Homelands that never were

Palestine was not always the favoured option for the Jewish homeland. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, preferred Argentina because it was fertile, enjoyed a good climate and was sparsely populated. Herzl also proposed Cyprus and a small area in Egypt. Both of these were in the Ottoman empire and so were, in effect, controlled by the British, who rejected Herzl's proposals. Uganda became a more serious possibility when offered by the British in 1903 after 49 Jews were killed in a Russian pogrom. Herzl supported the "Uganda Plan" and some Jews actually settled there.

Research expeditions were also sent to areas in Angola, Libya, Iraq, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Surinam, Australia and Siberia. All were rejected because of local opposition, lack of water or bad climate. But 10,000 Jews did go to Texas as part of the Galveston Immigration Scheme of Israel Zangwill's Jewish Territorialists Organisation, which supported the idea of settlement anywhere.

Many European Jews rejected Zionism for fear it might stoke anti-Semitism in Europe. One unexpected advocate of a Jewish homeland was Adolf Eichmann who, before turning his attention to the Final Solution, proposed a Jewish state in Madagascar, and even discussed his idea with Jewish leaders in Germany.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Democracy and demons