Herzog will set off for Basel to mark 125 years since First Zionist Congress

President to attend two-day event commemorating Herzl’s major address; guests to include over 1,000 Jewish leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists

President Isaac Herzog at Beit Hanassi, the President's residence in Jerusalem, April 2022. (Ariel Jerozolimski for The Times of Israel)
President Isaac Herzog at Beit Hanassi, the President's residence in Jerusalem, April 2022. (Ariel Jerozolimski for The Times of Israel)

President Isaac Herzog is set to fly to Basel, Switzerland on Monday to attend an event marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, a major milestone in Zionist history.

The event, planned by the World Zionist Organization (WZO), will mark 125 years since the three-day 1897 conference during which Theodor Herzl addressed over 200 delegates and “founded the Jewish state.”

More than 1,000 guests are expected at the two-day gathering, according to organizers. Speakers will include Miriam Adelson; former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who now heads SoftBank’s operations in Israel; Jewish Agency Chairman Doron Almog; ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai; and Baroness Ariane De Rothschild, president of the board of the Edmond de Rothschild Group, among others.

During his trip, Herzog is set to meet with Swiss government officials including President Ignazio Cassis, according to a statement issued by Herzog’s spokesperson, as well as government representatives of the Canton of Basel, and members of the Jewish community.

During their meeting, Herzog and Cassis are expected to sign a “groundbreaking agreement” between the Israeli and Swiss national science foundations, the statement said.

Another “main event” expected during Herzog’s visit, according to a report by Ynet, will be his visit to Hotel Les Trois Rois (Hotel of the Three Kings) in Basel, where he will pose as Herzl did in a famous picture leaning on a balcony.

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)

The First Lady of Switzerland Dr. Paola Rodoni Cassis will host First Lady Michal Herzog, and together they will visit Einstein House, the former home of the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein, which now serves as a museum about him.

“Switzerland is an important country on a global level, as reflected both in international organizations, including the Red Cross, and on the European diplomatic stage. During my visit, I shall meet President Cassis and discuss important diplomatic, security, and economic issues with him, including the strengthening of our partnership in the fields of scientific and technological R&D,” said Herzog ahead of the visit.

“The heart of this visit is a historic milestone: the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, which was a formative event for the Jewish people and for humanity at large,” he added.

“Zionism is the ideal combination of Judaism’s deepest roots with groundbreaking innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”

The First Zionist Congress is widely seen as the first step on the Jewish people’s path to reestablish a nation-state in their ancient homeland.

Theodor Herzl addressing the First or Second Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897-8. (courtesy GPO)

“At Basel, I founded the Jewish state,” Herzl wrote in his diary a few days after the conclusion of the event, which took place in the city’s casino, in 1897.

“If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in 50, everyone will realize it,” he wrote.

Herzl’s vision indeed became a reality half a century after he wrote those words, as the State of Israel was founded in 1948.

“Many of us were born into the reality of the State of Israel existing as a sovereign, powerful, Jewish, and value-based entity,” WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel said in a press statement. “But just five generations before, it was a distant dream. In a conference hall in Basel, the hearts of the delegates of the First Zionist Congress were stirred, paving the way for the establishment of the Jewish State.”

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