ZIONIST CONGRESSES , the highest authority in the Zionist Organization; created by Theodor *Herzl. None of the previous attempts to convene general assemblies of the Jewish national movement, some of which were successful and some abortive, succeeded in creating an instrument similar in scope or nature to the Zionist Congresses. Herzl's aim in convening the Congress was "to close the Zionist ranks, bring about an understanding between all Zionists and to unify their endeavors… the Congress will show what Zionism is and wants." His other aim – to establish "the national assembly of the Jewish people" – was realized by many of the Congresses that took place both before and after his death. The problem of the location of the Congress was not confined to the First Zionist Congress alone. Several of the Congresses encountered problems in this sphere until the 23rd Congress, which met in Jerusalem (all subsequent Congresses have been held in Jerusalem). Previous venues were Basle, London, The Hague, Hamburg, Vienna, Carlsbad, Zurich, Prague, Lucerne, and Geneva. During the periods of the Ottoman regime and the British Mandate over Palestine, it proved impossible to hold the Congress in Ereẓ Israel.
The First Congress
The location of the First Zionist Congress was to have been Munich, Germany, but due to the opposition of the community and the *Protestrabbiner, it was transferred to Basle and held on Aug. 29–31, 1897. The historical importance of the Congress lies in the formulation of the *Basle Program and the foundation of the Zionist Organization, which united West and East European Zionists in both an organizational and programmatic sense. Up until that time the East European Ḥovevei Zion (see *Ḥibbat Zion) engaged in settlement activities in Ereẓ Israel, and they now accepted political Zionism as well. The approach termed political Zionism, an essential problem debated at the Congress, was raised and defined by Herzl himself. The settlements founded to date had indeed proved the ability of the Jews to farm the land. The Jewish problem, however, could only be solved by large-scale migration and settlement of the country, which could be effected only with international assistance and recognition. By the Third Congress this was expressed in the term "charter." The means and goals of political Zionism were formulated in a key sentence, possessing four subclauses, the Basle Program.
The First Congress also devised a schedule that was followed by all subsequent Congresses: reports on the situation of Jewish communities in the Diaspora (at the first Congresses, the famous speeches of Max *Nordau), lectures on Ereẓ Israel and settlement activities, and debates on cultural questions, which were extremely stormy at the first few Congresses. Herzl acted as the chairman of the Congress (as he did at all Congresses until his death) and was also elected president of the Zionist Organization.
The Congress made a tremendous impression on both Jews and non-Jews throughout the world. Herzl himself summarized the importance of the First Congress thus: "I no longer need to write the history of yesterday [the day on which the Congress opened]; it is already written by others…. Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish State" (Herzl's diary, Aug. 30, Sept. 3, 1897, Complete Diaries, ed. by R. Patai, 2, 580–1). Ḥayyim Naḥman *Bialik even published a poem titled "Mikra'ei Ẓiyyon" in honor of the First Congress (for English translations see Goell, Bibliography, 489–90, no. 237). A full list of the participants in the First Congress with biographical and bibliographical details was compiled by H. Orlan in Herzl Year Book, 6 (1964–65), 133–52. There is a vast literature on the First Congress including Warum gingen wir zum ersten Zionistenkongress? (1922), in which 32 participants recount the motives which prompted their participation in the First Congress, and Sefer ha-Congress (1923, 19502), an anthology edited by Leib Yaffe. The official language of the first Congresses was German (the minutes were published in this language until the beginning of the 1930s and after that in English). The language spoken from the rostrum was, for many years, also mostly German, but since many delegates spoke a kind of Yiddishized German it was nicknamed "Kongressdeutsch."
The Second Congress
The second meeting of the Zionist Congress was held in Basle on Aug. 28–31, 1898. In his opening address, Herzl called on the Zionists to "conquer the communities," a slogan which later led to the program of "work in the present," i.e., in the Diaspora, in order to deprive various assimilationists of their self-appointed role as spokesmen of the Jewish people. At this Congress the foundations were laid for the *Jewish Colonial Trust and David *Wolffsohn was placed in charge of implementing the project. Leo *Motzkin, who had just returned from Ereẓ Israel, presented a detailed report on the situation of both the new and the old yishuv. A group of Zionist Socialists demanding representation for the Jewish proletariat in the leadership of the Zionist Organization made their first appearance at this Congress. Herzl was opposed to splitting the precariously united Zionist camp. The struggle between the "political" and "practical" Zionists had been set aside at the First Congress, and the resolution to establish the Jewish Colonial Trust further narrowed the gap between the two camps.
The Third Congress
Held in Basle on Aug. 15–18, 1899, the Third Congress opened with a report by Herzl of his meetings with Kaiser William ii in Constantinople (Oct. 18, 1898) and Jerusalem (Nov. 2), in addition to a casual meeting at Mikveh Israel. While these meetings produced no practical results, their demonstrative value, in the presentation of the Zionist case before the head of a great power, was immense. There was a great deal of debate about the exact meaning of the "charter," first mentioned by Herzl, and the significance of the term "public law" in the Basle Program, i.e., whether the intent was a license from all the powers or only from Turkey. Herzl was persuaded to accept the latter interpretation. It was also resolved that the Jewish Colonial Trust would confine its settlement activities to Ereẓ Israel and Syria. The "practical" Zionists failed in their attempts to gain the Congress' approval for initiating settlement activities before obtaining the "charter," and the theoretical debates on cultural matters, which occupied several Congresses from the Second on, continued. Herzl was preoccupied with political activities, and everything outside this sphere was thrust aside.
The Fourth Congress
On Aug. 13–16, 1900, the Fourth Congress was held in London. The reason for choosing London as the location of this Congress was given by Herzl in his opening speech as follows: "England, great England, free England, England looking over all the seas, will understand our aspirations. From here the Zionist idea will take its flight further and higher, of that we are sure." The Congress bore the imprint of the severe crisis in Romanian Jewry, with many thousands forced to leave the country and those remaining behind subject to pressure and harassment. Herzl viewed the persecution of Romanian Jewry as further proof of the urgent necessity for a Zionist solution. Since the "charter" was still a distant prospect, matters demanding immediate attention came to the fore. The position of the Jewish workers in Ereẓ Israel was also brought up at this Congress.
The Fifth Congress
Herzl presented this Congress, held in Basle on Dec. 26–30, 1901, with the greatest of his achievements – an interview with the sultan. He also presented a report on the initial activities of the Jewish Colonial Trust. These achievements, however, did not satisfy many of the delegates, especially a group of young men who organized the *Democratic Fraction. They advanced the concept of Zionism as an internal Jewish renaissance and demanded serious attention to the problems of Jewish culture, instead of concentrating solely on political activities, which they regarded as sterile. The main achievement of this Congress was the establishment of the *Jewish National Fund (jnf) on the lines proposed by Hermann *Schapira at the First Congress.
The Sixth Congress
In accordance with a resolution taken at the Fifth Congress, the Sixth took place two years after its predecessor (on Aug. 23–28, 1903, in Basle) instead of one, as had been the practice. This was the last Congress in which Herzl participated and was also the stormiest and most tragic. While the "charter" was as far as ever from Herzl's grasp, the pressure for a solution to the Jewish problem was mounting, particularly after the shock of the Kishinev pogrom in the spring of the same year. This situation gave rise to "temporary solutions," such as the *El-Arish project, to which Herzl devoted much of his energies and with whose results he was bitterly disillusioned. In spite of the Kishinev pogrom, Herzl had visited Russia, where he met Minister of Interior Plehve. He also received an official offer from the British government, which was willing to allocate a territory for Jewish settlement in Uganda, East Africa. At the Congress, Herzl advanced this proposal for serious examination, while simultaneously emphasizing that "our views on Ereẓ Israel cannot and will not be subject to change. Uganda is not Zion and will never be Zion. This proposal is nothing more than a relief measure, a temporary means of allaying distress." The vote on the *Uganda Scheme was as follows: 295 in favor, 178 against, and 98 abstentions. At first those opposed to the scheme left the hall, headed by Jehiel *Tschlenow, but were persuaded to return by Herzl personally, who appealed to them not to destroy the Zionist Organization. The Uganda Scheme overshadowed all other matters at the Congress, such as Franz *Oppenheimer's lecture on cooperative settlement, a program that was implemented some years later in the settlement Merḥavyah. Approximately one year after this Congress, Herzl died.
The Seventh Congress
The Congress, held on July 27–Aug. 2, 1905, in Basle, was opened by its new president, Nordau, who delivered a eulogy on Herzl. Immediately afterward, a stormy debate on the Uganda proposal broke out. Opposition to the scheme had grown with the return of the commission of inquiry and its negative report on conditions in Uganda, which it found unsuitable for Jewish mass settlement. Despite the opposition of the Territorialists, who were supported by *Po'alei Zion, the Congress resolved to reject finally the Uganda Scheme and the notion of settlement anywhere except in Ereẓ Israel and its immediate vicinity. The Territorialists, headed by Israel *Zangwill, withdrew from the Congress and the Zionist Organization and founded the Jewish Territorial Association (see *Territorialism). A resolution to the effect that practical settlement activities would not be delayed until public rights had been obtained, but would begin at once, was then passed. Otto *Warburg, who was to become the moving spirit of practical Zionism, made his first impressive appearance at this Congress. He emphasized the political value of limited settlement and the need for introducing it in a systematic way. In place of Nordau, who refused to accept the position, Wolffsohn was elected chairman of the Executive which was equivalent to the head of the Zionist Organization. The center of the Zionist movement moved from Vienna to Cologne, where Wolffsohn lived.
The Eighth Congress
In accordance with Herzl's tradition of keeping the Zionist movement in the public eye, this Congress met at The Hague on Aug. 14–21, 1907, while the Second International Peace Conference was taking place there. The struggle between political and practical Zionists was resolved by the decision that settlement activity in Ereẓ Israel should not be delayed until after the receipt of the "charter." On the contrary, planned small-scale settlement, not exceeding the limits of the Basle Program, was to precede the charter, which would thus be obtained on the strength of these "small" achievements. Wolffsohn was the mediator between the two camps. As Herzl's close friend and loyal disciple, on the one hand, and a sober man of affairs, on the other, he was eminently suited to this function. Weizmann's famous speech on "synthetic Zionism" merged political and practical Zionism into an organic whole and laid a common foundation for both camps. He stated: "We must aspire to a charter, but our aspiration will be realized only as a result of our practical work in Ereẓ Israel." As a result of this approach, the *Palestine Office was founded in Jaffa in 1908 to direct the work of agricultural settlement on behalf of the World Zionist Organization. The office was headed by Arthur *Ruppin.
The Ninth Congress
Held in Hamburg on Dec. 26–30, 1909, this was the first Congress to meet in Germany. The hope that the attitude of the Turkish government toward Zionism would change after the revolution of the Young Turks, which had taken place in the previous year, was expressed by both Wolffsohn and Nordau. A very strong opposition to Wolffsohn's leadership emerged at this Congress and was led by Menahem *Ussishkin, Weizmann, and Nahum *Sokolow and joined by representatives of the workers in Ereẓ Israel, appearing for the first time at a Zionist Congress. They were united in their opposition to the "commercial" approach to the settlement activities, which evaluated every project by its economic efficiency. The decision to begin cooperative settlement according to the Oppenheimer plan was a great concession to the "practical" Zionists, representatives of Po'alei Zion, and the workers of Ereẓ Israel. Wolffsohn was finally reelected president of the Zionist Organization and chairman of the Executive, which also included Warburg and Jacobus *Kann. Friction over Woffsohn's methods, which were also criticized by the political Zionists as not close enough to those of Herzl, did not come to an end with the closing session of this Congress.
The Tenth Congress
This Congress, held in Basle on Aug. 9–15, 1911, earned the name of "The Peace Congress" for ending the quarrels and friction of the "Cologne period" and bringing total victory to the realistic "synthetic" trend in Zionism. In his opening address, which contained the announcement of his resignation, Wolffsohn gave his blessings to the period of Zionist history about to commence after the "Vienna period" and his own "Cologne period." Detailed discussion of practical activity in Ereẓ Israel and Hebrew culture took place. For the first time in the history of the Congresses, a whole session, led by Ussishkin, was conducted entirely in Hebrew. The relations with the Arabs were also discussed in a speech by Shelomo *Kaplansky. The Zionist headquarters were transferred from Cologne to Berlin, and the new leadership consisted of the president Otto Warburg and Arthur *Hantke, Shemaryahu *Levin, Victor *Jacobson, and Sokolow.
The Eleventh Congress
The demonstrative absence of Nordau at this Congress, held in Vienna on Sept. 2–9, 1913, was a silent protest against the abandonment of Herzl's line. Arguments about the body in charge of the Jewish Colonial Trust took place with the Executive and with Wolffsohn and his associates. Ruppin presented a detailed report on the first settlement activities on behalf of the Palestine Office. This report, together with Levin's survey of 30 years of settlement in Ereẓ Israel, were an indirect tribute to "small-scale" deeds. On the suggestion of Weizmann and Ussishkin, it was resolved to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Bialik made an impressive appearance at the closing session. Wolffsohn, who was the president of the Eleventh Congress, died a year afterward.
The Twelfth Congress
No previous Congress had met in a period so sharply distinguished from the preceding one. This was the first Congress after World War i. It was held in Carlsbad on Sept. 1–14, 1921, after the following crucial events had taken place: the *Balfour Declaration, the British conquest of Palestine, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, mass pogroms against Ukrainian Jews, and the London Zionist Conference (1920), at which the *Keren Hayesod was founded. During this period the Zionist movement in America had begun to come to the fore, and the *Brandeis group had clashed with Weizmann's leadership at the London Conference. The Zionist leadership had also been transformed. The "Berlin period" had come to an end with the defeat of Germany in World War i, and the group that had obtained the Balfour Declaration, led by Weizmann and Sokolow, had transferred the Zionist world center to England. At the London Conference, Weizmann was elected president of the Zionist Organization and Sokolow president of the Executive. In addition, the first years after the Balfour Declaration had been marked by anti-Jewish riots in Jerusalem (1920) and Jaffa (1921). Weizmann delivered a report on the political activities of the Zionist Organization during the war and called on the Jewish people to assist in building Ereẓ Israel. Ruppin brought the acquisition of large tracts of land in the Jezreel Valley before the Congress for approval and was opposed by the directorate of the jnf, led by Nehemiah *de Lieme. Bialik, among others, came out in defense of the Jewish workers in Palestine who were the subject of attacks by the "efficiency"-minded group, opposing Weizmann's leadership. For the first time in the history of Zionism, a representative of the workers in Ereẓ Israel, Josef *Sprinzak, was elected to the Executive, which thereafter was situated in London and Jerusalem.
The Thirteenth Congress
On Aug. 6–18, 1923, the 13th Congress was held in Carlsbad. Before it took place, the British Mandate over Palestine had been endorsed by the *League of Nations and the Zionist Organization became officially the *Jewish Agency for Palestine, mentioned in Article 4 of the Mandate and charged with taking steps "to secure the cooperation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of the Jewish National Home." At this Congress, the proposal to include non-Zionists in the Jewish Agency was debated and aroused bitter opposition from those who considered this a threat to the broad democratic basis of the Zionist Organization. Weizmann defended the proposal against its opponents until it was finally implemented six years later (1929). The possibilities of obtaining financial resources for building up Palestine were debated at length, and Chaim *Arlosoroff delivered a lecture containing a proposal for a planned economic program. The Congress also resolved to open the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Fourteenth Congress
This Congress, held in Vienna on Aug. 18–31, 1925, was much affected by the "prosperity" in Palestine caused by the Fourth Aliyah (mostly from Poland) and the feverish construction of houses and land speculation. It encouraged the view that private enterprise would solve the problems of building Palestine, and criticism of labor settlement methods reached its height. David *Ben-Gurion participated in the debate, delivering a speech on the workers in Palestine and their activities. Ruppin resigned as head of the Jewish Agency Settlement Department, which he had directed for approximately 18 years, and Colonel F.H. *Kisch was appointed to direct the Agency's Political Department in Jerusalem.
The Fifteenth Congress
The prosperity in Palestine was followed by a severe economic crisis and unemployment, which affected nearly 8,000 workers. Hunger and poverty drove many from the country and aliyah dwindled. Preoccupation with "breaking the crisis" at the 15th Congress, held in Basle on Aug. 30–Sept. 11, 1927, spoiled the celebrations in honor of the 30th anniversary of the First Congress. Weizmann outlined a proposal for overcoming the crisis, and Ruppin delivered one of his brilliant Congress speeches on pioneering and its meaning for Zionism. The Executive elected did not include a labor representative and its most forceful personality was Harry *Sacher. Eulogies on Aḥad Ha-Am were delivered by Martin *Buber and Nahum Sokolow.
The Sixteenth Congress
Held in Zurich on July 28–Aug. 10, 1929, this Congress, like its predecessor, met in an anniversary year and was opened with a speech by Sokolow on Herzl upon the 25th anniversary of his death. Unlike its predecessor, however, this Congress met during a period of economic recovery in Palestine, improved employment conditions, and the revival of aliyah. Weizmann again reported on the enlargement of the Jewish Agency by non-Zionists, which was to be established after the Congress was over. Despite strong opposition to the project (mainly from the *Revisionists), the debate that had lasted for seven years ended with the official establishment of the enlarged body in an impressive meeting with the participation of Weizmann, Sokolow, Herbert *Samuel, Louis *Marshall, A. *Einstein, Lord *Melchett, Leon *Blum, Sholem *Asch, F. *Warburg, and others. The Executive (the "Sacher regime") was severely criticized for its attitude toward Labor Zionism. The Congress ended with the election of a new Zionist Executive, joined by two *Mizrachi representatives (Rabbi M. Berlin and A. Barth), two labor representatives (S. Kaplansky and Y. Sprinzak), and Ruppin.
The Seventeenth Congress
A few days after the establishment of the enlarged Jewish Agency in Zurich, bloody riots broke out in Palestine (August 1929) and were followed in quick succession by the report of the British commission of inquiry into the 1929 disturbances; the *White Paper by the colonial secretary, Lord Passfield; restriction on Jewish immigration; the negative report on the possibility of Jewish settlement by Sir John Hope-Simpson; etc. The commission report and Sir John Hope-Simpson's conclusions were openly hostile to the Zionist movement, the jnf, Jewish labor, and practically all other Jewish activities in Palestine. Weizmann immediately resigned as president of the Zionist Organization in protest to the new British policy. His move, in turn, resulted in the "MacDonald Letter," which retracted much of the negative elements in the new trend.
At the 17th Congress, held in Basle on June 30–July 15, 1931, a number of delegates voiced their protest to Weizmann's policy, which was based upon the fundamental need for maximum cooperation with the British government. The opposition, consisting not only of the Revisionists, but also of many other delegates, claimed that this policy was not justified. The Revisionists demanded that the creation of a Jewish majority and a Jewish state be defined officially as the final aim of Zionism, and when this demand was rejected by the majority, Vladimir *Jabotinsky tore up his delegate's card with the cry: "This is no Zionist Congress," leading ultimately (in 1935) to the secession of the Revisionists from the Zionist Organization. In view of the situation, Weizmann, despite support from the labor wing, refused to withdraw his resignation, and Sokolow was chosen president of the Zionist Organization. In spite of Weizmann's official resignation, however, the Executive of the Zionist Organization, in which the strength of the labor parties had grown with the election of Chaim Arlosoroff as head of the Political Department, actually continued to act along the lines of Weizmann's policy.
The Eighteenth Congress
This Congress, held in Prague on Aug. 21–Sept. 4, 1933, bore the imprint of three events: the advent of the Nazis to power in Germany and growing persecution of German Jewry, economic inflation in Palestine, and the assassination of Arlosoroff. The conflict between the Revisionists and labor reached its height, since the labor representatives believed that the constant incitement by the Revisionists had created the setting for Arlosoroff's assassination. It was finally decided to establish a committee of inquiry into the tragedy. A special session was devoted to the celebration of Ussishkin's 70th birthday. Sokolow was reelected president of the Zionist Organization. The representation of labor on the Executive increased and included Ben-Gurion and Moshe Shertok (*Sharett), who succeeded Arlosoroff as head of the Political Department.
The Nineteenth Congress
Held in Lucerne on Aug. 20–Sept. 4, 1935, this Congress was distinguished by the comprehensive and practical lectures delivered on Diaspora Jewry (Sokolow), the building of Palestine (Ben-Gurion), the jnf (Ussishkin), rescuing Jewish children from Germany – Youth Aliyah (Henrietta *Szold), and the problems of Hebrew culture (Berl *Katznelson). The labor faction, the largest at the Congress, worked out a program for a broad coalition and made it possible for Weizmann to resume the presidency, and Sokolow was chosen as honorary president of the Organization and the enlarged Jewish Agency. Ben-Gurion, who was reelected to the Executive, became more and more its central figure. Sokolow died within a year.
The Twentieth Congress
This Congress was held in Zurich on Aug. 3–16, 1937, and was faced with the responsibility of resolving one of the most difficult problems that had faced the Zionist movement since the controversy over the Uganda Scheme. The report of the Royal Commission on Palestine (Peel Commission) appointed in the wake of the 1936 Arab riots proposed the establishment of a Jewish state in part of the country. There were divisions of opinion between and within the Zionist parties on the issue (with Ben-Gurion of *Mapai, for example, in favor of the proposal and Katznelson against it). In the end it was decided to take note of the finding of the Royal Commission "that the field in which the Jewish National Home was to be established was understood, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, to be the whole of Palestine, including Transjordan," but at the same time, the decision of the Congress empowered the Executive to negotiate with the British government the possibility of securing a more favorable partition of western Palestine than that proposed by the Peel Commission's plan and bring the results to the Congress before a final decision was made. In addition a special session took place in Basle to mark the 40th anniversary of the First Congress. During the session, presided over by Ussishkin, delegates to the First Congress recalled the great event in their lives and in Zionist history.
The Twenty-first Congress
Held in Geneva on Aug. 16–26, 1939, the 21st Congress met on the eve of World War ii. The British government had withdrawn its partition plan, conferred with representatives of Jews and Arabs (including Arab governments) at the St. James Conference in London, and published its anti-Zionist White Paper imposing tremendous restrictions on Jewish immigration and purchase of land. The delegates unanimously expressed their strong opposition to the White Paper and declared the readiness of the yishuv to fight against the restrictions. Katznelson extolled the "illegal" *immigration program and called for all the energies of the Zionist movement to be channeled into extending its scope, in view of the threatening political situation in Europe. In the atmosphere of impending war the Executive was reelected for another term. Weizmann closed the Congress with the emotion-filled statement: "I have no prayer but this; that we will all meet again alive." Ussishkin, the president of the Congress, expressed his grave concern for the fate of Polish Jewry.
The Twenty-second Congress
The Congress met in Basle on Dec. 9–24, 1946, after World War ii and the Nazi Holocaust, which had exterminated most of European Jewry. The yishuv had participated in the British war effort and had waged an armed struggle against White Paper restrictions. The Revisionists had returned to the Zionist Organization and were represented at the Congress. The *Biltmore Program (1942) on the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish commonwealth had been approved as the program of the Zionist movement at the first international Zionist conference after the war (New York, 1945). The Anglo-American commission of inquiry (1946) had recommended, inter alia, the abolition of a number of existing restrictions and the settlement of 100,000 Jews in Palestine. The British government had refused to accept these recommendations, and the armed resistance of the yishuv had increased. Leaders of the yishuv and the Jewish Agency had been arrested (1946). The Morrison-Grady plan for the cantonization of Palestine and its division into four districts (Jewish, Arab, Jerusalem, and Negev) had been announced. The British had proposed a Jewish-Arab conference in London to reach an agreed solution, and the release of the imprisoned Jewish leaders as a preliminary to this conference. The Congress was therefore faced with the necessity of taking a stand on both the Morrison-Grady proposal and the London Conference. Weizmann stressed the importance of the decision on the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine and the sympathy with which Zionism and the aspirations of the yishuv were regarded by President Truman and American opinion. The Congress approved the political program of the Zionist Organization "to establish a Jewish commonwealth integrated into the world democratic structure," turned down the plan for the cantonization of Palestine, and also resolved that "in existing circumstances, the Zionist movement is unable to participate in the London Conference." Weizmann, who was opposed to this last resolution and favored participation in the London Conference, resigned from the presidency, and for the first time in the history of the Zionist Organization the Congress failed to elect a new president.
The Twenty-third Congress
The Congress met in Jerusalem on Aug. 14–30, 1951. Weizmann, now president of the State of Israel, was unable to attend, but in a message to the delegates defined the new situation: "There is a deep symbolism in the fact that the Zionist Congress has not met in our ancient land until it has become ours again… It is only now, since we have attained independence and statehood, that we can fully appraise the paramount place held by Zionist Congresses in the evolution of our movement." The opening ceremony of the Congress took place, symbolically, by Herzl's grave in Jerusalem. The chairman of the Executive, Berl *Locker, summed up the history of the Zionist movement and described the road it had taken from Basle to Jerusalem. The central issue debated at the Congress was the status of the Zionist movement after the establishment of a Jewish state. The Basle Program no longer met the requirements of the new reality and was replaced by the "Jerusalem Program" (see *Basle Program), whose essential clause was: "The task of Zionism is the consolidation of the State of Israel, the ingathering of the exiles in Ereẓ Israel and the fostering of the unity of the Jewish people." The coalition formed after the Congress included all the factions except for the Zionist Revisionists – *Ḥerut. Two chairmen were elected to the Executive: Naḥum *Goldmann in New York and Berl Locker in Jerusalem. One of the resolutions, demanding official recognition of the status of the Zionist Organization by the state, was implemented after the Congress in the World Zionist Organization-Jewish Agency for Palestine Status Law passed by the Knesset on Nov. 24, 1952.
The Twenty-fourth Congress
The Congress, held on April 24–May 7, 1956, was overshadowed by the security situation of the State of Israel, which was threatened by the arms streaming especially into Egypt from the Soviet bloc. Internal affairs in the spheres of aliyah, settlement, and organization of fund raising were also discussed. It was decided to concentrate all funds in the hands of the *Keren Hayesod and United Israel Appeal. Naḥum Goldmann was elected president of the Zionist Organization, an office which had been unfilled since 1946.
The Twenty-fifth Congress
The central issues debated at this Congress, held on Dec. 27, 1960–Jan. 11, 1961, were the relationship of the government of Israel to the Zionist Organization and its official status, in light of the sharp criticism leveled against the Organization by Ben-Gurion; aliyah; absorption; Jewish culture and education in the Diaspora. Goldmann was reelected president and chairman of the Executive. After the Congress, Moshe Sharett was elected chairman of the Jerusalem Executive in place of B. Locker, who resigned.
The Twenty-sixth Congress
The slogan "Facing the Diaspora," coined in Goldmann's opening address, was the center of debate at this Congress, held on Dec. 30, 1964–Jan. 10, 1965. After the establishment of the state, Goldmann felt it was necessary to regard the aims of Zionism as the survival of the Jewish nation in the Diaspora and the assistance of the state to the Jewish people. The debate, as usual at Congresses held after the establishment of the state, spread to the sphere of relations between the state and the Zionist Organization, aliyah obligations, etc. The Congress resolved on the following as the first of the tasks and functions of the Zionist movement: "The deepening of Zionist awareness and its dissemination as a way of life, based on the recognition of the uniqueness of the Jewish people and the continuity of its history, the unity of the nation despite its dispersion, the mutual commitment of all its parts and their common responsibility for its historic fate, and the recognition of the decisive mission of the State of Israel in assuring its future." Goldmann was reelected president of the Zionist Organization. Sharett, chairman of the Jerusalem Executive, sent his greetings in writing due to the illness from which he died a few months later.
The Twenty-seventh Congress
The Congress was held on June 9–19, 1968, the first in reunited Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. An innovation at this Congress was the participation of youth delegations, students, and members of the aliyah movement. The question of aliyah was the focal point of the debates, and the decision of the Israel government to establish a Ministry of Immigrant Absorption was approved. Additional paragraphs on the goals of Zionism were added to the Jerusalem Program: "The unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in its life; the ingathering of the Jewish people in its historic homeland Ereẓ Israel through aliyah from all lands; the strengthening of the State of Israel founded on the prophetic ideals of justice and peace; the preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish education, Hebrew, and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values; the protection of Jewish rights everywhere." Goldmann resigned as president of the Zionist Organization and no one was chosen to take his place. Louis *Pincus, who had been elected chairman of the Executive after the death of Sharett, was reelected to this post.
The Twenty-eighth Congress
The Congress was held in Jerusalem on January 18–28, 1972, with 559 delegates voting. For the first time in many years, instead of the interparty agreements whereby the number of delegates for each party was determined, elections were held in most countries. The membership drive which preceded the elections revealed a membership of the World Zionist Organization approaching 900,000. In Israel, however, most of the delegates were nominated by the political parties, in proportion to their relative strength in the Knesset. The Sephardi and Oriental communities were represented by some 90 delegates and observers. Another notable feature was the large representation of youth, through the World Union of Jewish Students and the Zionist youth movements. Louis *Pincus was re-elected chairman of the Zionist Executive. The Congress concentrated on the specific tasks of the Zionist Movement in the Diaspora, such as Jewish education, youth work, and the promotion of aliyah from the free countries. Considerable attention was devoted to social problems such as the cultural and economic gaps between sections of the population in Israel and the acute housing shortage. A prominent theme of the Congress was the struggle of Soviet Jewry for the right to aliyah. A resolution to the effect that Zionist leaders who failed to settle in Israel after two terms of office should forfeit their right to reelection was declared unconstitutional.
The Twenty-ninth Congress
The Congress was held in Jerusalem from February 20 to March 1, 1978. It had been postponed from January 1977, when the Congress Court ruled as unconstitutional a proposal to allow 90% of the election committee in any country to agree on a slate of delegates without elections. Over a million Diaspora Jews registered in preparation for the Congress.
The composition of the Congress faithfully reflected the political change that had taken place in Israel in 1977. The Zionist Labor Movement lost ground to the Likud and the Confederation of United Zionists in the Diaspora, and to the Likud and Democratic Movement for Change in the Israeli delegation. The Likud, with 174 out of the 550 seats with full voting rights, was the largest party, followed by the Confederation, with 113; Labor with 93; Mizrachi, 77; Mapam, 27; dmc, 26; others, 40. There were also 75 representatives of international Jewish organizations.
The Congress resolved that all wzo departments and programs in Israel should be administered in accordance with the principle of equal treatment for all trends in Judaism, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.
Arye Leon *Dulzin (Likud) was unanimously elected chairman of the Executive; Likud representatives took over the aliyah, youth and He-Ḥalutz, and education departments, and the chairmanship of the Zionist General Council from Labor, and the settlement department was shared between Labor and the Likud. A Labor representative, however, succeeded Dulzin as treasurer.
The Thirtieth to Thirty-second Congresses
The 30th–32nd World Zionist Congresses, all convened within the decade 1982–92, exhibit several noteworthy trends. The meetings became progressively less ideological, of shorter duration, attended by more delegates who represented more world Jewish organizations – and were increasingly democratic. Yet the World Zionist Organization has less status in the Jewish world than in previous periods and has lost substantial power to its offspring, the Jewish Agency.
In 1982, the 30th Congress had 656 accredited representatives; two Congresses later, 721 delegates were accredited to the Congress. The 32nd Congress was also the first at which an incumbent chairman of the World Zionist Executive, running for a second term, was challenged by another candidate.
The 30th Zionist Congress met December 7–17, 1982. Even before it opened there were numerous appeals to the Zionist High Court protesting alleged infringements of democratic practices during elections. The High Court felt it had no recourse but to disqualify all representatives of Zionist parties and groupings in the U.S. Meeting in extraordinary session three days before the Congress opened, the Zionist General Council decided to make an unprecedented exception and passed a resolution which empowered the High Court itself to apportion mandates on a one-time basis. The court reluctantly complied. In a judgment against a previous attempt by the Zionist General Council to bypass holding elections for the Congress, Dr. Moshe Landau wrote, "This is not petty legalistic quibbling… when Zionism is attacked and slandered on all sides by the enemies of the Jewish people, it is doubly important that Zionism zealously guard its image as a movement which maintains its own democratic principles."
Worldwide, five election districts held direct elections, indirect elections were conducted in four, but 16 districts opted for a system of mutually agreed lists instead of elections.
The 31st Congress, December 6–11, 1987, was on the whole a democratically elected Congress, boasting a considerable number of first-time delegates. The American Zionist Federation conducted a nationwide election by mail, supervised by the independent American Arbitration Association, in which 183,000 valid votes were cast. However in electoral districts outside the U.S., only 40,000 people actually voted in elections.
The major groups represented at the Congress, by size of representation, were Likud, Labor Zionist Movement, Confederation of United Zionists, Mizrachi, Artzenu (Reform), Mapam, Mercaz (Conservative), Tzomet, and Teḥiyyah. The results showed major gains for the relatively new Zionist organizations of the Reform and Conservative movements, which ate into the traditional base of support held by Hadassah and the Zionist Organization of America. For the first time since 1948, the balance of power in negotiations to form a coalition was held by a bloc representing the Diaspora, composed of the Confederation, Artzenu, and Mercaz. These groups joined with Labor and Mapam to form a majority.
Simcha Dinitz, of Labor, was elected chairman of the World Zionist Organization Executive; Meir Shitreet, of Ḥerut, was elected treasurer.
The issue of religious pluralism in Israel was a major focus of concern at the 31st Congress due to the increased presence of the Reform and Conservative movements. The Congress passed a resolution that called for the "complete equality of rights to all streams of the Jewish religion and [for] granting their rabbis the legal right to perform all life cycle events and other rabbinic functions." This decision was the cause of much agitation in the ranks of the Mizrachi delegation as well as among Orthodox delegates in other groups.
The 32nd Zionist Congress, July 26–30, 1992, was the tenth to be held in Jerusalem since the establishment of the State. There were ten plenary sessions, four of which were of a cultural and festive nature. Consequently the work of the Congress, traditionally marked by earnest debate, was mainly conducted in the committees which submitted their resolutions for ratification at the closing plenary.
The resolutions fell into two categories, declarative and practical. Since the Resolutions Committee that processes the decisions of the various committees before they can be put to a vote at the plenary does not permit any operational resolution which has a budgetary component attached to it, most of the resolutions tend to be declarative.
Simcha Dinitz was re-elected Chairman by a majority of almost 80 percent. A precedent of sorts was established when the losing candidate's faction (Artzenu) was excluded from the Executive that customarily is a wall-to-wall coalition rather than a majority cabinet.
On the whole changes that have occurred in the wzo since the 31st Congress both reflect and are caused by a younger, Israeli-born leadership that tends to be less ideological and more pragmatic.
Simcha Dinitz and Meir Shitreet overlooked the legacy to revitalize contemporary Zionist ideology by reformulating some of its tenets mandated to them by Arye Dulzin in his last years in office. Dinitz chose to operate primarily in the Jewish Agency field abandoning the ideological thrust of the Herẓliyyah Process of 1983. At a meeting held at the home of the president of Israel in 1990, called to discuss "The wzo: Changes in Ideology and Status," Dinitz said, "In essence the crisis confronting the Zionist movement is not ideological but functional. Whereas the wzo is somewhat shabby, dusty, oversensitive, and not terribly efficient, the Jewish Agency is business-like, healthful, robust, and efficient. It is also more ruthless."
Four matters of vital Zionist importance failed to be substantively addressed by the 32nd Congress. These were the diminished standing of Zionist Federations throughout the world; the options regarding partnership with the fund-raisers in the Jewish Agency: unification or dissolution; the change in the thrust of the Settlement Department – once the flag bearer of Zionist pioneering – to a Jewish Agency department of urban and rural welfare; and finally, the transfer of increasingly large segments of aliyah and absorption work to government care.
Looming in the background of the 32nd Congress was the notion that, in reality, the World Zionist Organization had outlived its mandate. There were some who felt that since the wzo had failed to come to terms with essential aspects central to itself, a courageous discussion was called for and that the 33rd Zionist Congress, which was to be also be the centenary conclave since the first World Zionist Congress was convened in Basle, could be an appropriate occasion.
The Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth Congresses
The 33rd Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem in 1997. With Diaspora Jewish organizations within the Zionist movement now exercising 50% of the vote in the Jewish Agency and similarly in the wzo (through the Joint Authority for Jewish Zionist Education), Israel found itself less central to the overall agenda. The Zionist leadership and intellectuals attempted to define the nature and role of Zionism at the change of the millennium. The principle of religious pluralism figured high on the agenda of the religious streams; however, it took a concerted effort and much adroit negotiation by Chairman Avraham *Burg, to arrive at an acceptable resolution. At this congress a resolution was passed requiring at least 25% of Zionist Congress delegates to be between the ages of 18–30.
The 34th Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem in 2003. As resolved in the previous Congress, 25% of the delegation was under the age of 30. Under the banner of "Solidarity and Mutual Responsibility: The Jewish People and the State of Israel" it brought together Zionist groups from across the Zionist spectrum to discuss the issue of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and to look toward a new vision of Zionism.
The Zionist Congress concluded with a series of resolutions reaffirming the centrality of Israel, the importance of immigration, promotion of Jewish Zionist education, increased funding for youth movements, coordinating the fight against antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and settling the Negev and the Galilee. It also issued the following proclamation:
We, who are assembled at the xxxiv Zionist Congress, held in Jerusalem during the fifty-fourth year since the establishment of the State of Israel and one hundred and five years since the convening of the First Zionist Congress where the right of the Jewish People to national revival in Eretz Israel was declared, hereby do call upon the legislators of the Knesset of Israel to secure in Basic Law the fundamental values of the State of Israel that determine it to be the State of the Jewish People and a Jewish and democratic state;
Whereas the State of Israel was established by the Zionist Movement to be the National Home of the Jewish People and to achieve our two thousand year long aspiration to bring about the Ingathering of the Exiles, national independence, spiritual renaissance and the creation of a society in accordance with the vision of the Prophets of Israel;
Whereas there are those who refute the right of the Jewish People to self-determination in Eretz Israel;
And whereas the character of the State of Israel is determined and expressed, among others, through the Basic Laws that serve as the foundation for the future Constitution of Israel;
We who have assembled at the xxxiv Zionist Congress, convened in Jerusalem in the month of Tamuz in the year 5762, do proclaim that the time has come to provide for the legal status of the Jewish, Zionist and democratic values of the State of Israel in keeping with Israel's Declaration of Independence and the ethos of the State since its inception, and to declare the following principles as the basis for determining the uniqueness, character and raison d'être of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
1. The State of Israel is the State of the Jewish People and its capital is Jerusalem. It is the fulfillment of the aspirations of the Zionist Movement and the aspirations of generations for the independence and sovereignty of the Jewish People in the spirit of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.
2. The State of Israel will be open to the aliyah of Jews and will aspire to bring the Jewish People home.
3. The State of Israel is a democracy that respects basic human rights and the heritage of the minorities living in its boundaries, through the safeguarding of equal rights for all of its citizens, regardless of religion, race, sex or nationality. The values of freedom, freedom of religion and conscience, justice and peace are the Jewish heritage of Israel.
4. The State of Israel safeguards the sites that are holy to all religions from any desecration or other offense that would interfere with freedom of access to members of all religions to their holy places or their sentiments to those sites.
5. "Hatikvah " is the national anthem of the State. The State flag and the State emblem are those determined by the Law of the Flag and Emblem.
6. The State of Israel is a state whose history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish people. The Shabbat is the day of rest of the State, the national festivals are its holidays and Hebrew is its language.
7. The State of Israel perceives the encouragement of Jewish settlement in Israel to a basic value of Zionism and a responsibility of the State and its authorities.
8. The State of Israel, through the fulfillment of its mission, seeks the involvement of the Jewish People in the building of the Land and in the Ingathering of the Exiles in accordance with the statutes of the State.
9. The State of Israel, as the State of the Jewish People, will act to guarantee the future existence of the Jewish People; will promote ties between Israel and the Diaspora; and will come to the aid of Jews throughout the world in time of need.
10. The partnership between the State of Israel and the Jewish People shall find expression through the National Institutions as determined by Law.
On this momentous occasion, here in Jerusalem, we the representatives of the Zionist Movement, call upon the Knesset to adopt these principles among the Basic Laws of the State of Israel as the keystone for ensuring the future of the State of Israel as the Jewish and democratic State of the Jewish People.
Minutes of the 1st to the 27th Congresses were published in special volumes from 1898 until 1969. The minutes of the 1st to the 19th Congresses came out in German. Minutes of the First Congress came out in a second edition (Prague, 1911), with introductions by Nordau and Wolffsohn, and were also translated into Hebrew with supplements by H. Orlan (1947) and with the addition of forewords by surviving participants in the First Congress. From the 16th Congress (1929) minutes also include discussions of the Jewish Agency Council, which took place immediately after the closing session of the Congress. Hebrew became the language of Congress minutes with the 19th Congress, whose minutes are also in German; from the 20th Congress, the official records are only in Hebrew. Hugo *Schachtel published the following reference works for the minutes of the first Congresses: an index of the first six Congresses (1905), an index of the Seventh Congress (1906), and the resolutions of the first seven Congresses (all in German, 1906). An index of the minutes of the first four Congresses was compiled at Tel Aviv University (1966–69).
A vast and multilingual literature on the Congresses is to be found in newspapers, journals, and special books, especially during the periods in which Congresses were held. Various catalogues of journals and newspapers are extremely rich in this material, especially the index of Ḥamishim Shenot Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, and Zionism and Palestine (11 vols., 1946–56).
On the role of the Congress within the general structure of the Zionist Organization, See *Zionism, Zionist Organization, Organizational Structure.
N.M. Gelber, Ha-Kongresim ha-Ẓiyyoniyyim (1956). website: www.jafi.org.il/education.
"Zionist Congresses." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionist-congresses
"Zionist Congresses." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionist-congresses