Basel, August 31st, 2017 – Despite cancelled plans of the State of Israel to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel this week, a celebratory dinner was hosted on Thursday night by the European Coalition for Israel and Forum for Cultural Diplomacy. The event took place in the historical Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois where Theodor Herzl stayed during the congress in 1897.
The Israeli ambassador to Switzerland, Jacob Keidar thanked the Christian group for making sure that this momentous event in Jewish history was properly celebrated in Basel on the very day of the anniversary. The official national event to mark the anniversary was held two weeks earlier at the same location. The head of the Jewish community in Basel, Guy Rueff explained why Basel was chosen in 1897 as the host city of this historical congress. “While the Zionist vision was rejected in Munich and Zurich seemed too risky for the organisers, the general population in Basel seemed favourable to the Jewish cause,” he said.
In his keynote address Dr Gregory Lafitte pointed out that the vision of Theodor Herzl may have come to pass with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 but believed the fulfilment of his dream is not yet over, not yet complete. He went on to quote Theodor Herzl who once called Zionism “an infinite ideal.” Herzl was of the opinion that Zionism will not cease to be an ideal even after the Jewish people attain their land, the land of Israel.
He went on to describe Jerusalem and Athens as the two major foundations of the Western world. The West needs to recognize them. Its Greek source has already been duly recognized. The West now needs to recognize also its Jewish roots, he said.
Prince Philip Kiril von Preussen spoke about the failure of his great great grandfather, the last emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II to help the Jewish cause.
“History could have taken another turn if Kaiser Wilhelm would have agreed to become the protector of the Jewish state in Israel as requested by Theodor Herzl,” he said. Sadly, also for Germany, the Kaiser refused. Shortly after Germany lost the First World War and the Emperor lost his crown. It would not take long before Hitler came to power and the rest is history.
The host of the evening, Founding Director of ECI, Tomas Sandell pointed out the importance of remembering the important dates in Jewish history which have paved the way for the creation of the Jewish state.
“August 31st, 1897, the closing date of the First Zionist Congress is one such date,” he said. “In a day and age when Jewish history in the land of Israel is being denied by UNESCO resolutions and many Jews have to hide their identity in Europe, it is important that we learn to properly recognize and celebrate these milestones also in Europe.”