January: Stumbles Toward Peace
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Bill Clinton in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in January 2000 as part of unsuccessful peace talks. (White House)

Compiled by the Center for Israel Education, January 2023

January in Zionist history has been a month for frustrated peace efforts and life transitions.

Jan. 2, 1927 — Death of Ahad Ha’am

Ahad Ha’am, the leader of the movement for cultural Zionism, dies in Palestine at age 70. Asher Ginsberg adopted the pen name Ahad Ha’am (One of the People) amid his advocacy for a Zionism focused on cultural renewal, not just refuge.

Analysis: The uncivil discourse of Theodor Herzl and Ahad Ha’am

Jan. 3, 1919 — Faisal-Weizmann Agreement

Chaim Weizmann, the future first president of Israel, and Emir Faisal, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, sign a pledge of mutual respect and cooperation between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. The League of Nations-created British and French mandates supersede and sink the accord.

Document: The conflicting correspondence between Husayn and High Commissioner Henry McMahon about plans for the post-World War I Middle East 

Document: The British Mandate for Palestine

Jan. 3, 2004 — 2 Outposts Dismantled

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon orders the IDF to remove two illegal Jewish outposts from the West Bank. The decision reflects Sharon’s shift away from total support for the settler movement and toward the Gaza disengagement in 2005.

Jan. 4, 1935 — Iraqi Oil Flowing to Haifa

A 590-mile pipeline from Kirkuk, Iraq, to Haifa begins carrying oil from the Mosul fields to the Mediterranean Sea. The 12-inch-diameter pipe meets the needs of the British navy and is one reason the British are reluctant to see Israel’s independence, which leads Iraq to cut off the flow.

Jan. 5, 1930 — Birth of Ben-Gurion’s Mapai

Two socialist-leaning political movements, David Ben-Gurion’s Ahdut Ha’avodah (Labor Unity) and Joseph Sprinzak’s Hapoel Hatzair (Young Worker Party), merge into Mapai, which dominates politics in the Land of Israel until it merges into the Labor Party in 1938.

Jan. 7, 1858 — Birth of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the most prominent early advocate of modernizing the Hebrew language, is born in Lithuania. In 1881 he and his wife move to Jerusalem, where he speaks only Hebrew at home and to fellow Jews and writes a dictionary with words for hundreds of modern items.

Video: Hebrew’s revival

Curriculum: “Israel and Hebrew Language”

Jan. 9, 1952 — Approval of German Reparations

The Knesset ends three days of debate by voting 61-50 to accept more than $800 million in Holocaust reparations from West Germany over 14 years. The acceptance of what Menachem Begin calls blood money sparks rioting. But the payments prop up the new state’s economy.

Video: Israel’s economy

Document: Begin’s Knesset speech against reparations

Analysis: The debate over reparations 

Jan. 9, 1873 — Birth of Bialik

Chaim Nahman Bialik, Israel’s national poet, is born in northwestern Ukraine. He writes “In the City of Slaughter” after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. Influenced by Ahad Ha’am, Bialik makes aliyah in 1924 and plays an important part in the cultural development of Tel Aviv.

Jan. 10, 1996 — King Hussein’s First Public Visit

Jordan’s King Hussein, who secretly traveled to Israel in 1977, makes his first public visit nearly 15 months after signing a peace treaty with Israel. His trip includes seeing two Jordanian soldiers being treated at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

Document: Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty excerpts

Jan. 10, 2000 — The End for Syria Peace Talks

Seven days of peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara end in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and never resume.

Jan. 13, 1898 — ‘J’Accuse!’

Writer Emile Zola accuses the French government of antisemitism in the false treason conviction of army Capt. Alfred Dreyfus. The Dreyfus trial in 1894, little more than a century after Jews gained French citizenship, helped persuade Theodor Herzl to embrace political Zionism.

Jan. 13, 1922 — Zionism at the White House

World Zionist Congress leader Nahum Sokolow receives a positive reception from U.S. President Warren Harding during a meeting about Jewish persecution in Europe and the Zionist enterprise.

Jan. 17, 1986 — Spanish Recognition, Diplomatic Ties

Spain recognizes Israel and becomes the last Western European nation to open formal diplomatic relations with it. Spain takes the opportunity to denounce Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

Jan. 17, 1930 — British Leader: End Jewish Home

High Commissioner John Chancellor sends a 90-page dispatch to the British government in London to enumerate Arab grievances in Palestine after the rioting of 1929. Chancellor urges an end to efforts to establish a Jewish national home.

Jan. 21, 1882 — First Aliyah

Thirty students meeting in Kharkov, Ukraine, respond to a wave of pogroms by founding BILU, whose name comes from an Isaiah verse meaning “House of Jacob, let us go.” BILU lays the groundwork for the First Aliyah of Diaspora Jews back to the Land Israel.

Jan. 23, 1950 — Jerusalem the Capital

The Knesset votes 60-2 to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The “no” votes come from Communist lawmakers who prefer an international status for the city. Members of the right-wing Herut abstain because the resolution does not clearly declare all of Jerusalem the capital.

Map: The U.N. plan for an international Jerusalem

Jan. 25, 1904 — Herzl and the Pope

Theodor Herzl meets with Pope Pius X in a failed bid to win his support for Zionism. The pope’s response: “We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem, but we could never sanction it.”

Jan. 26, 1919 — The Coming Catastrophe

Chaim Weizmann writes to Gen. Arthur Money, who heads the British military administration in Palestine, to warn that “unless they secure a place which they may call their home in a real sense of the word,” Jews will face “a terrible catastrophe” with consequences for society as a whole.

Jan. 27, 2001 — Peak for Clinton Parameters

Israelis and Palestinians end a week of negotiations in Taba, Egypt, with progress toward peace based on the Clinton Parameters. But Ehud Barak loses an election for prime minister 10 days later to Ariel Sharon, who refuses to be bound by the Taba talks.

Document: The Clinton Parameters

Jan. 30, 1933 — Youth Aliyah Answers Hitler’s Rise

On the day Adolf Hitler is named Germany’s chancellor, Recha Freier founds the organization that becomes Youth Aliyah. The program rescues more than 11,000 Jewish children from the Nazis by bringing them to the Land of Israel.