February 25, 1901
Herzl Directs U.S. Zionists to Force McKinley to Protest Turkish Discrimination Against Jews in Palestine as Matter of “Equal Rights"
In one way, at least, the Ottoman government’s November 1900 decree, forbidding Jewish visitors to Palestine to remain there for more than three months, did Jews around the world a favor: it forced sovereign governments to effectively declare whether there was one law for their Jewish citizens, and another for their Christian ones. Here, Herzl notes that the Italian government had immediately protested, had made no distinction between its Jewish and its gentile subjects, and tells Gottheil that now “it must be our next and most important task to provoke such a position also in several other countries… particularly you in America.” “A successful action on this question,” he predicts, “will advance our movement in America better than with 100 meetings in the East End and West End.”
What Gottheil needs to do, then, is take the issue to “the Congress or the Senate on the question as to whether it is permissible to deny American citizens – be they Jews or Christians – to tread on Palestinian ground, or to make distinctions between the various American citizens… This question is enormously important and can, in my opinion, find a very effective solution from America.”
Since it concerns a generalized question, virtually one of principle, I am convinced that with your activity and skill you will succeed in arranging a meeting of personalities such as Cyrus Adler, Strauss, Sulzberger, Judge Rosenthal, at which suitable steps can be arrived at. But in case these people, or some of them, get wind of the matter under consideration and work against it, then they will be on their own. Of course, I cannot give you any detailed instructions; I can only describe the aim to you and leave it to your intelligence and proven devotion to choose the fastest and surest path. In my opinion, the moment has now arrived for you to go to Mac Kinley [McKinley] and to request from him a declaration on this special matter. It will be difficult for him to refuse, since it is not a case of taking a position on Zionism but a matter of equal rights for all American citizens. It will be up to you to obtain the President’s remarks in the form of an interview, or in any other manner deemed suitable by you, to make sure they are spread among as much of the public at large as possible. Make sure to achieve the utmost possible on this question.
Whether Gottheil did or did not do as Herzl directed is, it would seem, irrelevant. Just three days after Herzl wrote, Secretary of State John Hay protested the discrimination the name of the United States government. These protests eventually yielded some clarification, if not true redress: the restriction, the Turkish Porte declared, applied only to Jews arriving in Palestine in great numbers, not to individual tourists. Visitors were welcomes; colonists, were not.
Typed Letter Signed (“Herzl”), in German, 2 pages, on the decorative “Erez Israel” letterhead of the Bureau of the Zionist Congress , quarto, Türkenstrasse No. 9, Vienna, February 25, 1901. To Professor Richard Gottheil in New York.