He was Herzl’s right-hand man, opening the doors of Europe’s great powers to Zionism. A tribute to Reverend William Hechler, devoted Christian and lover of the Jewish People.
He was a close partner of Theodor Herzl in the early Zionist movement. His activism helped lay the groundwork for establishing a Jewish state in their historic homeland. He used his connections to European royalty to help Herzl secure meetings with key world leaders. Herzl thanked him at the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. Few people were as passionate and intense in working for Zionism and the Jewish people. Yet even fewer know his name. We are speaking of the Reverend William Hechler, a devout Christian who befriended Herzl and became the “foreign minister” of the Zionist movement.
85 years after his death – the date of which will be celebrated this coming January – Hechler is not commemorated across the country that he helped to found. No street bears his name, no structure, no institution. One of the key leaders of the early Zionist movement and fathers of Christian Zionism, and the man that serves as an inspiration for the International Christian Embassy, is almost forgotten. Now is the time for the State of Israel to recognize its debt to this man who worked so hard for its establishment.
William Hechler was not the first Christian who recognized the religious importance of the Jewish return to their homeland, but he was the first that worked actively alongside the newly-formed Zionist movement. Born in 1845 to a devout Anglican family, he took up the cause of Zionism years before Herzl even began his work. As an Evangelical Christian, Hechler saw the return of Jews to their homeland as a biblical imperative.
Herzl’s Right Hand Man
Faithful to this commandment, he was looking for Jewish leaders who would get behind the return to Zion. When he read Herzl’s booklet on “The Jewish State,” Hechler went immediately and knocked on his door to meet this visionary and encourage him to pursue his dream.
In those days, Hechler served as chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, and he used his ties to the German royal family to open doors for Herzl across Europe. It started with a meeting with Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, to lay out his plan for Jewish resettlement in Eretz Israel. Hechler also accompanied Herzl on a journey to Palestine, and helped him meet the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. He also served as a special envoy on behalf of the British prime minister in connection with Herzl’s efforts.
Hechler took part in the early Zionist Congresses and even had special words of gratitude from Herzl for his work during the first Congress. Herzl even noted that Hechler and his biblical inspiration had a great impact on his efforts, giving him a sense that he was a modern-day Moses leading his people back to the Promised Land.
“Hechler was not only the first supporter of Herzl, but also consistent, constant and most tireless,” wrote the historian and scholar of Christian Zionism, Dr. Paul Merkley. The story of the close partnership between Herzl and Hechler is also told in the book “The Prince and the Prophet,” by Claude Duvernoy.
Hechler remained an ardent Zionist after Herzl’s death, and was in contact with Jewish and Christian leaders until his death. In the years before World War II, he called for Jews to leave Europe and warned of catastrophe. Unfortunately, no one heard him.
In January 1931 he passed away. The legacy left by Hechler has not disappeared. Zionist Christian organizations, led by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, as well as millions of Christians around the world, continue to walk in the path of William Hechler, a great friend of the Jewish people. Like him, the International Christian Embassy considers Israel’s restoration in her ancient homeland a matter of historic justice and of great importance for the whole world. Yet despite his great contributions to the establishment of the state of Israel, Hechler has received little recognition here. Now, 85 years after his death, it the time for Israel to repay the debt, and to commemorate the man who worked so enthusiastically on behalf of its establishment.
The writer is the Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem