The First Zionist Congress was convened by Theodor Herzl in 1897 in Basel Switzerland, with the participation of some 200 delegates representing 17 countries.
Together, the delegates to the first Zionist Congress established the World Zionist Organization and endorsed the Basel Program which called for Zionism to establish a home for the Jewish people to be secured under public law with international recognition in what was then the Ottoman-ruled territory of Palestine.
It was immediately after this Congress that Herzl wrote in his diary, “In Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I were to say this out loud today I would be met with universal laughter. But in five years perhaps, certainly in fifty, the whole world will know it.”
After 1897, the first five Zionist Congresses were held annually. In its early years, the World Zionist Organization initiated or oversaw the formation of an array of institutions to assist in the establishment of the Jewish State envisioned by Herzl. Those institutions included Palestine Airways (the precursor to EL AL), the Jewish Colonial Trust (today, Bank Leumi) The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (the Jewish National Fund).
The work of the World Zionist Organization and the institutions it founded came to fruition on the 29th of November 1947, when the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 181(II) calling for a partition of the British Mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Having gained recognition for a Jewish state under public law, Chairman of the Jewish Agency David Ben Gurion announced the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and became Israel’s first Prime Minister.
In the second half of the twentieth century, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayameth LeIsrael and Keren Hayesod have worked together with the Zionist Congresses to set policy and set in motion myriad initiatives for the purpose of fortifying and fashioning Israel as the Jewish state Herzl envisioned, as well as strengthening Jewish communities in the Diaspora, bringing Jews to Israel via Aliyah, developing and settling the land and raising funds for these purposes.
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