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Tue Dec 11, 2012, 10:40 AM


A Portuguese Palestine

This year marks the centenary of a forgotten effort to carve out a Jewish homeland in the vast Portuguese colony of Angola. Adam Rovner describes the little-known attempt to create a Zion in Africa.

In the autumn of 1902 Dr Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the Austro-Hungarian author and prophet of modern political Zionism, found himself admitted to the corridors of power in Whitehall. Thanks in part to the efforts of his friend the Anglo-Jewish author Israel Zangwill (1864-1926) Herzl met the colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain. Herzl found Chamberlain to be sympathetic to Jewish national aspirations. In April 1903 the two met again after Chamberlain had returned from a visit to British colonies in Africa, just weeks after state-sponsored attacks against Jews in tsarist Russia had shocked the world. Chamberlain fixed Herzl in his monocle and offered his help to the persecuted. ‘I have seen a land for you on my travels,’ Herzl recorded him saying of his rail journey across what today is Kenya, ‘and I thought to myself, that would be a land for Dr Herzl.’ Though Herzl was initially cool to the proposal, he recognised the significance of the offer. The world’s most powerful nation had acknowledged the six-year-old Zionist Organisation as the instrument of Jewish nationalism and offered land under the British Empire’s protection.

Herzl’s deputy in London continued to negotiate with Chamberlain on what erroneously came to be called the ‘Uganda Plan’. By mid-summer they had agreed on a draft charter for an autonomous settlement in the East African Protectorate. The solicitor and MP David Lloyd George drew up the document. Herzl announced the proposal at the opening of the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel on August 23rd, 1903. According to the stenographic record of the Congress, the news was greeted with thunderous applause and Zangwill called out triumphantly: ‘Three cheers for England!’ One supporter recognised that the Rift Valley began in East Africa and ended in Palestine, thus linking the biblical homeland – albeit tenuously – to the British territory on offer. But Herzl admitted in a speech to the congress that the planned ‘New Palestine’ in Africa could not take the place of Zion. Still he urged an exploration of the territory.


The Angola scheme had been the ITO’s last and best chance to establish a territorial solution for Jewish homelessness. And Zangwill never forgot it, even after the 1917 Balfour Declaration issued during Lloyd George’s tenure as prime minister outlined support for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. Zangwill summed up the ITO’s failures in the pages of the influential Fortnightly Review two years later: Jewish history, he concluded, ‘is a story of lost opportunities’. Had he lived long enough to see the free nations of the world shut their gates to Jews fleeing Hitler’s Reich, Zangwill’s harsh verdict would surely have been tempered by a profound grief that his Angolan Zion never took root along Benguela’s fertile plateau.


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Bucky Dec 2012 #1
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Response to RZM (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 06:35 PM

1. Deliteful idea, trying to use Zionism to suppress embrionic anticolonialism in Africa.

Can you imagine what a disaster that would be? In the long run, it'd be three times worse than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have.

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Response to Bucky (Reply #1)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 12:11 AM

2. That presents an interesting question. How different would it have been?


I don't know. But probably very different. I doubt this region could have drawn as many Jews from Europe as Palestine did. Other than that, I have no idea.

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