Sixth Zionist Congress Begins

August 23, 1903

The Sixth Zionist Congress, the last to be presided over by Theodor Herzl, convenes in Basel, Switzerland. The Sixth Congress was the largest Zionist Congress held to date with approximately 600 delegates participating. The major issue that was discussed at the Congress was the Ugandan Proposal. In an April meeting with Herzl, Joseph Chamberlain, British Colonial Secretary, had proposed a plan for an autonomous Jewish settlement in East Africa. Herzl thought that this plan could be an interim solution to solve the suffering of Jews in Europe until Palestine was viable.

In his opening address (shown in the photo below) on August 23rd, Herzl stated about the Uganda Proposal, “The offer has been extended to us in a way which cannot but contribute to the improvement of the condition of the Jewish people, without our relinquishing any of the great principles on which our movement is founded… Zion this certainly is not, and can never become. It is only a colonizational auxiliary help – but, be it noted, on a national and state foundation.”

A narrow vote of 295-178 (with 98 abstentions) agreed to send a commission to East Africa to investigate the possibility. Shortly after the vote, members of the Russian delegation walked out in protest that Uganda represented a violation of the Basel Program as it abandoned the land of Israel as the sole Jewish homeland. The Uganda Proposal would be rejected at the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905.