 20, he accepted the Uganda offer. He tried to promote this idea to the Zionist Congress with the words; “Zion this certainly is not, and never can become.” He viewed it as only ‘an auxiliary or help’ to the settlement of Palestine. His deputy, Max Nordau then described Uganda as “an overnight shelter” (a Nachtasyl) where persecuted Jews could find temporary relief. Importantly, the most persecuted Jews, including the delegates from Kishinev, were the most vocal against any deviation from Palestine. The movement threatened to split apart, and in his final address to the Congress, Herzl raised his right arm and spoke in Hebrew; “if I forget thee, O Jerusalem.” He died a little over a year later. In his obituary, the London Jewish Chronicle at the time wrote; “Dr Herzl led a great movement, or rather, he voiced a great despair. At a moment when the Jews of Eastern Europe had abandoned hope of justice from the nations, he came forward boldly to give tongue to their feelings and to conduct them to the only alternative as he conceived it – a separate existence in their ancient home.” Any idea that Herzl was indifferent to Palestine is inaccurate – he was rather a desperate man clutching at straws as he saw genocide advancing on his people.


    1. Here is not the place for a wholesale analysis of Theodor Herzl and his vision. You are correct, up to a point. My intent is to begin to place in broader context the events surrounding the letter from Balfour. At the first Zionist Congress in 1897 Herzl is reported as saying “Zionism seeks to secure for the Jewish people a publicly recognised, legally secured home (or homeland) in Palestine.” inviting the questions recognised and secured by whom? In his ‘The Jewish State’ he writes ‘Our first object is … supremacy assured to us by international law, over a portion of the globe sufficiently large to satisfy our just requirements.’ leaving open the questions, which bit of the globe, which law, and what just requiremts. Then, ‘Should we choose Palestine or Argentina? We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by Jewish public opinion. The Society will determine both these points. … Palestine is our ever-memorable historic home.’ suggesting that, since it would be impossible to determine Jewish public opinion ‘the Society’must undertake the task. Finally (for now) ‘Those who are living in despair will go first. They will be led by the mediocre intellcts which we produce so superabundantly and which are persecuted everywhere.’
      These, necessarily selective, quotations are indicative of a mindset that I think I can best describe as ’19th century bourgeois socialist imperialism’. But they do, for me, raise a vitally important question. Did Herzl believe, as he seems to, that antisemtism is inevitable. That, after all is what he appears very clearly to say.
      As to your 1st and last sentences, I don’t believe we can go so far. Herzl (as Weizmann, though with differences) felt that assimilated Jews, especially in western Europe, would be very happy to ‘get rid’ of the ‘ghetto Jews’. He certainly was not indifferent to Palestine, but was ready to ‘take what was given’. In the imperialist mindset of the time, taking what was given was what one did. In that sense he is alongside Winston Churchill who believed that Britain had the right to say who should live where.


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