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Zionism and Israel - Encyclopedic Dictionary

Kharkov Conference

Kharkov Conference - A protest conference of Russian Zionists held in Kharkov in November of 1903, following the Sixth Zionist Congress, at which Theodor Herzl had proposed Uganda as a "night asylum" for the Jews, based on an offer by British officials. The congress had authorized sending a delegation to Uganda (actually Kenya) to investigate the British offer.

The Kharkov conference was organized by Menachem Ussishkin. Ussishkin had been in Palestine during the Zionist Congress, buying land and helping to organize the Palestine Zionist federation. That group held its first meeting in Zichron Yaakov on August 23, 1903 and passed a resolution condemning the Uganda plan. Russian Zionists understood that only return to "Eretz Yisrael" - the land of Israel - could unite the Jewish people and form the basis of a Zionist movement.

When he returned to Russia, Ussishkin organized the Kharkov conference. Ussishkin published a sharp open letter in the Zionist press against the Congress' decision and the "diplomacy and exaggerated politicization" of the Zionist Movement, stressing that the Congress had no right to adopt a resolution that constituted the abandonment of Zion.  Herzl published Ussishkin's letter in his official Zionist publication, Die Welt, of October 30, 1903,  of a breach of discipline and severely criticized his activities in Palestine/Israel. He asked rhetorically, if Ussishkin knew of a better and shorter way to bring about the open public settlement of Palestine by the Jewish people. If he knows such a way, then it is wrong for a such a good Zionist not to reveal it, Herzl noted sarcastically. But if he knows no such way, then it is better that he should keep silent and not destroy with empty rhetoric the unity of the Zionist movement, which is worth more than a couple of bits of land in Palestine.   

Ussishkin then convened a meeting in Kharkov of the 15 Russian members of the Zionist General Council and their deputies. The conference decided to oppose the Uganda scheme as a contradiction of the Basle Program of the first Zionist congress, which was to obtain Palestine as a Jewish national home recognized in international law. They  presented Herzl with this ultimatum:

Not to propose in the future any territorial programs other than the settlement of Syria and Palestine/ Eretz Israel; to withdraw and abrogate the Uganda plan entirely by no later than the Seventh Congress, and to convene a special session of the General Council to discuss the matter prior to the dispatch of the commission to Uganda; and to embark immediately on practical settlement work in Eretz Israel.

If Herzl rejected the ultimatum, another consultation would be convened to devise measures of opposition to the Zionist leadership, including withholding contributions to the Zionist Executive in Vienna, a publicity campaign, the dispatch of opposition propagandists to all Zionist centers in Europe and America, a convention of the opposition prior to the Seventh Zionist Congress, establishing an independent Zionist organization, appealing to world public opinion and before a British court against the rights of the "East African majority" (supporters of the Uganda Scheme) to the finances of the Zionist Organization - theJewish Colonial Trust (ICA) and the Jewish National Fund . Z. Belkowsky, V. Tiomkin, and S. Rosenbaum were chosen as a delegation to present the ultimatum to Herzl. It was also decided that the transfer of funds to the Zionist treasury in Vienna should be suspended until the conclusion of negotiations with Herzl and that the money should be kept temporarily in Russia.

The delegation arrived in Vienna on Dec. 31, 1903. Herzl was gravely offended by the aggressive tone of the Kharkov resolutions. He refused to receive the delegation officially. He agreed, however, to meet with each of its members privately and invited them to attend the meeting of the Executive as guests after they had declared for the record that they did not come as emissaries and that they did not intend to deliver any ultimatum. The Uganda program collapsed when the offer was withdrawn by the British, and Herzl and the Russian Zionists were reconciled on April 11, 1904. On that date, in a meeting of the "Greater Action Committee" of the Zionist organization, Herzl essentially redeclared his support for Palestine as the Jewish national home, but not with very good grace and invoked the justification of democratic unity:

I have undertaken to bring you a word of peace. I know what distress and anxiety reigns among the masses of our fine, good, faithful Zionists throughout the whole world, and particularly in Russia; I know with what concern they follow these negotiations, how profoundly they fear that these beginnings of a national organization, brought about with so much labor for the benefit of the national cause, may suffer injury. As far I am concerned, I am without obstinacy; I pass the sponge across whatever has been said against me personally, and will say not another word about it. But I am aroused when it is a question of safeguarding our organization, completing our work, guarding our unity and fulfilling the obligations to which we pledged ourselves in accepting our mandates to the Congress.
My personal point of view was and is that we have not the right simply to reject such a proposal, fling it back without even asking the people whether they want it or not. I do not want to use the much debated word "Night Refuge" in describing the English offer, but say rather: "Here is a piece of bread." I, who perhaps have cake to eat, and in any case can always have a piece of bread, have not the right to reject the piece of bread which is being offered to the poor because I don't need or want it. Perhaps I personally can be moved to great enthusiasm by the fact that there are some people who, in the midst of their need and hunger, are strong enough in their idealism to say: "No, we don't want the bread." But I am obligated at least to transmit the offer to the people. That is my conviction.
For, gentlemen, here in Vienna I tore myself loose one day from that which had been my life till then, from my friends and acquaintances, and devoted myself to that which I considered right. I do not feel the need of a majority. What I do need is that I shall be at one with my convictions. Then I am content, though not even a dog will take a piece of bread from my hand.
We want the continuous growth of Zionism, we want Zionism as the representative of the people. Why do we want this? Because we believe that we cannot achieve our goal without great forces, and these great forces are not to be found in a federation of little societies. Such a federation you had twenty years ago, and you are always telling me that you were already Zionists twenty and twenty-five years ago. You are always throwing that up to me. But what do you prove thereby? What could you achieve as long as you did not have political Zionism? You lived in little groups and collected money. Undoubtedly your intentions were magnificent, your idealism unchallengeable. Nevertheless you could not achieve anything because you did not know the path to the objective. This path is the organization of the people, and its organ is the Congress. That is why you must submit to the Congress, even though you may be utterly dissatisfied with its decisions.
It was as a Jewish statesman that I presented myself to you. I gave you my card, and there the words were printed: "Herzl, Jewish statesman". And in the course of time I learned a great deal. First and foremost, I learned to know Jews, and that was sometimes even a pleasure. But above all, I learned to understand that we shall find the solution of our problem only in Palestine. ... If today I say to you: "I became a Zionist and have remained one, and all my efforts are directed toward Palestine", you have every reason in the world to believe me.
Gentlemen, I have certain things to forgive you, for in certain matters pertaining to me you are to blame. But let me pass over that. I ask nothing more than that you do your duty as organized Zionists, without doing violence to your convictions. Fight as much you like, think of every device which may obtain for you a majority at the Congress, but do not do it with the help of the instruments of the movement; do it in your personal capacities. If you should create a majority of votes, a party, against me, I would certainly be grateful, but only on condition that you really do get a majority. I counsel you: submit to the Congress decisions, as the rest of us have to do. Until now I have not conducted a fight against you. If you should leave this session of the Actions Committee and agitate against the Congress, than I shall carry out an agitation against you, and I promise you that you will be defeated. Please believe me that this effort at reconciliation, the trouble I have taken, the words I have uttered not altogether consonant with my dignity, do not indicate that I am in any way afraid of the struggle. We have a tremendous majority on our side. But what I want is that you shall be able to come home and say to your people: We have received reassuring declarations, we know that the Executive in Vienna is working, and we know what the leader wants. Do not fix your eyes on an uncompleted house, just begun; wait till it is ready, and put your confidence in those men whom you have trusted till now and who have done nothing to lose your confidence!

Ami Isseroff

Sept 22, 2009

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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