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Napoleon was the first Zionist: Book

April 27, 2004 09:32 IST

French general Napoleon Bonaparte was the first "Zionist" who tried to reinstate Jews in Jerusalem, a new book claims in the light of recent evidences.

"Napoleon was the first to see the Jews as a political force in the international arena," Prof Mordechai Gichon, a military historian and archaeologist from Tel Aviv University's Classical Studies department, says in his book, Napoleon in the Holy Land.

The book sums up almost 40 years of research on the subject with most of the material collected from France's war archive, as well as journals and books written by soldiers in Napoleon's army.

"What couldn't be fulfilled under the rule of Napoleon can be fulfilled by Wilhelm II," Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organisation, wrote in a letter to Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany's last emperor, in March 1899, the book says.

The statement corroborated with other findings that have been used by an Israeli scholar to argue that Napoleon was the harbinger of the Zionist movement, which met an untimely death due to the English and the French general himself.

The brief romance took place during the French general's military campaign in West Asia. In the summer of 1798, he conquered Egypt and in the same year, he led 30,000 soldiers through the Sinai Peninsula and into Israel. On March 7, 1799, Napoleon took control of Jaffa, and then headed north to besiege Acre.

Napoleon intends "to restore to the Jews their Jerusalem", read a French report at the time, while another report claimed that "Bonaparte published a proclamation that calls on all the Jews of Africa and Asia to rally around his flag in order to re-establish ancient Jerusalem", Israeli daily Ha'aretz quoted from the book.

While the proclamation itself was never found, a copy translated to German was uncovered in 1939, addressed to "the Jewish nation from France's top general, Bonaparte, and Rabbi Aharon in Jerusalem", saying, "Israelites, France offers you at this very time... Israel's patrimony; take over what has been conquered and with that nation's warranty and support, maintain it against all comers."

Napoleon's idea to establish a national home for the Jews in the Land of Israel, Gichon says, stemmed primarily from political considerations.

Prof Ze'ev Sternhell of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, however, believes the entire story is nothing more than an oddity.

"Napoleon's big contribution came, in fact, in the form of promoting the incorporation of the Jews into French society," he argues.

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