“If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake the complete management of the finances of Turkey. ” This sentence appears in one of the first published statements of Zionism, Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State.” This paper will explore the early Zionist negotiations with the Ottoman Empire for the land of Palestine. After a historical glance at the Jewish longing for the land of Palestine, I will examine the negotiations Theodor Herzl undertook with the Ottoman Sultan in an attempt to buy the state. The focus will be on Herzl’s quest for a charter. Herzl asserted in “The Jewish State” that “My proposal can be carried out only with the free consent of a majority of Jews. ” But with his campaign for a “charter,” Herzl seemed to believe that his proposal could be carried out only with the consent of the world as well. I will explore what Zionism turned to when the charter failed to come through, analyzing Ottoman reactions to the growing possibility of a Jewish state in Palestine.
Mim Kemal Oke states that the Jews “came to realize” they were “a separate nation, bound by a common faith and sentiment rather than by land. ” Herzl, who believed the “Jewish Question” arose due to Antisemitism, would most likely concur. Other Zionists (especially more religiously observant Jews), though, would disagree violently. For Jews were bound to the land of Palestine through their history, their religion. Hibbat Zion – the Love of Zion – was a powerful force and was focused on a specific land. While Herzl seriously considered Argentina (“Argentina is one of the most fertile countries in the world, extends over a vast area, is sparsely populated, and has a temperate climate. ”), Pines believed that Argentina “will never be able to compete with Palestine. For the one advantage of the sanctity of tradition will, in the end, prevail, even in the practical sphere, over all the economic advantages possessed by other countries. ” Herzl knew, though that “Palestine is our unforgettable historic homeland. They very name would be a marvelously effective rallying cry. ” He believed the best way to do this was to obtain a charter from the Ottoman Empire. “Let us express it in a single word: A Charter! Our efforts are directed at obtaining a Charter from the Turkish government, a Charter under the sovereignty of His Majesty the Sultan. Only when we are in possession of this Charter, which will have to include the necessary guarantees under public law, will we be able to begin large-scale practical settlement. In return for granting us this Charter we shall secure great benefits for the Turkish government. ” But though Herzl went with great gusto for Palestine, the idea of Argentina was not entirely discarded. Indeed, he even thought to use it as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with the Sultan. Herzl thought that showing the Sultan the Jews were willing to go elsewhere might pressure him into action, though the Zionists were not unanimous in this assumption . Nevlinski, Herzl’s main contact with the Turkish Sultan, told the Sultan that “If the Jews cannot obtain Palestine, they will undoubtedly turn to Argentina” in June of 1896, doubtless thinking this might worry him over the possible loss of finances. But it was clear from public Jewish sentiment and the words of Zionist Congresses that they wanted Palestine, and would do quite a lot to get it.
Hibbat Zion and the Jewish history in the Palestinian region gave them a strong claim, but it may have proved to their disadvantage as well. In insisting on Palestine, the claim that Zionism was primarily political was undermined. Additionally, this assumption that the Jews were justified in having Palestine affected the tone and methodology with which Zionists (not only Herzl) went about attempting to win the region. They would not have made these assumptions with Argentina. And they likely would have had an easier time obtaining a charter for Argentina than in Palestine. Nonetheless, Palestine it had to be. Seeing Jews already living in Palestine under Ottoman rule strengthened the desire – and the belief that it was attainable. Pines believed that “experience has demonstrated how strong is the prospect of ultimate success in Palestine. ”
“Buying” a State – Negotiations with the Turkish Sultan
Herzl’s hope was to essentially “buy” a state from the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the Jewish consolidation of the Empire’s debt, the Jews would receive autonomy (and, hoped Herzl, independence) in Palestine. The Turkish Sultan was sent greetings by the First Zionist Congress. Though they were not formally acknowledged, Herzl believed that the Sultan sent a representative/spy to that first Congress . But the Sultan acknowledged the telegram sent during the Second Zionist Congress (1898), something which Herzl “never counted on. ”
Several routes to the Sultan were attempted. Arminius Vambery, a Hungarian traveler with the Sultan’s ear who Herzl called “uncle,” promised a meeting with the Sultan in exchange for payment, though his initial attempt failed. Philip Michael Von Nevlinski, a Polish count, was sympathetic and also had the Sultan’s ear. He guided Herzl in his 1896 visit to Constantinople, the first of five. When he was in Constantinople, Herzl willingly bribed Ottoman officials in attempts to gain an audience with the Sultan himself . Though he was summoned repeatedly by Constantinople (the last of which came in 1902 ), he often was not received by the Sultan himself. Nonetheless, Herzl continued going and talked to anyone he was able to. He believed that “to drop Turkey was to drop everything. ”
The Sultan himself claimed to be “a friend of the Jews. Indeed I rely mainly on the Moslems and Jews. I haven’t the same degree of confidence in my other subjects. ” Antisemitism never took root in Turkey . Though this can hardly be seen as a negative thing, it may have impacted the Sultan’s hesitation – unlike some European leaders and Jews, he did not see the “crisis” many Jews were living in under Antisemitism. Additionally, the Sultan “was almost obsessed with fear,” in the words of Germany’s Eulenburg . Though he was friendly to the Jews, the Sultan was nervous about additional national minorities in his Empire that could stir up trouble .
In his first trip to Constantinople, undertaken in 1896, Herzl did not meet the Sultan. He stated at one point that he had no intention of going unless he was assured of an audience – and he thought Nevlinski had already arranged one. Despite the lack of an audience with the Sultan himself, the trip was not an absolute failure. He was able to speak with several of the Sultan’s advisors, and Nevlinski was able to discuss the issue with ‘Abd al-Hamid. On 18 June 1896, Herzl spoke with the son of the Grand Vizier, Djavid Bey, who was a young State Councillor. Djavid’s first objection was Jerusalem, leading Herzl to state in his diary that he believed “we must ultimately concede that Jerusalem shall remain as it is. ” (It is interesting to note that Herzl’s other suggestion for this was remarkably similar to the UN’s proposal in the Partition Plan. He campaigned for “a far-reaching exterritoriality. The Holy Places of the civilized world should belong to no one but must belong to all. ”) Herzl also told Djavid he believed Palestine could form a vassalage to the Ottoman Empire, already showing his willingness to make concessions as necessary to get a form of autonomy if not full sovereignty. When Djavid asked Herzl what typed of government the Jewish community would be and Herzl told him “An aristocratic republic,” Djavid “roundly disapproved: ‘Say whatever you please to the Sultan, but not the word “Republic.” People here are mortally afraid of it. They fear the spread of this revolutionary form of government, like an epidemic, from one province to another. ’” On 19 June in speaking to Khalil Rifat Pasha, Herzl “had the impression that he not only looked with disfavor on the project but distrusted it. ” On 19 June, Nevlinski spoke with Herzl about the Sultan’s opinion of the matter.
The Sultan told me: if Mr. Herzl is your friend in the same measure as you are mine, then advise him not to go a single step further in the matter. I cannot sell even a foot of land, for it does not belong to me but to my people. They have won this Empire and fertilized it with their blood. We will cover it once more with our blood, before we allow it to be torn from us. Two of my regiments from Syria and Palestine allowed themselves to be killed to a man at Plevna. Not one of them yielded; one and all remained, dead, upon the field. The Turkish people own the Turkish Empire, not I. I can dispose of no part of it. The Jews may spare their millions. When my Empire is divided, perhaps they will get Palestine for nothing. But only our corpse can be divided. I will never consent to vivisection.
This obsession with keeping the Empire together was consistent and seems to have been the Sultan’s driving force. When Nevlinski suggested to the Sultan that he bring the Young Turks into the government (the same group that was later to depose him), ‘Abd al-Hamid replied “A constitution, then? I know this much: Poland’s constitution did not prevent your fatherland from being partitioned. ”
In spite of the negative language reported to Herzl, “Nevlinski says he is convinced that the Turks are willing to give us Palestine. ” “[The Sultan] couldn’t receive you now, because your project hadn’t remained secret…since the Sultan would have been obliged to reject your proposal in its present form, he preferred not to talk about it at all. But he said to me, ‘The Jews are intelligent, they are bound to find an acceptable form.’ It would appear from this that the Sultan merely wishes to sauver les apparences, and I believe that in the end he will come round. ” What came out of Herzl’s first visit to Constantinople was not merely words, either. “The Sultan [continued Nevlinski] now expects you to help in the Armenian business. Furthermore, he would like you to obtain for him a loan tied to a lien on the light-house revenues. For that purpose he is sending you the contract with Collas. The annual revenue is ₤.T.45,000; the loan should amount to two million pounds. ”
Herzl was culturally aware enough not to write a “manifesto” to the Sultan, admitting his to be a “typically English notion,” instead desiring a private negotiation . He finally got his desired “private negotiation” in 1901, thanks to “Uncle Vambery.” The meeting that took place on 19 May was long and political. Herzl and the Sultan, through an interpreter, meandered between topics of small talk and implicit statements. After the obligatory salaamiks and greetings, though, Herzl was able to get to the point. “The thorn, as I see it, is your public debt. If that could be removed, the vitality of Turkey, in which I have great faith, would develop new strength. ” The Sultan agreed the debt was a thorn and that he would be glad to be rid of it. Herzl asked that a plan be sent to him regarding the unification of the debt, but that this plan must be secret. After all, Europe was desperate to undermine the Empire. Herzl then pointed to how mutually beneficial Jewish settlement in the Palestinian region might be: “All that this beautiful land needs is the industrial activity of our people. In general, Europeans who come here enrich themselves quickly and then hasten away with their spoils. An entrepreneur should by all means make a decent and honest profit, but he ought to remain in the country where his wealth was acquired. ” The Sultan makes no explicit promises, though “referred to himself as a friend of the Jews and promised them his lasting protection if they sought refuge in his lands. ” For now, though, Herzl would send the Sultan “a capable financier who could create new resources for the country ” and wait for the consolidation plan. In return, he requested “a pro-Jewish pronouncement at a moment [Herzl] would designate ([he] was thinking of the Congress)…All this was promised [him].”
In 1901, Izzet came to Herzl with the plan for consolidation of the public debt, but it was a “thieves’ plan on the fact of it.” Herzl felt like the Turks were simply trying to bleed the Jews, but he played the game in hopes of achieving what he desired. In February 1902, Herzl was once again summoned to Constantinople. He did not see the Sultan. Once again, he felt played, as “Concessions were offered him for the exploitation of mines, the establishment of a pro-government bank, and the creation of a land company for settling Jewish immigrants – but, as expressly stipulated, not in Palestine. He soon had convincing proof that the whole performance was staged in order to play him off against a French financial and political combine, headed by the French Minister of Finance, Maurice Rouvier, who got nowhere either – but perhaps not so fast as Herzl. ”
Herzl’s last trip to Constantinople was full of “assurances of continued interest and good will,” but he once again “left empty-handed. ” That was in 1902. In 1904, Herzl died, having been fully disenchanted from his belief that he could simply “buy” a state. In the year before his death, he negotiated for mere settlement in the sanjak of Acre . Still, the Ottomans refused. From the Zionist standpoint, the repeated refusals seemed illogical: the Ottoman Empire desperately needed funds, yet would not take them, even though Herzl only ever used language of the desire for agricultural land with the Sultan. ‘Abd al-Hamid was convinced that they wanted their own government (which was a fully justified fear) . His ambassador in Berlin, Ahmed Tewfik Pasa, believed “we must have no illusions about Zionism. Although the speakers at the Congress dwelled upon vague generalities such as the future of the Jewish people, the Zionists, in effect, aim at the formation of a great Jewish State in Palestine, which would also spread towards the neighbouring countries. ” The Ottomans did not wish to deal with another nationality in their borders. In short, they did not desire their own “Jewish Question.” Additionally, the Sultan greatly feared the growing influence of the Great Powers of Europe. Zionism, a movement seemingly led by highly educated and influential Europeans, was seen to be another European arm of influence in the region, and was thus indesirable.
“Begging” for a State – Seeking International Support
Initially, Herzl believed the charter for a Jewish state or autonomous region must come from the Ottoman Empire, as they were the undisputed authority over the Palestinian region. It quickly became clear, though, that this would not happen easily. So even as he pursued negotiations with the Turkish Sultan, Herzl talked with other powers in the world in an attempt to get them on board. He hoped that other nations might put pressure on the Ottoman Empire, which was increasingly feeling pressure from Europe.
The hope of European pressure on the Jew’s behalf in Palestine came before the idea of Zionism. In 1863, Ha-Magid, a Hebrew Journal, included a belief that
if the House of Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore stood at its head, together with the leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Alliance Israelite Universelle, and other notables who have the strength to stand in the courts of kings and speak for their brothers, then the Society would, with the help of God, reach its goal; then the government of Turkey would, at the request of the kings of Europe, protect those of our brothers who work at the land of their fathers.
This seemed to many Jews to be a rather far-reaching idea: European nations, themselves full of Antisemitism, who could barely be bothered to intercede for Jews in their own borders, were hardly going to “waste” their political influence pushing the Ottoman Sultan to permit immigration. Nonetheless, the hope prevailed and Herzl talked with several kings and statesmen.
From the beginning, Herzl hoped Europe would be on good relations with Europe. “We should there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism. We should as a neutral state remain in contact with all Europe, which would have to guarantee our existence. ”
“Italy can do a great deal for us, for the Sultan is afraid of Italy.” Herzl petitioned the king of Italy in January 1903. The king was sympathetic, though he tells him “Ma e ancora casa di altri” (“Again it is someone else’s house.”) and “I can promise nothing definite. But whenever I meet a Turk, I shall take up your cause with him. ” When the Italian monarch told Herzl “The only thing that has any effect on him is money. If you promise him, in return for the Jordan valley, half the profit it brings, he’ll let you have it,” Herzl told him “Yes, but we require autonomy.” In reply, the king warned Herzl that “He dislikes the word. ”
Jewish emigration from Russia was forbidden at the turn of the century, but the Russian official de Plehve believed “a modification of the law in that respect was necessary. Perhaps other reforms might also be possible.” He further stated that “the Russian Government would welcome permission granted by the Ottoman Government to Jews to enter Palestine. Hence he was not an adversary of pure Zionism; but he had begun to fear that political Zionism was no more than a chimera. Nevertheless he would not oppose the encouragement of Zionist ideas in Russia provided they favoured emigration. Besides, within Russia itself the Zionist ideas were perhaps useful in fighting those of socialism. ” But the Russians did not push ‘Abd al-Hamid for a Charter.
The most influential country in regards to the Ottoman Empire, and the one that Herzl had the most contact with, was Germany. The Ottomans were weak militarily and Germany was the foremost military power in Europe . As Germany’s influence grew, it penetrated Turkey and the Kaiser had an incredible amount of power in the Ottoman Empire. Herzl made the following five points to Eulenburg, a close confidant of Wilhelm II’s and a German diplomat:
1. In various countries Zionism might lessen the danger of socialism, since it was often dissatisfied Jews who provided the revolutionary parties with leaders and ideas.
2. A reduction in Jewish numbers would weaken anti-Semitim.
3. Turkey stood to gain from the influx of an intelligent and energetic element into Palestine. Large sums of money injected into her economy and the increase in trade would improve her finances.
4. The Jews would bring civilization and order back to a neglected corner of the Orient.
5. A railroad from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf was a European necessity. ‘The Jews could and must build this great road of the nations which, if undertaken otherwise, might call forth the most serious rivalries.
Eulenburg agreed, and the Emperor came around to this way of thinking as well, at least verbally. On 28 September 1898, Herzl received a letter from Eulenburg stating
His Majesty would discuss the matter with the Sultan in a most emphatic manner and will be pleased to hear more from you in Jerusalem. The Kaiser has already issued orders to the effect that no obstacle is to be placed in the way of the [Zionist] delegation.
In conclusion, H.M. wishes to tell you that he is very much prepared to undertake the protectorate in question. His Majesty, naturally, counts on your discretion in conveying this information.
In his meeting with Herzl, the Kaiser asked him to “Tell me in a word what I am to ask of the Sultan.” Herzl replied “A Chartered Company – under German protection. ”
In a letter to his uncle, the Grand Duke, dated 29 September 1898, Wilhelm II said
I am convinced that the settlement of the Holy Land by the wealthy and industrious people of Israel [Volk Israel] will bring unexampled prosperity and blessings to the Holy Land, which may do much to revive and develop Asia Minor. Such a settlement would bring millions into the purse of the Turks and of the upper class and effendis and so gradually help to save the ‘Sick Man’ from bankruptcy. In this way the disagreeable Eastern question would be imperceptibly separated from the Mediterranean…The Turk will recover, getting his money without borrowing, and will be able to build his own highways and railways without foreign companies and then it would not be so easy to dismember Turkey. And besides, “would it not be an immense achievement for Germany, if the world of the Hebrews looked to her with gratitude?
Though German sentiment was not static or fully consensual (Wilhelmstrasse stated that “intervention by Germany in favour of Herzl’s ‘Jewish State’ would inflict irreparable damage on all our other interests in Turkey ”), the Kaiser told the Ottoman Sultan “The Zionists are not dangerous to Turkey, but the Jews are everywhere a nuisance we should like to be rid of. ” The Sultan disagreed, becoming ever more fearful of European influence as time went by and European power grew. During Wilhelm II’s 1889 tour of Jerusalem, Tewfik Pasa told him that “the Sultan would have nothing to do with Zionism and an independent Jewish Kingdom,” and that Zionism “would assure the ruin of Turkey.” The Kaiser withdrew support, not wishing to injure the goodwill of the Sultan.
Despite his attempts, Herzl failed to obtain a charter from the Ottomans or any other country. A few select European countries placed light pressure on the Empire, though most of them asked for greater immigration and settlement allotments rather than an autonomous region.
With the deposition of ‘Abd al-Hamid and the appearance of Ottoman weakness, the Great Powers began to await developments in Turkey. Several Zionists argued they should do the same . In this political limbo, Zionists believed their goal should be “to the further development of our work of information and enlightenment in Turkey.” With “the progressive development of the Ottoman Empire,” Zionists “cherish[ed] the firm conviction that our efforts will lead to the most favourable results.” They believed “activity in Palestine which we regard as the basis of all Zionist work,” needs to be “continued systematically. ” With this, the Zionist movement turned away from the idea of buying a state or obtaining a charter and towards the idea of building a state through immigration and land purchases.
Building a State – Immigration and Land Sales
‘Abd al-Hamid told Herzl that any Jewish immigrants to Palestine needed to become Ottoman subjects. Herzl agreed. But many Jews infiltrated into the region (through bribery and the lax enforcement of the Sultan’s commands) and then acquired foreign protection . In those days, foreign citizens living in the Ottoman Empire could become legally-protected “protégés” of European powers .
The Ottoman fear of Jewish immigration was not new. Foreign Jews other than religious pilgrims were forbidden from visiting Palestine as early as 1882 . The Antisemitism and hunger in Romania in 1899 led to the “Conditions of Entry into the Holy Land by Hebrew Visitors” of 21 November 2000, a pamphlet with firm restrictions on Jewish visitations to Palestine. Before November 2000, Jews paid a deposit and, if they left after one month as legally required, were given their money back. (Many Jews chose to lose this money, seeing it as an “immigration charge,” in exchange for remaining in their Holy Land.) After November 2000, the Jews – this time including Ottoman subjects – obtained a residence permit good for three months. Upon leaving, the “Red Tickets” were returned. Registers were compiled each month and pilgrims with expired permits were expelled, though not treated harshly . But it was not easy to tell the difference between a Gentile European and a Jewish protégé. Escaping Turkish restrictions was relatively easy .
Immigration was not the only concern of the Ottoman Empire. Another primary concern was Jewish purchase of land in the region. Ottoman law stated that “subjects of foreign governments are allowed to take advantage of the rights to possess property within or without towns in every part of the Imperial dominions with the exception of the Hejaz lands, in the same way as Ottoman subjects.” This included Jews. One of the greatest Jewish landowners was philanthropist Baron de Rothschild.
Baron Edmond de Rothchild spent a great sum of money and established big companies in Europe in order to found a Jewish state in Palestine; then he opened branches of these companies in the Ottoman Empire and began land expropriation in Palestine. Thus, some parts of Palestine and Syria were expropriated. These abused the poor condition of the Ottoman subjects and the ill-will of the state officials in order to help the Jewish in greater extents.
The sale of land to Jews was at least equally troubling to the Ottoman Empire, as it allowed for greater Jewish settlement and gave Jews in the region a stronger claim. In response to their fear, the Turkish government passed another law on 5 March 1883 to prevent Jews from gaining land in Palestine. Ottomans Jews, though, could still acquire the land. Many Ottoman Jews worked as middlemen, until another law prevented transactions for all Jews .
The European powers, which did not do enough in Herzl’s eyes to help obtain a charter, did help with land sales: Following the passage of the strictest law, “there were loud protests from foreigners-Jewish and Gentile-who had invested in land. The embassies in Istanbul took up their cause, protesting a manifest breach of the Capitulations. As with the entry of individual Jewish settlers, the Powers were able in 1893 to extract a concession from the Porte regarding land purchase. Foreign Jews, legally resident in Palestine, would be permitted to buy land on condition that they could prove their legal status in the country and undertook not to let ‘illegal Jews’ live on their land (if urban) or set up a colony on it (if rural). ”
These actions were not applauded by all Zionists; indeed, the most politically-minded of the Zionists believed that those Jews who purchased land and immigrated to Palestine while Herzl was negotiating with the Sultan for a chartered autonomy in Palestine undermined his efforts. In June of 1896, “Bierer told me at Sofia that Edmond de Rothschild had sent his representative to Constantinople a few days ago, to offer the Sultan money for permission to extend the colonization [in Palestine].” Herzl worried “Can this be a chess move against me? ” At the First Zionist Congress (September 1897),
A certain [Dr. Solomon] Mandelkern, for instance, arose and moved a vote of thanks to Baron Edmond de Rothschild. I ruled the motion out of order on a question of principle – namely, the policy of infiltration [into Palestine]. I crushed Mandelkern by saying that he was plunging the Congress into the dilemma of having to choose between a semblance of ingratitude toward a benevolent enterprise and the abandonment of our principles.
Though some Zionists, especially Herzl, saw these actions as counterproductive, when Herzl died without obtaining a charter, these actions may well have kept the possibility of a Jewish state alive. After all, it was the land purchased by Jews and the land that was heavily settled by Jews that was eventually made into the Jewish state of Israel.
Vital said the failure of Herzl’s negotiations with the Sultan was “the most painful and frustrating, the least fruitful, and the most costly in time, money, and nervous energy expended ” of the Zionist efforts. Nonetheless, though the Ottoman Empire did not hand the Jewish state to Herzl on a silver platter, it played a large role in the state’s emergence. The relative lack of Antisemitism in Turkey and the dhimmi laws of Islam meant that Jewish life under Ottoman rule was fairly decent. Lax legal enforcement allowed for Jews to arrive in the region, legally or not, and evade deportation. This was critical to the formation of institutions and a Jewish majority in certain areas. In turn, these factors were critical in the eventual formation of the Jewish state in the region of Palestine. Buying a state did not work. Building a state did, though the Jews did not (as ‘Abd al-Hamid stated at one point may be possible) “get Palestine for nothing. ”
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