ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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In Basel, Herzog recreates Herzl balcony photo, urges Israel-Diaspora unity in op-ed

President calls for strengthening ties and dialogue, instilling pride in younger generation, as he marks 125th anniversary of First Zionist Congress

Composite photo showing Theodor Herzl, left, on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, August 1897, and President Isaac Herzog on the same balcony, August 29, 2022. (GPO)
Composite photo showing Theodor Herzl, left, on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, August 1897, and President Isaac Herzog on the same balcony, August 29, 2022. (GPO)

In Basel for the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, President Isaac Herzog on Monday recreated Theodore Herzl’s resonant balcony photograph overlooking the Rhine, while urging a reinvigorated sense of shared Jewish identity and destiny between the Israeli and Diaspora communities.

Herzog addressed what he called the “unfinished business” of the Zionist dream in an op-ed for a Swiss Jewish newspaper. Though Herzog’s piece was printed in the Tachles publication in German, his office provided an English-language translation of the piece.

The president was in Switzerland for an event to mark the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which opened on August 29, 1897, and was chaired by Herzl.

Herzog wrote that while many of the ideas announced at the congress have been realized — the establishment of a Jewish nation-state, mass immigration of Jews to it, and the forming of Jewish political organizations — Herzl “left us unfinished business.”

“One item is still a work in process: the strengthening of Jewish feeling and consciousness,” he declared and said his purpose in publishing the article was to “reinvigorate our sense of shared Jewish identity and destiny. Because we, Israeli and Diaspora Jews, can only do this together.

“That is perhaps the primary task of our generation. It is also a core mission of my presidency: to strengthen our collective Jewish sense of togetherness. To reaffirm that we all belong to the same family,” Herzog wrote.

Theodor Herzl addressing the First or Second Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897. (Courtesy: GPO)

“The Jewish People are one big family, and being family means regularly checking in with each other,” he added. Though disagreements will always exist, “we must always insist on open, sincere engagement.”

Herzog said the Israeli and Diaspora communities could learn from “the astonishing progress of Jewish-Muslim dialogue” resulting from the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states.

“As we celebrate 125 years since Herzl and his fellow delegates announced their ambitious dream, let us recommit, around the Jewish world, to strengthening our collective Jewish sense of togetherness. Together, hand in hand,” he concluded.

Herzog’s remarks came a day after Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai called for a reversal in the thinking about Israel’s relationship with the Diaspora, from how Jews abroad can help Israel to how Israel can help them.

“The State of Israel is thriving and leading in many fields — and it is now time to ask what Israel can do to secure the destiny of the Jewish people and Jewish resilience around the world,” Shai said at an event in Basel as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Famous picture of Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland (photo credit: CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)
Theodor Herzl on the balcony of the Hotel Les Trois Rois in Basel, Switzerland, 1897. (CC-PD-Mark, by Wikigamad, Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, Herzog also oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understating about research grants between Israeli and Swiss national science foundations

“International collaboration makes an undeniable contribution to the advancement of science, and we expect the signing of this agreement to strengthen ties between research groups and scientific communities in both countries,” the president tweeted after signing the MOU.

Zionist leader Herzl, who helped convene the First Zionist Congress, stayed at the Hotel Les Trois Rois for that event, posing for the iconic photograph from one of its balconies.

Herzog recreated the photograph on the same balcony overlooking the Rhine River.

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