Marking the 125th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President and Senior Spokesman
This past weekend several hundred Christians along with Jewish officials and guests gathered in Basel, in the same venue of the then-Stadt Casino, where the First Zionist Congress was held 125 years ago. It was in this venue that Theodor Herzl met with Zionist leaders from Jewish communities in August 1897 to plan a future State of Israel.
ICEJ-Switzerland under the leadership of René Emmenegger arranged the gathering, which began three days of events celebrating 125 years since the First Zionist Congress. René Emmenegger managed to bring together an amazing tapestry of speakers from Jewish backgrounds and both main line and free churches of Switzerland, which together brought forward a powerful message of support and friendship to the Jewish State.
ICEJ President, Dr. Jürgen Bühler opened the conference and several experts on Herzl and the Zionist movement also spoke, before ICEJ Vice President of International Affairs, Dr. Mojmir Kallus gave the closing address.
“Exactly 51 years after that very conference, in this hall, the State of Israel was being born and the miracle of this Basel conference was taking place. I believe you can say today that those founding fathers of the State of Israel who met here in this very hall 125 years ago, they could have never imagined what is taking place in Eretz Israel today. That Israel became a “Start-up” nation, and that Israel became a leading voice and a leading personality in global research and development. We are here today to celebrate what God has done with the Jewish people, and also to affirm our stand and our support with the Jewish people for the years and for the decades to come,” remarked ICEJ’s President, Dr. Jürgen Bühler.
The Resolution of the Basel Conference Marking 125 Years of Zionism:
We, the Christian delegates gathered in Basel on this 28th day of August 2022, have come together with our Jewish friends to mark the 125th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress convened in this very venue of the then-Stadt Casino in August 1897. In the time since, the Zionist vision cast by Theodor Herzl at that first congress has produced many great achievements, most notably the rebirth of the nation of Israel in May 1948.
Today the success of the state of Israel today possibly exceeds the expectations of the attendees of Basel in 1987. Israel today is a shining light in the Middle East as the only truly free and vibrant democracy in the region. Israel has grown to become a powerful global economic player and the research and scientific breakthroughs of the ‘Start-up nation’ Israel are breathtaking and impacting every nation in the world today.
Yet the fulfillment of Herzl’s dream has come at great cost. Six Million Jews were brutally murdered during Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1945. In commemorating the First Zionist Congress, we wish to recall and reaffirm the key events and efforts over the ensuing decades which led to Jewish statehood and reshaped Jewish-Christian relations, while also addressing major concerns still facing the Jewish nation and people today.
First, we note with deep appreciation the historic Seelisberg Conference, held here in Switzerland in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust in 1947, at which major Christian and Jewish leaders sought to enlist Christians more fully in the fight against Antisemitism and to create a new foundation for Jewish-Christian dialogue going forward. On this occasion, we reaffirm the Ten Points of the Seelisberg Declaration, consisting as follows:
- Remember that One God speaks to all through the Old and the New Testaments.
- Remember that Jesus was born of a Jewish mother of the seed of David and the people of Israel, and that His everlasting love and forgiveness embrace His own people and the whole world.
- Remember that the first disciples, the apostles, and the first martyrs were Jews.
- Remember that the fundamental commandment of Christianity, to love God and one’s neighbor, proclaimed already in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, is binding upon both Christians and Jews in all human relationships, without any exception.
- Avoid disparaging biblical or post-biblical Judaism with the object of extolling Christianity.
- Avoid using the word Jews in the exclusive sense of the enemies of Jesus, and the words the enemies of Jesus to designate the whole Jewish people.
- Avoid presenting the Passion in such a way as to bring the odium of the killing of Jesus upon Jews alone. In fact, it was not all the Jews who demanded the death of Jesus. It is not the Jews alone who are responsible, for the Cross which saves us all reveals that it is for the sins of us all that Christ died.
- Avoid referring to the scriptural curses, or the cry of a raging mob: His blood be upon us and upon our children, without remembering that this cry should not count against the infinitely more weighty words of the Lord: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.
- Avoid promoting the superstitious notion that the Jewish people is reprobate, accursed, reserved for a destiny of suffering.
- Avoid speaking of the Jews as if the first members of the Church had not been Jews.
Second, we note that the Seelisberg Conference was convened one year before Israel was re-established as a nation, and thus we call on all Christians to embrace the following additional “points” offered in the spirit of Seelisberg:
- We affirm the reborn nation of Israel today as evidence of God’s faithfulness to His enduring covenant relationship with the Jewish people first sealed with the Patriarch Abraham some four thousand years ago. This covenant, which predates the Christian faith by two millennia, has never been terminated and in fact it is irrevocable according to God’s word. It is important for Christians to understand and respect the central place of the Land of Israel in Judaism and Jewish identity.
- We affirm that Israel’s right to exist as a nation in peace and security is indisputable. This principle was duly acknowledged by the international community when recognizing the historic, pre-existing rights and claims of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the San Remo Conference of 1920, the British Mandate over Palestine approved by the League of Nations in 1922, the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, and the acceptance of Israel as a UN member state in 1949. We celebrate today this legacy of Israel taking its rightful place among the nations, which is a fulfillment of Herzl’s vision of a reconstituted Jewish state serving as a safe haven for Jewish communities from the dual threats of antisemitism and assimilation.
- We affirm Jerusalem as the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel. The Jewish people’s historic bond to Jerusalem dates back 3000 years to King David who declared Zion as the spiritual and political center of the people of Israel. Since then, even in diaspora, the Jewish people kept that eternal bond alive dreaming of being ‘next year in Jerusalem.’
- We affirm that that antisemitism remains a prevalent threat to the Jewish people today and must be rejected and opposed by Christians everywhere. Antisemitism is never acceptable, neither in the classical form of anti-Judaism nor in the more contemporary forms of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism. In this regard, we note with great concern the global efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel. We are deeply concerned that in the heart of Europe voices are tolerated, like in the demonstrations today in Basel and other European cities, which question the very right of existence of the State of Israel. This is unacceptable. We call on all Christians and all government leaders to take a clear and uncompromising stand against these modern forms of antisemitism.
- We affirm the biblical call for the worldwide church to comfort Israel. The Apostle Paul describes the church a “debtor” to the Jewish people as by them they received the Messiah and the scriptures and, as Jesus himself said “Salvation is of the Jews.” Therefore, Christians around the world today are called to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the wellbeing of the State of Israel, to stand in friendship and support with Israel and to show unconditional love support to the Jewish people world-wide.
- We finally gladly recognize today in the fast-growing global evangelical community a Paradigm shift is underway that significantly changes the attitude of hundreds of millions of faithful towards Israel and the Jewish people. On all continents, in particular the global south, Christians churches and denominations increasingly understand their biblical, Hebraic roots of their faith and have become true and unconditional friends of Israel and the Jewish people. This growing movement needs to be further strengthened and nourished.
Now is the set time to favor Zion and Christians have a unique opportunity to bless and comfort the Jewish people as the Lord restores them to their land. Be a part of what God is doing in Israel!