[NOTE: This unsolicited letter was written in 1904 by the important Viennese journalist and early Zionist leader, Theodore Herzl, to the Foreign Minister of Italy, Tommaso Tittoni. It was one of the various contacts Herzl made while seeking diplomatic support from the leaders of the European powers for his effort to persuade the Ottoman Sultan to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The original of this unpublished letter is found in the Historical Archives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Archivo Storico del Ministero degli Affair Esteri) in Rome. It is located in the collection marked: "Serie Politica" Serie "P" Packet 713, Position 983. Herzl wrote the original letter in French. Translated here by J. Fred MacDonald.]
Theodor Herzl to Tommaso Tittoni
Dr. Theodor Herzl
[February 13, 1904]
During the meeting you honored me with in Rome, you invited me to formulate the Zionist demand. Permit me then to submit the following observations to Your Excellency.
The Zionist movement represented by the annual congresses of delegates from all countries has as its goal to create in Palestine the legally assured home for the Jewish people.
As President of the Action Committee I have been in contact with governments interested in this question. I have tried above all to enter into a relationship with the Ottoman government. His Imperial Majesty the Sultan received me in a private audience and invited me on different occasions to return to Constantinople. I have not failed to go there, but the negotiations have not made any tangible progress. In seeking an explanation for this slowness in international matters, I am doing my utmost to obtain the consent of the interested powers.
The Zionist idea found its first support in Germany. In Jerusalem in 1898 in a serious audience with me and a Zionist deputation His Majesty the Emperor promised us his goodwill. The German government’s attitude of goodwill has not changed since. The letter that His Royal Highness the Grand Duke of Baden addressed to me on September 30, 1903 on this subject affirms it.
The British government has shown itself so favorable to the Zionist movement that it has proposed a large territory in the British possessions in East Africa for our colonialization. In Austria the government regards our efforts with a kindly interest, as Counsel Mr. de Boerger said in his letter addressed to me on September 28, 1903.
But the most important support comes to us from Russia. In the month of August 1903 the Minister Dr. de Plehvé sent me a letter, a printed copy of which is found attached. Mr. de Plavhé has added that this governmental declaration is sent to me by order of His Majesty the Emporer with authorization to publish it. On December 6, 1903 the Russian government let me know that the Russian ambassador in Constatinople has already received the order to intervene with the Sublime Porte in favor of the Zionist propositions.
The Russian declaration of August 12, 1903 goes further than our own proposal. We have not asked for an independent Jewish state in Palestine; we are aware of the difficulties such a pretention would encounter. All that we are asking is the establishment of the Jewish people in Palestine under the suzerainity of his Imperial Majesty the Sultan, but under conditions of legal security. The administration of our colonialization would be incumbent on us. To manage all the susceptibilites of all believers, the Holy Places ought to be exempt and retain extraterritoriality forever.
From the Ottoman government we will only ask for a Charter of Colonialization for the Sandjak of Akka. For this Charter we pledge to pay the Ottoman Treasury an annual rent of one hundred thousand Turkish pounds.
Our proposals are not without serious advantages for the Ottoman government. But if it is so simple to enumerate them, it is difficult to speak without emotion of the miserable situation in which our poor Jews in Russia, Roumania, Galicia, etc. are mired. Immigration to America is not a remedy. Particularly, in their political, social, and economic miseries they find even free countries, like the rest, begining to close their doors to this immigration. Anti-Semitism makes life hard everywhere.
For Italy these struggles and miseries are only a faraway noise. Italy is not even touched by the Jewish Question, and it is for this reason that the government ought to render a great service to humanity by taking up the solution of this painful Question.
A letter from His Majesty the King of Italy to His Majesty the Sultan recommending our proposals and conselling in a friendly matter to take them into consideration will have a decisive effect for the reopening of our negotiations.
The Jewish people, dispersed and despite such unhappiness always standing, vow their eternal recognition to Italy and to its chavalrous King.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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