Why not Uganda?

Throughout Jewish history there have been a number of proposals to establish a Jewish homeland outside the borders of current day Israel.  While the Jews have ultimately maintained their historical and cultural ties to the holy land, many world leaders have attempted to create a Jewish state in less desirable locationss such as Madagascar, swamplands in the Soviet Far East and Japanese territories.  The majority of these plots were anti-Semitic in nature, trying to rid Jews from unwelcoming countries or to accomplish Jewish isolation.

Ironically, despite the constant dream of the Jewish people to one-day return to their promised land, the very founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, was instrumental in one such proposal to settle the Jews outside of Israel. In 1903, as the president of the World Zionist Congress, Herzl supported The British Uganda Program, a proposal which would establish a temporary refuge in Uganda for Jews urgently needing to flee the pogroms in Russia. In collaboration with the British mandate, the plan slated 5,000 square miles (13,000 km2) of British East Africa to be given to the Jewish people as a homeland.  While Herzl maintained that this temporary solution did not in any way replace the ultimate Zionist goal of obtaining the land of Israel for the Jewish people, the proposition nearly caused a rift in the Zionist movement and was ultimately rejected in 1905.

Clearly, Herzl’s proposal stemmed from his desire to save Jewish lives as well as a likely sense of desperation after years of failed efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel. If, under the Uganda proposal, the Jews finally had an opportunity for freedom, self-sovereignty and nationhood, why were his attempts met with such virulent opposition by most of his Zionist comrades? Why was Uganda out of the question?

For those with any sense of historical or religious perspective, it is inconceivable to consider a Jewish homeland in any part of the world other than Israel. The bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has its origin in the Bible, when G-d promised the land to Abraham and his Israelite descendants.  Throughout history, the Jews in Israel have been forced to live under foreign sovereignties and periodic self-rule.  Nevertheless, the Jews continually pray for their own country, with religious Jews praying three times a day facing Jerusalem and the site where their holy temple once stood, longing to return to their eternal holy city.

As a result of the massive calamity that struck the Jews during the Holocaust, the world began to sense the importance of a Jewish homeland. Around the same time, the Uganda proposal was briefly revived by Winston Churchill in an attempt to create a place of refuge for Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.  This time, however, the Zionist organizations were firmly opposed to settling for any state outside of Palestine, fearing that accepting such a plan would threaten their efforts to increase Jewish emigration to Israel.

In 1948, the Jewish people’s resistance paid off and they finally achieved their dream of over 2,000 years, regaining control of their promised land and establishing their national homeland within its borders. There is no other land in the world which holds as much significance, history and holiness for the Jews. In Israel, Jews can now freely practice religion and visit their holy sites without trepidation.  What’s more, religious worshippers from throughout the world are welcome as well, and can freely enjoy pilgrimages to this holy country.

The Jewish people are tied to the land of Israel historically, biblically and emotionally in ways that they could never be connected to Uganda or any other land.  The establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel is a testament to this strong bond, and the fulfillment of a dream that will never be forfeited.

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