In 1894, Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist and playwright, was the Paris correspondent for the Vienna New Free Press. The big story that year was the court martial trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish artillery officer falsely accused of passing classified information to the Germans. As a journalist, Herzl covered the story.
During the trial, a wave of anti-Semitism erupted as crowds gathered, shouting "Death to the Jews." In this context, Captain Dreyfus was convicted of treason. Reports of Dreyfus' possible innocence and a French army cover-up soon reached the press. Both reports were true. Dreyfus was fully exonerated in 1906.
Herzl's conclusion from the Drefus affair was this: If virulent anti-Semitism could take place in the cultural center of the Western world, the seat of the republic founded on equal rights for all citizens, then Jewish assimilation was an illusion.
Thus, Herzl formulated the concept of a Jewish return to a national independent homeland. For him, this was the only logical solution to the plight of the Jewish people. He presented his conclusions in a political pamphlet published on 14 February 1896.
Its title was Der Judenstaat; in English, The Jewish State.
In this love letter to a fellow Jews who did not have a nation of their own, Herzl asserted that the "...very idea of a State may have the requisite power to create one. The Jews have dreamt this kingly dream all through the long nights of their history. 'Next year in Jerusalem' is our age-old axiom."
The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.
The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.
And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.
Fifty-two years later, on 14 May 1948 in Tel Aviv, while standing beneath a portrait of Herzl, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the reborn Jewish State of Israel.
Herzl's 1896 pamphlet is available online, in English, at http://www.mideastweb.org/jewishstate.pdf. There is also a free audio version of the book online at https://archive.org/details/jewish_state_1204_librivox/jewishstate_01_Herzl.mp3
Efraim Roseman oversees Israel's Foreign Press Department in its Government Press Office for its North American, UK and Australian Press services. This is a lightly edited version of his original essay published at http://gpoeng.gov.il/media-center/gpo-news/the-jewish-state/