The First Zionist Congress marked its 125th anniversary on Monday at its original location, in the Swiss city of Basel, with more than 1,400 Jews and international dignitaries in attendance, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
One key speaker that garnered much of the attention was Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori – a former member of the United Arab Emirates Federal National Council, a government and corporate consultant, and the founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai.
At the anniversary event, Al Mansoori presented a handwritten letter signed by Theodor Herzl, the visionary behind modern Zionism who initiated the Zionist Congress in August 1897.
Al Mansoori acquired the letter in Vienna in 2016, and it has since been on display among his possessions – first, as part of a private collection he started in his home in 2006; and then, at the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum. At the request of the Emirati government, the museum went public in 2011.
Al Mansoori has dedicated a significant portion of his museum to displaying the rich history of the Jewish people of the region – a decision made long before the signing of the September 2020 Abraham Accords’ peace treaty between the UAE and Israel.
“Jews have always been an important part of the Middle East, and I am committed to telling the story of the Jewish people, and of Zionism, to the Arab world,” the museum owner said.
In 1897, in Basel, about 200 participants, including 69 delegates from Zionist societies around the world, joined Herzl in creating the institutions that laid the foundation for the modern State of Israel. They also strove to gain international recognition and support for a Jewish state.
“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel, I founded the Jewish state,” Herzl wrote in his diary, dated Sept. 3, 1897. “If I said this out loud today, l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it.”
Though Herzl’s certainty about the future formation of a Jewish state was clear, he did not live to witness the State of Israel’s establishment.
Where these words marked Herzl’s reflections after the First Zionist Congress, his letter – presented by Al Mansoori on Monday – was written just days before the Congress. In it, he wrote that he could not accept a particular prospective applicant to the organization he had established.
Speaking on stage, with the letter before him, Al Mansoori stated: “It is of upmost importance that the young generations of the Middle East will learn about Judaism, Zionism and Israel – this will strengthen peace, not only between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but between the entire region.”
Much of Al Mansoori’s work is dedicated to commemorating and teaching about the Holocaust of the Jewish people at the hand of the Nazi regime under Adolph Hitler. The museum owner built the first and only Holocaust Memorial Gallery in the Arab world, and made history earlier this year when he led the first-ever delegation from the UAE to participate in the March of the Living at a concentration camp in Poland.
In a video interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, Al Mansoori said, “It was very important for me to go there and also to show my commitment, my solidarity – I even made my speech in Arabic there.”
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.