Zionist Dialogue

Theodor Herzl on the Brink

By Herbert Belkin

Theodor Herzl was the most unlikely person to lead Jews to a desperately needed homeland. A very assimilated Jew and one of the leading journalists of his day (think Thomas Friedman of the New York Times), Herzl gave little attention to the suffering of his fellow Jews in Eastern Europe. That was before his newspaper gave him the assignment to report on the trial of Alfred Dreyfus.

In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army, was accused of treason and put on trial. The charge and trial were infested with anti-Semitism then prevalent in the French army. Despite contrary evidence that proved him innocent, Dreyfus was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment on Devil’s Island. It was during the ceremony when Dreyfus was cashiered out of the French army that Herzl heard the call that changed his life.

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