Zionism may be summarily defined as the Jewish nationalist movement whose endeavors to solve the “Jewish problem” led to the establishment of the “Jewish state” of Israel.
The aims of Zionism were those of many nationalist liberation movements: to revive a national language (Hebrew or Yiddish) and culture; to repossess and develop the resources of the national territory; and to achieve sovereignty for a national state. But the nation to be liberated lived in exile from its ancestral home, with its members scattered all over the globe. Accordingly, Zionist objectives also included removing Jews from the countries of their dispersion and colonizing them in Zion, the ancient homeland.
Upon the successful execution of its program, Zionism anticipated that anti-Semitism, rooted according to Zionist theory in Jewish homelessness, would disappear. The Jews remaining in the Diaspora would be reduced to a number susceptible of assimilation (Herzl [1894-1904] 1955, pp. 241-242). Another theory held that a free Jewish community in Zion, not dominated by the milieu of the Gentile majority, would unfold the full potentialities of the Jewish historic individuality. It would produce a national cultural revival and advanced social institutions of universal significance, whose influence would enable Diaspora Jewries to sustain their collective existence even under modern conditions of equal citizenship and acculturation tending to dissolve their identity.
Thus, like other national liberation movements, Zionism developed a rationale that was Utopian, or even messianic, in tone. But its strategic situation also dictated a tactical approach of pragmatic reasonableness.
Palestine in the nineteenth century was neither controlled nor in any large measure occupied by Jews. Zionism could not hope to negotiate its aims unless it defined them in a way compatible with the interests of the suzerain power, Turkey, and other powers concerned with the Eastern Question. Hence, at the first Zionist Congress in Basle, 1897, Theodor Herzl, 1860-1904, obtained a resolution demanding not a “Jewish state” but an “oeffentlich-rechtlich gesicherte Heimstaette” a term subsequently translated in the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, by the vague expression “national home.”
The Zionist position in the Jewish community was equally weak. Unlike other nationalist liberation movements, which could appeal to massive and powerful popular resentments focused on a single, concrete foreign oppressor so that all ideological opposition was often swept out of the field, Zionism was only one of many rival Jewish ideologies (Halpern 1961, pp. 22-23). Moreover, it was divided by a wide diversity of internal factions. The objectives it could agree on had to be compromises, capable of uniting rival Zionist parties on a common denominator and attracting essential support from the non-Zionists in the Jewish community. Hence, the broad formulas of the 1897 program and of the statute of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, formed in 1929.
The idea that the Jewish position in the Gentile world presented a problem to be rationally solved, one of the basic Zionist principles, first became current in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. A Jewish movement to achieve this solution, beginning in western Europe in the late eighteenth century, produced campaigns for enlightenment and general humane culture among Jews; for their civic emancipation; and eventually for religious reform, discarding many traditional practices and beliefs. In Russia, the pogroms and repressive laws of the 1880s thoroughly disillusioned some Jewish intellectuals who until then had favored reforms similar to those advocated by their western European counterparts. They turned in revulsion and humiliation against the Western principle of accommodating to a general humanism and insisted that the Jews themselves, and not benevolent Gentiles, must actively and militantly solve their own problem—and solve it by returning to their own sources. These new “Lovers of Zion” (Hovevei-Zion) dedicated themselves not to the aim of emancipation but to the counterposed aim of “auto-emancipation,” a slogan provided by the title of an 1882 brochure written by Leo Pinsker, 1821-1891, a physician who in 1884 became the chosen leader of the movement.
In spite of ideological opposition, the Hovevei-Zion were compelled to cooperate with Western Jews. Since the 1840s the emancipated and enlightened Western Jewish community—including many who no longer believed in redemption in Zion —had introduced rational objectives and methods into the traditional support extended by the Diaspora to pious Jews in Palestine. At first, outstanding individuals like the British Sir Moses Montefiore, 1784-1885, and, since 1860, a major French-led organization, the Alliance Israèlite Universelle, had sought to obtain political and legal security for the Jewish settlement, to provide vocational training and secular culture, and to place Jews on farm-holdings, instead of maintaining a community in Palestine almost exclusively devoted to prayer, study, and penance (Sokolow 1919, vol. 1, pp. 115-120, 176-183). Dr. Pinsker, like Theodor Herzl after him, found it natural to appeal to such Jewish benefactors for support in their projected work in Palestine, even though it was conceived in a different spirit. The Hovevei-Zion, based on a poor membership and not permitted to work freely under Russian law, were rebuffed in their attempt to obtain political concessions from the Sublime Porte for colonization and checked in their spontaneous immigration to Palestine by legal and administrative obstacles swiftly set up against European Jews by the Turks. They were driven back on slow, more or less surreptitious methods of colonization and had to rely for political and financial support on Western philanthropists, notably Baron Edmond de Rothschild, 1845-1934. The consequence was the emergence of a faction in the movement, led by the writer Ahad Ha’am, 1856-1927, which severely criticized Rothschild paternalism and, above all, the settlers’ dependency in all those spheres—economic, cultural, communal— where the Zionist ideal had hoped to build a nucleus of national independence in Palestine.
The positive doctrine of this group centered on the desire of disillusioned eastern European intellectuals to recapture traditional attitudes and cultural motifs that Western modernists had abandoned. Against the Reform thesis that the Jewish dispersion was a divine mission, not a penance, they declared that the exile of the Jews was a fact. Against the liberal notion of civic emancipation as the Messianic redemption of the Jews, they reasserted the restoration to Zion as the solution of the Jewish problem. As a result the young Zionist intellectuals were welcomed back into the fold by many traditionalists—and the new Zionist movement was constituted as much by the latter as by the former.
The seeds of difference were inherent in this union. Traditionalist Jews who became Hovevei-Zion soon began to demand that the prodigal sons make their return complete by submitting fully to the yoke of tradition. The new Zionists, although penitents, rather like the Russian Slavophile radicals who were their contemporaries, were not ready to abandon modernistic and rational standards because of their rebellion against Western values. They saw their Jewish situation not as a divinely decreed election and a penance to be borne but as a social historical problem that urgently required a rational solution. They became lovers of Zion, of the Hebrew language, and of the tradition but wished to free all of these values from the dead hand of sacramentalism. In consequence, the Hovevei-Zion movement in Russia developed traditionalist and modernist factions. The former re-emerged, at a later date, as a distinct party called the Mizrachi in the World Zionist Organization created by Theodor Herzl. The modernist school worked toward the ends of a “cultural Zionism,” seeking a secular revival of the Hebrew language and culture and of an active national will and consensus. While cultural Zionism did not continue as an organized faction after the Hovevei-Zion were absorbed by the World Zionist Organization, it was a pervasive influence thereafter in the movement, especially in the “practical Zionist” faction.
Theodor Herzl entered the Zionist movement as a sharp critic of colonization in Palestine, as conducted by Baron de Rothschild and the Hovevei Zion together. He developed in his 1896 booklet Der Judenstaat, and in his conduct of the World Zionist Organization from 1897 to his death in 1904, the doctrine of “political Zionism.” As conceived by him, and his successors and supporters Max Nordau, 1849-1923, and David Wolffsohn, 1856-1914, and, in a later generation, the self-styled “Herzlian” Zionists led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1880-1940, the Zionist strategy must concentrate on achieving adequate political conditions for its nationalist aim before beginning other subsidiary activities, such as colonization. An opposing faction, generally called the “practical Zionists” and led after World War i by Chaim Weizmann, 1874-1952, insisted that other nationalist aims, such as the cultural revival and continuing resettlement in Palestine, must be pursued simultaneously with the Zionist diplomatic campaign. Indeed, achievement of the nationalist political goals, they felt, would be most effectively advanced by building up the Jewish settlement in Palestine and thus adding the rights of occupation to the rights of historic connection and present Diaspora needs to bolster the Zionist claim.
Until the death of Herzl in 1904, the views of political Zionism prevailed. Herzl also maintained an entente with the religious Zionists, restricting at the congress sessions discussion of projects to revive a secular Hebraic culture because of their objection. The failure of Herzl’s diplomatic campaign for a charter to resettle Zion frustrated the movement; and his one major success—the British proposals in 1903 to resettle Jews not in Palestine or its environs but in east Africa—split it. After the definitive rejection of this proposal, some Zionists, led by Israel Zangwill, 1864-1926, left the organization to form their own Jewish Territorialist Organization. Within the Zionist organization the practical Zionists grew increasingly strong, until they took over the leadership fully in 1911. The new policy that was initiated strengthened the tendency, already marked since 1908, to pursue the colonization of Palestine under existing political conditions, setting aside the quest for a charter (Boehm 1935-1937).
It also introduced new stress on the nationalist cultural revival. As a side effect, some religious Zionists left the congress and joined with earlier anti-Zionists in Orthodox Jewry to form a new ultra-Orthodox world organization, Agudat Israel. The Mizrachi who remained Zionists developed a set of minimum demands, requiring respect for tradition in general Zionist facilities and support for autonomous religious cultural activities by Mizrachi paralleling any general cultural activity. Granted this, they proposed to fight for acceptance of Jewish tradition in Orthodox interpretation as binding on all Zionists and, ultimately, as constitutional in the Jewish state.
At the outbreak of World War i, any uniform policy of an international organization divided between the warring nations became virtually impossible. Leading Zionists in the German headquarters of the organization and in England pursued Zionist diplomacy independently in a form consonant with the war aims of their respective countries. Major responsibility was vested in new Zionist leaders residing in neutral countries, notably Louis D. Brandeis, 1856-1941. Toward the end of the war the practical Zionist Chaim Weizmann, aided by Nahum Sokolow, 1859-1936, secured from Britain the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, and parallel statements from Britain’s allies (Stein 1961). This declaration of sympathy for Zionist aspirations, with its pledge to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, was embodied in the San Remo agreement of April 26, 1920, assigning Palestine as a mandate territory to Britain, and also in the mandate instrument approved by the Council of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922.
The Balfour Declaration and the mandate represented in form the charter which Herzl’s diplomacy had sought in vain, but in practice it did not make possible the orderly, relatively rapid mass transfer of Jews to Palestine that Herzl had envisaged. Consequently, Herzlian Zionists like Max Nordau and Vladimir Jabotinsky regarded the mandate instrument as inadequate for Zionist purposes and called for political action to obtain more precise commitments toward the ultimate creation of a Jewish state. Nordau demanded in 1920 the immediate transfer to Palestine of enough Jewish immigrants to form a Jewish majority.
A diametrically opposed view was pressed in 1920 by Justice Brandeis. He regarded the diplomatic phase of Zionist history as closed with the San Remo treaty. The world Zionist organization should resolve itself into a federation of philanthropic societies, each with autonomy in its own country, and a central executive agency devoted chiefly to practical colonization. The latter body should be made up not of political leaders but of technicians and administrators, not necessarily committed to the whole Zionist doctrine but ready to work under the conditions laid down in the mandate for developing the Jewish national home.
Chaim Weizmann, who succeeded in winning control of the movement, followed a line which, in the Zionist congress of 1907, he had defined as “synthetic” (Weizmann 1949, p. 157). He accepted the existing legal framework of the mandate and pursued practical work under its terms. However, far from allowing the political functions of the world Zionist organization to lapse, he developed and tightened them in the running battle with the mandatary over the precise meaning of the mandate instrument. The co-option of experts and enlistment of supporters from among non-Zionist Jews, suggested by Brandeis, was carried out by Weizmann through the Jewish Agency for Palestine, formed in 1929 in agreement with such men as Louis Marshall, 1856-1929, and Felix Warburg, 1871-1937. Weizmann’s immigration and colonization policy was one of gradualism not merely because Winston Churchill in a 1922 white paper had imposed upon Jewish labor immigration into Palestine the limit of “economic absorptive capacity” but also because such an approach was in accord with his own beliefs, as a disciple of the prudent Ahad Ha’am.
After an initial period of opposition, the labor Zionist factions became Weizmann’s reliable and consistent allies in this strategy and finally the dominant force in the coalition. They concentrated on what they regarded as the primary, critical task both of Zionist and Jewish socialist strategy: to create in Zion a Jewish farmer-worker class and thus eliminate the fundamental cause of the dependency of the Jewish people in the Diaspora—their lopsided, “unproductive” occupational distribution.
Although firmly united by a strong workers’ federation with unusually wide powers and functions, labor Zionist factions differed on numerous issues and were organized and acted independently. Most prominent politically were the three major federations of collective settlements or kibbutzim (“communes”), which had the greatest immediate influence on labor immigrants. They differed not only in their plans of village organization but also in their attitudes toward the second and third socialist internationals, the proper Zionist policies vis-a-vis the Arabs, and the definition of the ultimate Zionist aim.
The question of the final political status of Palestine became increasingly acute. Arab riots of increasing violence and magnitude broke out in 1920, 1921, and 1929, culminating in the outright revolt of 1936-1939. Owing also to mounting pressure from the emerging Rome-Berlin Axis, Britain sought to gain Arab support, or at least mitigate Arab hostility, by an increasingly anti-Zionist interpretation of its obligations as mandatary. A White Paper in 1939 proposed to freeze the Jewish community at the one-third proportion of the Palestine population which it had virtually reached; and in the following year land regulations banned or rigorously restricted Jewish land purchase in all but a tiny part of Palestine. At this time Nazi oppression had made the Jewish refugee problem unbearably acute and the omens of the deliberate extermination of European Jewry were becoming manifest.
The pressure to redefine Zionist policy became overwhelming. Some left wing and pacifist Zionists favored a binational Arab-Jewish state, with a provisional limit of 40 per cent of Jews in the population and additional immigration to be permitted by majority decision. Jabotinsky’s Revisionist group wanted a militant Zionist policy demanding a Jewish majority in the whole mandate territory, including Transjordan, which had been excluded from the Jewish national home area by Churchill’s 1922 White Paper. The Irgun Zvai Leumi and the “Stern group” arose as more or less autonomous Revisionist paramilitary formations, and the latter, even during the war against the Axis, demanded an immediate Jewish uprising against the British. Non-Zionists associated with the Jewish Agency proposed to restore the original criterion of economic absorptive capacity as the sole principle governing Jewish immigration. The dominant group among Zionists, headed by the labor leader David Ben-Gurion, opposed an outright Jewish revolt against the mandate itself, but it undertook active resistance to the restrictions on Jewish immigration. Opposing both binationalism and a demand for a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, as well as mere restoration of the status quo ante the 1939 White Paper, it was prepared to consider solving the Palestine problem by partition.
The world war was victoriously concluded and a Labour government came to power in Britain, but the 1939 White Paper policy was not rescinded. The limited resistance of the major Zionist paramilitary force, the Jewish Agency-controlled Haganah, escalated into a phase of attacks on government installations and, for a period, was combined in a joint assault with the two Revisionist-oriented bands. British repressive measures, directed both at the armed Zionist resistance and the refugee ships that sought to run the British blockade, raised violence to such a pitch that recourse to outside arbiters was essential. Beginning with an attempt to resolve the issue by joint action with the United States, through an Anglo-American Inquiry Committee in 1946, England was forced to refer the Palestine problem to the United Nations.
A United Nations Special Committee on Palestine turned in a majority proposal for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, with a UN-supervised economic union between them and with UN administration of an internationalized corpus separatum including Jerusalem and Bethlehem. With certain revisions this proposal was passed by the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. Accepted by the Jews of Palestine, it was rejected by the Arabs and immediately opposed with violence. The British refused to aid the implementation of the UN resolution in any way and made haste to leave the country. The fighting, restricted in the final months of the mandate to areas no longer garrisoned by British troops or essential to their departure, extended to the whole land after the British withdrawal on May 15, 1948, and, with the invasion by regular Arab armies from across four frontiers, turned into a full-scale war. UN action availed only to interrupt the hostilities with ill-observed truces, until the growing Jewish strength forced the Arab states to enter into armistice negotiations.
Thus the state of Israel, proclaimed on May 14, 1948, as the British departed and immediately recognized by the United States and the Soviet Union, maintained its integrity in war and secured its present boundaries under armistice agreements. In this way and to this degree were the political aspirations of Zionism realized.
The Zionist idea had ideological opponents in the Jewish community even before it crystallized in an organized movement and even after it culminated in the creation of Israel. But the anti-Zionist groups were always opposed to one another in many crucial attitudes where one or another such group found itself in agreement with the Zionists. This led to parallel efforts toward similar goals or to cooperation in a common task between Zionists and some of their ideological foes. Those anti-Zionists who shared in the major practical Zionist activities in Palestine identified themselves (at least for the duration of that effort) as “non-Zionists” (Halpern 1961, chapters 3-7).
Opposition to the idea of nationalism as a solution to the Jewish problem dominated Western Jewry for a century before Zionism arose. It was argued that only illiberal enemies of freedom and equality still believed that Jews were a nation or that Jews hoped to see a Davidic kingdom restored in Zion. On the other hand, long before Zionism, Western Jewish organizations had devoted themselves to what became characteristic Zionist concerns: aid to Jewish emigration from eastern Europe and other trouble spots, general and vocational education, and support of the growing Jewish community in Palestine. Cooperation in such projects began in the 1880s, after the rise of Zionism, with the non-Zionist sponsors holding the main responsibility and control; but the position was reversed after the mandate became effective. Alternating with long periods of cooperation were episodes of ideological conflict—in 1897, from 1914 to 1917, and intermittently from 1937 to 1947—when major political issues arose, evoking sharper definitions of Zionist demands and, in reaction, more elaborate defenses of anti-Zionist views by erstwhile non-Zionists, among others.
Only a minor group of privileged Jews, relatively detached from the main community, represented the type of Western anti-Zionist in eastern Europe. Traditionalist Jews, who dominated the communal consensus until late in the nineteenth century, continuously supported the settlement of some Jews in Palestine as a religious duty; but, long before Zionism, they considered sacrilegious and pseudomessianic any resettlement of Palestine in a deliberate plan to hasten the end of the Exile—let alone a rational secular design to solve the Jewish problem. In 1911 traditionalist anti-Zionism achieved a modern form of organization through the founding of Agudat Israel.
Socialist, radical anti-Zionism arose as a significant force in eastern Europe more or less simultaneously with Zionism. It condemned the plan to solve the Jewish problem by immigration to Palestine as desertion from the barricades where the battle to solve the whole social problem, and the Jewish problem as part of it, would be fought— eastern Europe. In 1897, the year the World Zionist Organization was founded, the Bund (General Jewish Workers’ Union in Poland and Lithuania) was established.
Both radical anti-Zionism and traditional eastern European anti-Zionism were thus primarily opposed to the very aspect of Zionism which made cooperation in western Europe possible: the Zionist practical endeavors in Palestine. On the other hand, they shared in general the Zionist view that Jews were not a mere denomination but an ethnic, cultural group in Europe. Accordingly, eastern European Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations worked on parallel lines to promote Jewish languages and culture, each in its favored mode, and occasionally joined in common struggle for the political prerequisites to all their aims (Vlavianos & Gross 1954).
In the years following World War i, opportunities open to Jewish migrants were sharply reduced by the American immigration acts, while nationalist and anti-Semitic pressures against the Jews reached unprecedented heights of ferocity. Pales tine became the pre-eminent refuge legally assigned and, until 1939, open with the least onerous restrictions for Jews. The extensive sympathy this won for the national home project from Jews of widely different ideologies was converted by the catastrophes of the war period into organized, institutional support of the community as a whole (Halperin 1961).
These circumstances made the major prewar anti-Zionist organizations moderate the substance and tone of their opposition. The Bund’s conception of Jews as a national cultural entity had focused primarily on Poland and Lithuania, and the destruction of the bulk of eastern European Jewry destroyed basic assumptions of their ideology. The Bund survives as a minor group devoted to Yiddish culture throughout world Jewry; and it accepts Israel, while criticizing some of its policies from an internationalist, socialist point of view. The main body of Agudat Israel gave up its opposition in principle to the creation of a Jewish state during World War II. Like Mizrachi, it now works within Israel’s political system, trying to bring it fully under traditional religious law.
Two small organizations, the ultra-Orthodox Natorei Karta (“wardens of the city”) of Jerusalem and the American Council for Judaism, Inc., became prominent during and since World War II because of their militant, irreconcilable anti-Zionism. The Natorei Karta, while living in Israel, refuse on religious grounds to recognize the authority of the state. The American Council for Judaism, Inc., alleges that Israel in conjunction with the World Zionist Organization seeks, by constituting a form of political allegiance for all Jews, to confuse the sharp line of distinction which, they argue, separates Jewish religious adherence from any ethnic bond. Both organizations stand outside the Jewish consensus and in defiance of it. Within the consensus, the Zionist achievement of a Jewish state has blurred the differences between ideological Zionism and non-Zionism, since the organized Jewish community as a whole, without reference to these labels, extends moral and material support to Israel.
Israel is not only the specific realization of Zionist political aims, but its culture, economy, and social structure bear clear traces of their origins in the ideologies of Zionist factions. The revival of the Hebrew language, the most generally supported aim of Zionism, owes a particular debt to the school of cultural Zionists. Israel’s labor settlements, its producers’ cooperatives, and its broad and powerful labor federation are an outgrowth of labor Zionism. The Mizrachi movement has a dominant influence over the religious courts and chief rabbinate, which act in the tradition of religious Zionism.
The creation of the Jewish state, a triumph of the policy of the World Zionist Organization, relieved the organization of some of its major functions, but Zionist aims are such that the creation of a state does not completely fulfill them. If all Jews who cannot or would not live in Diaspora countries are to be brought to Zion—as Zionist doctrine requires—the state itself must be a means to this end. This Zionist task is shared by Diaspora Jews through their contributions to the Jewish Agency and membership in the World Zionist Organization, organizations that still play a major role in immigrant resettlement and land reclamation in Israel.
Another continuing responsibility is based on the Zionist prediction that the Jewish problem would be solved through the return to Zion. The Zionist movement feels a particular responsibility to stimulate or sponsor educational activities by which Diaspora Jewish communities can share the values created by the revived Hebrew culture in Israel. Thus, Jewish nationalism remains, in a restricted sphere of activities, a continuing organized force in the Diaspora after the rise of the state of Israel.
Boehm, Adolf 1935-1937 Die Zionistische Bewegung. 2 vols. Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag.
Brandeis, Louis D. 1942 Brandeis on Zionism: A Collection of Addresses and Statements. Washington: Zionist Organization of America.
Cohen, Israel (1945) 1946 The Zionist Movement. Edited and revised, with a supplementary chapter on “Zionism in the United States,” by Bernard G. Richards. New York: Zionist Organization of America.
Esco Foundation FOR PALESTINE, Inc. 1947 Palestine: A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies. 2 vols. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Halperin, Samuel 1961 The Political World of American Zionism. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press.
Halpern, Ben 1961 The Idea of the Jewish State. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
Hertzberg, Arthur (editor) (1959) 1964 The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Cleveland: World.
Herzl, Theodor (1894-1904) 1955 Theodor Herzl: A Portrait for This Age. Edited with an introduction by Ludwig Lewisohn and a preface by David Ben-Gurion. Cleveland: World. → A selection of Herzl’s writings.
Herzl, Theodor (1895-1904) 1960 The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl. 5 vols. New York: Herzl Press. → First published in German. The English edition con tains material left out of the original German collection.
Nordau, Max 1941 Max Nordau to His People. New York: Scopus.
Pinsker, Leo S. (1882-1886) 1944 Road to Freedom: Writings and Addresses. With an introduction by B. Netanyahu. New York: Scopus. → First published in German.
Sokolow, Nahom 1919 History of Zionism: 1600-1918. 2 vols. London: Longmans.
Stein, Leonard J. 1961 The Balfour Declaration. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Vlavianos, Basil J.; and Gross, Feliks (editors) 1954 Struggle for Tomorrow: Modern Political Ideologies of the Jewish People. New York: Arts.
Weizmann, Chaim 1949 Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann. New York: Harper.
"Zionism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/zionism-0
"Zionism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/zionism-0
The historians of nationalism have reached a consensus that modern nationalism began as a secular movement, but almost all its varieties were affected by an undertow of older religious sentiments and loyalties. In many of the nationalisms (for example, in the battles between Greeks and Turks in the second decade of the nineteenth century or in the quarrel between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) the religious dimension of the quarreling nationalisms was clear and avowed. In the case of Zionism the reverse seemed to be true. When modern Zionism appeared in the nineteenth century, it defined itself in secular terms. It did not come into the world to bring about the age of the messiah that had been foretold in many of the classic texts of the Jewish religion. Zionism offered to answer two major problems that faced contemporary Jews. They were victims of large-scale persecution, most overtly in Eastern Europe, and the Jewish intelligentsia were being all too attracted to the promise of equality in society—which was apparently only being offered to those who were willing to abandon their separateness and assimilate into the non-Jewish majority. The modern Zionist movement suggested that a Jewish national home would help solve the problems of persecution and assimilation (the Zionists really meant that they wanted a state of their own). Jews would have a homeland that would always gladly receive them, and Jews who were conflicted about their identity would be able to deal with this question in the safe and nurturing environment of a Jewish community in which they were an autonomous majority.
The question of religion did, inevitably, arise at the very beginning of modern Zionism. In the 1830s two rabbis from Central Europe, Yehudah Hai Alkalai and Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, each proposed that with nationalism burgeoning all around them—the Greeks had just won their revolt against the Turks, and other European nationalities were arising to fight for their independence—it was time for the Jews, who could trace their national existence back to biblical times, to assert their own unique identity. Surely, so Alkalai and Kalischer argued, as the oldest of all nationalities, the Jews had the right and even the duty to lead the contemporary parade of nations who were asserting their rebirths. But Alkalai and Kalischer, both of whom were not only rabbis learned in the Talmud but scholars of the Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mystical teaching), were very careful to deny that they were announcing the beginning of a messianic movement. They held fast to the inherited doctrine that the messiah could come not as the result of human action, but as a free gift from God. The nationalism that Alkalai and Kalischer were suggesting might have some connection to messianic hopes: kabbalistic teaching had allowed that "stirrings down below" might act to remind heaven of the longing of the Jewish people for the messiah, but no political program could be built on this hope. In the nineteenth century peoples were defining themselves by their history and group identity; the Jews should therefore cease to think of themselves as a persecuted minority and begin to assert themselves as a people among the peoples of the earth.
Thus, it is inaccurate to label even the "religious Zionists" as the ancestors of contemporary Zionist messianism. This element in present-day Zionism descends from two sources; the first is the confusion that existed in the minds and hearts of some of the most seemingly secular of the Zionist leaders and thinkers. For example, Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952), the long-time leader of the World Zionist Organization and the first president of Israel, made no secret of the total secularity of his way of life. Nonetheless, at every crucial moment in the debate over the rights of Zionists to a Jewish national home and, ultimately, to a state in the Holy Land, Weizmann invoked sacred Scripture. He kept saying that "the Bible is our charter." The Zionist contemporary who was second only to Weizmann, David Ben Gurion (1886–1973), the first prime minister of Israel and the man who led the country to win its independence, was an even more avowed secularist than Weizmann. After years of studying his work, the author of this entry reached the conclusion that he was best defined by a paradox: there is no God, but he chose the Jewish people and gave them the land of Israel. So, at the time of Israel's astounding victory in June 1967, when it conquered the large territories all the way to the Jordan River and the Suez Canal, the pervasive mood in Israel and among the Jewish people as a whole was that a miracle had happened. Never mind whether it was God or the inherent "spirit of the Jewish people" that had performed the miracle. Most Jews were sure that they were living in a version of messianic times; they were free to carve out their own destiny, at least in much of the land that was now under their control.
The second source of the new messianism was in a change in the theology of the Orthodox Zionists. In the first years of the twentieth century a young and universally respected rabbinic scholar and Kabbalist, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935), arrived in Jaffa to assume the post of chief rabbi of its growing Jewish community. Kook insisted that the Jews were indeed living in messianic times. He asserted that the new Zionist movement, despite its pronounced bias against religion, was despite itself an instrument of God's hands. Modern Zionism was reviving the sacred language, Hebrew. Kook insisted that the religious character of the tongue of the Bible was so deeply ingrained that the revival of Hebrew would inevitably act to bring contemporary Zionists closer to their roots. The secular Zionists, so Kook continued, might think that they were engaged in regaining the soil of the Holy Land for a contemporary Jewish state, but this soil was inherently holy; the labor to regain it and to dwell in it would soon transform the self-avowed secular people who were devoting their lives to this task. When World War I broke out in 1914, Rabbi Kook interpreted this enormous bloodletting as the war of Gog and Magog, the ultimate destructive war that had been foretold as the last preamble to the messianic age. The gentile world was destroying itself, and the moral credit of its achievements was now worthless. So it went after each major turning point in the course of the Zionist revival. Kook saw every event as part of the immediate drama of messianism.
Kook was clearly a holy man, but his teaching contained a unexploded bomb. If the Jewish people were living in the immediate preamble to the messianic age, as he maintained, then what was to be done with the disappointments and the blockages that would occur on the path to redemption? Kook died in 1935, so these questions were left to a lesser figure, his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891–1981), to contemplate. He ultimately succeeded his father as the head of the Mercaz Harav ("the rabbi's center"), the Yeshiva, the School of Tamudic Learning and Theological Thought, which the father had established. This school taught its students not only the conventional studies in Talmudic literature that were the staples of the other yeshivot. At this unique school the students were taught to enter the army and to prepare themselves to be elite combat troops. These young people were imbued by Zvi Yehudah Kook with an activist faith that it was their privilege and duty to help bring the messiah soon, in their own day—and Zvi Yehudah Kook never gave up the dream that all of the land that the Jews had possessed in biblical times, including especially the West Bank, would and must be returned to the Jewish people. The enormous and heady victories of the Six-Day War in 1967 were hailed in this religious circle as proof of their ideology. Yes, the messianic miracle had occurred, and the whole of the land of biblical Israel must now be possessed and never returned. Jewish settlement on the West Bank was a religious commandment, and those who opposed such settlements or hindered them or threatened to make them impossible were never to be forgiven. The most extreme thinking among this element was expressed by some younger people, especially among the rabbis who ministered to the new communities in the West Bank. Several of them were accused of encouraging Yigal Amir, the assassin who murdered Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Rabin's "sin" was that he had signed the agreement that Israel and the Palestinians had made secretly in Oslo in 1992. On behalf of Israel, Rabin had agreed to allow the Palestinians ultimately to establish a state of their own on the West Bank. He was therefore regarded by the hard-line believers in the "undivided land of Israel" as leaning toward religious and national treason.
At the start of the twenty-first century the shock of this murder had not abated because the activist minority—probably 20 percent of Israel's population—made no secret that it would engage in civil, and some even in armed, disobedience against any Israeli government that intends to allow the Palestinians a state of their own on most, or almost all, of the West Bank. This embitterment had the most profound effect on the question of the very nature of the Zionist enterprise. When modern Zionism was created, there was an existing consensus among all its factions that the highest authority within the Zionist movement would be the civil government of the national home that was being established. To be sure, from the very beginning a certain amount of respect was extended to the religious elements within the Jewish community. There was no question that the kitchens of the Israeli army would be kosher everywhere and that the Orthodox rabbinate would be given the ultimate authority on such matters as marriage and divorce among Jews. Through the years some elements in Israel have chafed under these controls, but the majority have made peace with the amount of religious coloration that exists in Israel's public life, but these issues were essentially peripheral. They did not involve religious judgments on the foreign policy of Israel or the questions of relations with the Arab world. In the aftermath of the Six-Day War of June 1967, the newly awakened messianic believers reframed their Zionist aims as politically maximalist. The new messianists proposed to enact their program in the name of God's will.
More recently, in the first years of the twenty-first century, modern Zionism is under attack from two other perspectives. The ultraright Zionists are ever more forthright in insisting that if the messiah does not come soon, they will at least solve the problem of keeping a Jewish state Jewish even as it controls a population that, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, is already half Arab, either by denying the Arabs full political rights or by creating the conditions for the large-scale "transfer" of Arabs from the land of Israel. Such thinking used to be anathema to the Israeli mainstream, but it has become more thinkable as the armed conflict between Jews and Palestinians has become ever more embittered. By the end of 2003, there were well over two thousand dead among the Palestinians, but there had been nearly a thousand casualties among the Israelis since the outbreak of the "second intifada" in 2000. These deaths occurred in guerrilla warfare, including suicide bombings by the Palestinians, and in reprisals by the Israelis. In the current struggle, Israel's moderates have diminished after each suicide bombing, and no new moderates have appeared among the Palestinians. It seems ever less likely that Israelis and Palestinians will find a way to put their hurts behind them and make peace across the table. They will need strong leadership and pressure from the United States and from some of the rest of the international community.
By April 2004 Sharon made the first step toward accepting a notion that no one had ever expected he would accept: the demographic balance in "the undivided land of Israel" was shifting toward an Arab majority. He, therefore, proposed that the Israelis begin by evacuating all 7500 settlers from the Gaza Strip and leaving that to Arab rule. Despite opposition from his own Likud party, Sharon insisted ever more openly that demography commands Israel to cease ruling an unwilling and hostile Arab majority. Sharon's policies make an Arab state living beside Israel an inevitabilty, but one that will take much military and political turmoil to work.
On the side of the Palestinians and their sympathizers, especially in the Arab world, there is equally strong awareness that demographic trends are producing an Arab majority in the supposedly "undivided land of Israel." The basic Arab policy seems to have moved in the direction of waiting out the next few years and then demanding that only one state should exist in this land but that this state should be ruled by the principle of "one man, one vote." This notion is often dressed up as the realization of the great democratic dream, a binational state of Jews and Arabs, in which Jews can be assured that a growing Arab majority will not treat them harshly. Most of those who argue this view, however, do not manage to hide their indifference, or even glee, at the thought that the Zionist venture would then be over. The Jewish state would be gone; it would be replaced by a state with an Arab majority. All the claims that the Jews have made concerning their need and their right for a state of their own in which they could make their own destiny by their own rights would end in failure. These Jewish notions seemed plausible—so the argument goes—only late in the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth when nationalism and even colonialism still had some credit in the world.
But modern Zionism will not die so easily and certainly not in the pages of left-wing journals in the Western world or in the pronouncements by Islamic nationalists in their own media in the Arab world. The Jews who founded Zionism and their followers who began to come to Palestine more than a century ago to establish the modern Zionist presence did not suffer and die so that, as Chaim Weizmann once said, they might become "Hebrew nationals in a Palestinian State." Zionists will not allow the state of Israel to pack up and leave but are determined to stay put despite the bitter quarrels. Devotion to Israel's survival as a Jewish state does, and will, force it to fight. By the same token, the Palestinians are not going to leave. The Arab states in the Middle East have no desire to absorb any substantial number of Palestinian Arabs, and the world as a whole, especially the West, is not overly hospitable to those who would enter it as part of a new mass migration.
These considerations already existed many decades ago when it became clear that Jews and Palestinian Arabs were, despite themselves, having to find ways of living in some tolerable peace. The reigning suggestion was defined in 1937 by the Peel Commission, the highest-level investigation into the conflict in the Holy Land that the British authorities ever empowered. This body knew very well that there was no happy answer to the conflict between Jews and Arabs, but they ruled that the least obnoxious and most likely mode of making some tolerable peace would be the partition of the land between Jews and Arabs. Ten years later in 1947, the nascent United Nations reiterated the conclusions of the Peel Commission and voted to divide the land between a Jewish and an Arab state. On neither of these two occasions was the recommended solution enacted peacefully because the bulk of the Palestinians and their Arab confederates refused to recognize the legitimacy of giving the Jews even one ell of the land of Palestine for a state of their own.
The most interesting new development lies not in Palestinian and Arab opinion, but in a substantial shift among many political liberals who had traditionally supported the Zionist vision and program. This change in opinion began in some circles in 1967 when parts of the liberal intelligentsia shifted allegiance during and after the Six-Day War. They found reason to be annoyed with the Jews for concentrating on so parochial a purpose as the survival of the Jewish state and not on such wider concerns as America's misdeeds in the Vietnam War and, more immediately, on the pains and needs of the Palestinians. By 1967 the memory of the Holocaust, the murder of six million defenseless Jews in Europe, had begun to fade, and the Jewish people as a whole were becoming for many in the liberal left an annoying reminder of past deaths and past guilts. Israel was now a going concern—an increasingly powerful one—and thus the Palestinians became the new "victims" of choice. The undertow of this change in political faction was an increasing impatience with the unique demands that the Zionist state was making for special consideration for the Jewish people.
Why, indeed, should the Jews need a state of their own? The main charge that the Arab states have kept raising against the state of Israel is that it is a "rabbinic theocracy" but no one has challenged almost all of the Arab states to not conduct themselves as "Muslim theocracies" with scant concern for the right of minorities. On the contrary, left-liberal doctrine insisted that Jewish nationalism should disappear even as most other nationalisms in the world have an unquestioned right to continue. The most interesting part of this phenomenon is that some of its theories are being advanced by Jews. The older assimilationist doctrines, which stated that the Jews should meld into the majority among whom they lived, are being applied even to the Zionist community in the Middle East: it should accept and gladly welcome absorption among the many million of Arabs in the region.
In the early twenty-first century it is being argued by various spokesmen of the liberal left—many Arabs and some Jews—that the Zionist state should be dismantled. Let one state be established in which the inevitable Arab majority could supposedly be trusted to treat the Jewish minority fairly according to democratic principles. Anyone who knows the history of the region and has any reasonable assessment of the present tensions knows that this vision is a pipe dream. It is advanced by people who might wring their hands when a supposed democracy of Jews and Arabs in one state does not live up to its promises, but then these thinkers will have lost interest in the problem. Of all the visions that are being held out to the warring Israelis and Palestinians, the one-state solution is by far the least likely because neither side to the conflict can trust the other to rein in its maximalists.
The most sober assessment has to be that the problems will continue and that the conflict will not be easily resolved, but modern Zionism and its creation, the state of Israel, are here to stay. Its future is not guaranteed by the coming of the messiah soon, but Israel is not ultimately threatened even by the intifada and the suicide bombers. It exists and will continue to exist by the will of its own people. Jews will not surrender their claim to a home of their own to which those who need to come may come freely, nor their claim to a national center of their own in which Jewish energies may continue to define what the long past of this people means in the present and what it can be understood to mean in the future.
See also Judaism ; Miracles ; Nation ; Nationalism .
Antonius, George. The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement. New York: Capricorn, 1965.
Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1994.
Elon, Amos. The Israelis: Founders and Sons. New York: Penguin, 1983.
Ezrahi, Yaron. Rubber Bullets: Power and Conscience in Modern Israel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.
Hertzberg, Arthur. The Fate of Zionism: A Secular Future for Israel and Palestine. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
——. The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. New York: Atheneum, 1972
Khalidi, Walid, ed. From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987.
Laqueur, Walter, and Barry M. Rubin, eds. The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict. 5th ed. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Lustick, Ian. Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel's Control of a National Minority. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Ravitzky, Aviezer. Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Radicalism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Said, Edward. The Question of Palestine. New York: Vintage, 1992.
Shipler, David. Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land. New York: Times Books, 1986.
Shlaim, Avi. Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
"Zionism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism-0
"Zionism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism-0
Movement for the establishment of an independent state in Palestine for the Jewish people.
Zionism may be seen as a national liberation movement for a Jewish homeland based on a nineteenth-century European political model. It defined Jews as a nation whose collective future depended upon the establishment of a national territorial entity in Eretz Yisrael (in Hebrew, "the land of Israel"), from which most Jews had been dispersed by the Roman Empire at the beginning of the second century c.e. The movement's name was coined by the Viennese Jewish writer Nathan Birnbaum in 1885 and derives from Zion, one of the biblical names for Jerusalem, the focus of worldwide Judaism.
Zionists believed that antisemitism was endemic to the diaspora; thus, the achievement of national and civil rights in host nations, while desirable, was insufficient to secure economic and cultural interests for Jews in the long run. Few Zionists believed that the diaspora would be swept away (as was attempted a century later by Hitler's Nazi Germany), but a Jewish homeland—which would serve as a cultural and political model and as a magnet for its finest sons and daughters—could help to secure a future for Jews.
Foundations of Zionism
Through the centuries of exile, ritual, prayer, and the study of sacred texts preserved for Jews the knowledge that Judaism had developed in Eretz Yisrael and Zion. In nineteenth-century Europe during the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), revival of the Hebrew language as a nonreligious, literary medium transmitted secular works and secularized versions of sacred histories to assimilated generations losing faith in religion and religious authority. If Zionism were to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, it could do so only by going through the modern European Jewish experience, not by denying it. Zionists were Jews who believed that only in Zion could Jewish culture and the Jewish people be re-established and secure. At that time, however, Zion was located in Palestine, within the Ottoman Empire, and was populated by Arabs under Ottoman jurisdiction.
A "proto-Zionism" had existed in fact before it was fully defined or before the word itself was coined. As a way of helping the indigent and scholarly Jewish populations in Ottoman Palestine, Western European philanthropists such as Edmond de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore proffered aid to projects that later would come to be associated with the Zionist movement—the purchase of land for settlements, farms, and businesses from Ottoman officials and Arab landlords; the building of schools for vocational training; and the opening of medical facilities.
Jewish emigration to Eretz Yisrael also antedated the emergence of a Zionist movement. Jewish religious leaders had always endorsed the idea of living in the Holy Land as a means of discharging religious duties, and had actively promoted the expansion of Jewish communities in Safed, Tiberias, Hebron, and Jerusalem, creating financial mechanisms to meet the immigrants' material needs.
The wave of pogroms that followed the assassination of Russia's Czar Alexander II in 1881 turned an attachment for Zion into an ideology embraced by some of Russia's secular Jewish leaders and intellectuals. Newly promulgated regressive legislation and the resuscitation of antisemitic rhetoric dashed the hopes of those who had believed Russia's polity would evolve into a democracy, with basic rights granted to its population and the ideals of tolerance espoused. Although emigration to the United States and Britain was a popular way of escaping the immediate disabilities imposed by Russian policies, some educated Jews saw that moving to another land would neither end antisemitism nor secure a Jewish future. They argued that only a purposeful immigration with the goal of establishing a Jewish majority in a territory would achieve international respectability for Jewry and help protect Jews everywhere against discrimination. For those who called on Jews to liberate themselves, the Zionist idea supplanted the ideal of assimilation. Zionism was presented as resolving the Jewish problem by normalizing the conditions of Jewish existence.
Development of Zionist Organizations
Although many rabbinical authorities opposed Zionism for its secular and humanistic principles, many rabbis—most notably Samuel Mohilever and Isaac Jacob Reines—welcomed Zionism; they affiliated with Hibbat Zion, the first international Zionist organization to be founded, partly because they reasoned that in Eretz Yisrael a social and cultural environment could be created that was conducive to religious observance.
The Orthodox rabbinate did not, however, establish an entirely harmonious relationship with the secular leadership in Hibbat Zion. Many Orthodox
rabbis could not abide the dynamics of a political struggle that effected compromises between the demands of Zionism's secular and religious constituencies. Nor were the Orthodox entirely comfortable in an organization that did not acknowledge the primacy of religious law and rabbinic authority. The first nonsecular Zionist group, the Mizrahi, opened its office in 1893, but most rabbis, though comfortable with the nationalist claims of Zionism, were unwilling to accede to Zionist demands to share power and resources in local Jewish communities. As a consequence of the frustrating handicaps under which Hibbat Zion labored in the 1880s and 1890s, Zionism was at an impasse when Theodor Herzl undertook to lead the struggle for a Jewish state.
Unaware of developments in Eastern Europe, Herzl, a Viennese journalist, championed the idea of Jewish nationhood in response to the outbreak of antisemitism in France during the fraudulent espionage trial of Alfred Dreyfus (1894–1895). In 1896 Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), a book that set forth the argument that both the world and the Jews needed a Jewish state. In 1897 Herzl succeeded in drawing together representatives from the local and regional Hibbat Zion organizations in eastern Europe and Jews from western Europe, establishing and becoming president of a new Zionist framework, the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Authorized by the WZO to secure international recognition for Zionist political goals, Herzl pursued in the capitals of Europe and in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, official sanction for Jewish colonization in Palestine, but his efforts, albeit feverish and intense, were unsuccessful. The Ottoman sultan Abdülhamit II was not persuaded that a larger Jewish population in Palestine was consistent with his imperial political objectives or that such a population would promote economic development.%
Herzl's leadership did broaden the popularity of Zionism in western and eastern Europe and enlarge its Orthodox membership. Herzl focused the activities of the WZO on diplomacy and finances. This approach mobilized the support of a number of Orthodox rabbis concerned with easing the economic hardships in Palestine for eastern European immigrants and hopefuls, as well as with the creation of a hospitable political climate there. By permitting groups to shift the mode of their representation from regional affiliation to ideological, the WZO was also used advantageously by the Orthodox to influence the direction of policies and, for a number of years, to exclude Jewish culture from the scope of Zionist activities.
Zionism's preoccupation with political solutions and stratagems triggered opposition. Against the political orientation associated with the leadership of Hibbat Zion, the writer Ahad Ha-Am argued that the purpose of Zionism ought to be to revive a modern Jewish culture through the medium of the Hebrew language and a renewed interpretation of classic religious texts; a new Jewish state could only be founded with new artifacts of Jewish culture. Cultural Zionist Ahad Ha-Am's insights on the problems besetting the Jewish people and the Zionist movement helped to inspire a group opposing Herzl's leadership and political Zionism—the Democratic Faction. This group, led by the scientist Chaim Weizmann, did not repudiate political methods or consider them insignificant; rather, they insisted that just as legal titles (to land) could facilitate resettlement, so could settlement lead to concrete political gains. Insisting that the structure of the WZO must be reformed to increase popular participation and broaden its agenda, the Democratic Faction defined its own priorities as the investigation of the physical, political, and social conditions of Palestine for purposes of increasing Jewish immigration.
Creating a Jewish community in Palestine was not simply the solution to continuing antisemitism but also the opportunity to establish a whole and vigorous modern Jewish life. In the early years of the twentieth century, efforts to create a youth movement and to popularize Zionism among the young led several Zionist leaders to synthesize socialism with Zionism. No longer would Jews have to choose between socialism (popular in Russia and in the Pale of Settlement) and Zionism. Some Socialist-Zionists promoted a non-Marxist socialism, emphasizing social welfare and justice; others insisted that even the Marxist version of socialism could be combined with Zionism. Branches of the first Labor Zionist party, Poʿalei Zion, founded in 1906, opened in many towns and cities of eastern Europe, attracting many educated Jewish teenagers. Ha-Halutz, the young pioneer farm movement, was nonpartisan and attracted many capable Austro-Hungarian Jewish youth, especially when it was funded by the WZO after World War I.
Before the conclusion of World War I, Zionists were unable to engage openly in mass mobilization in many countries. In the United States and western Europe, where organizations could operate freely, Zionism did not hold the imagination of most immigrants, who were struggling to work their way out of grinding poverty. In Russia, where the majority of Jews presumably felt sympathy with Zionist aims, Zionist activities were hobbled by the Russian Revolution, Soviet dictatorship, and persecution.
Establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine
With the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the Sèvres Treaty of 1920, Britain became formally committed to the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home. This gave Zionism its first major political victory. World War I had changed the map of Eastern Europe as well as that of the Middle East, thereby providing Zionists an opportunity to engage in grassroots political organization among previously isolated Jewish communities. Youth groups expanded, and camps were created to offer vocational and Hebrew-language training to prepare Jews for life and work in Palestine.
Throughout its history, the Zionist movement has had to make crucial choices among several options: Eretz Yisrael (Palestine) versus another territory, such as Uganda, Canada, Australia; a national home versus a cultural center for world Jewry; a Jewish nation-state versus a binational state in which Jews and Arabs might share political power; neutrality during World War I versus pro-British cooperation; high political profile versus quiet political lobbying; and uniformity versus diversity in political goals. Each decision was made after great debate during and outside of Zionist congresses, often triggering enmity, hard feelings, and the creation of new splinters and factions. One of the most serious splits occurred when Vladimir (Zeʾev) Jabotinsky left the WZO to create his own Revisionist Zionist movement.
With increasing knowledge of the extent of the Holocaust during World War II, the Zionist movement chose Jewish survival over acquiescence in British restrictions on immigration, which resulted in an anti-British militancy aimed at gaining free entry for Jewish refugees into Palestine from 1944 until 1948. With the establishment of the State of Israel in May 1948, the fulfilment of one of Zionism's goals was endorsed by international consensus—majority support at the United Nations, official recognition by many of the world's nations, and acceptance by most Jews (religious Jews excepted). The Arab and Muslim world remained outside this consensus. Post-1948 Zionism evolved into a movement dedicated to immigration (aliyah) for as many Jews as possible, land purchase for continued settlement, and political and economic support for Israel through institutionalized activity. Despite the recent "post-Zionist" intellectual trend that urges a redefinition of Israel as an inclusive state for all its citizens and detaches it from its special diaspora Jewish connections, many Jews continue to consider themselves Zionists in affirming this connection and the importance of Israel in sustaining their Jewish identity.
see also abdülhamit ii; ahad ha-am; aliyah; antisemitism; diaspora; dreyfus affair; eretz yisrael; ha-halutz; haskalah; herzl, theodor; hibbat zion; holy land; jabotinsky, vladimir zeʾev; jerusalem; labor zionism; mizrahi movement; mohilever, samuel; montefiore, moses; pogrom; rothschild, edmond de; weizmann, chaim; world zionist organization (wzo); zionist commission for palestine; zionist organization of america; zionist revisionist movement.
Avineri, Shlomo. The Making of Modern Zionism: Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State. New York: Basic Books, 1981.
Dowty, Alan. The Jewish State: A Century Later. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Halpern, Ben. The Idea of the Jewish state. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969.
Hertzberg, Arthur. The Fate of Zionism: A Secular Future for Israel and Palestine. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
Hertzberg, Arthur, ed. The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1997.
Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism: From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 2003.
Rubinstein, Amnon. From Herzl to Rabin: The Changing Image of Zionism. New York: Holmes and Meier, 2000.
Sternhell, Zeev. The Founding Myths of Israel: Nationalism, Socialism, and the Making of the Jewish State, translated by David Maisel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.
Vital, David. Zionism: The Crucial Phase. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1987; New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
donna robinson divine
updated by neil caplan
"Zionism." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism
"Zionism." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism
Zionism is the modern movement whose goal is the restoration of the Jewish people to the region on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean commonly known (at least until the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948) as Palestine or Zion. Not all of its adherents have been Jews. It draws, however, on ancient motifs sustained in Jewish collective memory, religion, and culture (and to some extent in the Christian West more generally), relating the telos of world-historical redemption and the coming of the Messiah to the restoration of the Jews to their ancient homeland and the building of the third, and eternal, holy Temple in Jerusalem. Since its inception in the nineteenth century, Zionism has been an ideologically multifaceted and internally contentious movement, and its fortunes have changed in complex relation with European anti-Semitism and with colonialism beyond Europe’s borders.
It is certainly difficult, and may be impossible, to present a summary account of Zionism, along with its bases of support and the sources of opposition to it, that is genuinely objective—not only because the movement continues to inspire intense passions, both positive and negative, but because its premises rest on accounts of history, geography, and nationality that are themselves fundamentally contested. Thus, Palestine refers to an ancient Roman province, to a British protectorate in the period of late European colonialism, and to the place claimed as a homeland by those residents of the region who have come to understand themselves as forming part of a non-Jewish, Palestinian nation. Speaking of the land as Zion reinforces the centrality of the region to Christian as well as Jewish sacred history and eschatological expectations. Even the notion that the Jewish people the world over constitute a single nation, central to Zionism and accepted as well by some competing Jewish movements prior to World War II (1939–1945), has not been universally accepted by Jews in the modern period.
Zionism draws on a rich and powerful repository of memorial resources preserved through Jewish generations, which profoundly inform ritual and expressions of religious yearning. Memorial literature that has been continuously studied since the destruction of the First and then the Second Temples in Jerusalem mourns their loss, enjoins their memory, and promises their restoration. The model of return from exile, as noble adventure and divinely sanctioned, is prefigured in the chronicles of the return from Babylonian exile led by Ezra and Nehemiah. Portions of the Babylonian Talmud detailing the correct procedures for fulfillment of commandments and strictures that relate only to times when the Jews live in Israel and the Temple stands continued to be studied, both in commemoration of the past and in anticipation of a redeemed future.
Nearly all this commemoration took place not only in the absence of Jewish sovereignty, but outside the land. At least since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 ce, and continuing throughout the Christian era until the twentieth century, Jewish communities have been found overwhelmingly outside the imagined national homeland. This condition is itself subject to differing designations with various ideological implications. The Hebrew and Yiddish terms galut or goles, commonly translated as exile, stress the element of loss inherent in location outside the homeland. On the other hand, the scattered Jewish communities are also commonly described as being in diaspora, an ancient term originally applied to colonies of Greek settlers throughout the Mediterranean. A thriving Jewish diaspora existed prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, and some recent scholarship has stressed the sustainability and creativity of Jewish and other diasporas.
Along with the memory of the land, its reality was preserved throughout the Middle Ages by the reports of occasional pilgrims, including famous Jewish artists and thinkers, such as the twelfth-century philosopher-poet Judah HaLevi. Extremely pious Jews sought to die, or at least to be buried, in the soil of Zion. Small settlements of religious mystics were established in Jerusalem and the Galilee during the early modern period. During the late seventeenth century, the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676), raised hopes of immediate restoration of the Jews to Zion; Jews across the Western world sold their worldly goods and prepared for the journey that never came.
The modern movement of Zionism, understood in large part as a mobilization to “actualize” these ancient hopes and dreams, is inseparable from key aspects of modern European history, including the dissolution of the ancien régime; the rise of secularism and religious pluralism; and the effort to create one-to-one alignments between ethnic collective identities and territorially defined nation-states. As part of the first aspect, Jewish communities were simultaneously freed of historic restrictions on movement, settlement, and employment, and deprived of their historic self-governing character. As part of the second, the haskalah, or “Jewish Enlightenment,” sparked a profound internal critique and resistance to traditional modes of communal authority, based as it was on patriarchy, family, and class prestige, and mastery of religious law and lore. Meanwhile, chauvinist nationalisms in Europe spawned the modern variety of Jew-hatred that went by the “scientific” name of anti-Semitism. This inspired Zionism as a response, claiming that the only possible place for the Jewish people in a modern world of nation-states was together, preferably in its own historical homeland.
Starting in the late nineteenth century, various Zionist manifestos appeared. In Eastern Europe, Leon Pinsker’s (1821–1891) Autoemancipation, which was inspired by a wave of pogroms in 1881 and argued that the Jews would neither be safe nor free so long as they remained in an “abnormal” situation as guests and strangers, was published in 1882. In 1896 the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl (1860–1904), who came to be canonized as the founder of Zionism, published his The Jewish State, arguing that the Jews would never be free nor gain respect until they ceased being a scattered minority. Ahad Ha’am (1856–1927), who argued that Zion should serve as a spiritual center for the renewal of world Jewry, did not carry the day, but his vision may be seen as a remarkable prediction of the relation between Jewish Israel and the Jews of the diaspora at the start of the third millennium. Intellectuals such as Judah Magnes (1877–1948) and Martin Buber (1878–1965), concerned with the ethical demand to acknowledge the presence and humanity of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, argued early in the twentieth century for a binational solution to what came increasingly to be understood as a conflict between two nationalist movements struggling for control of the same land. The Revisionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), contended that such reconciliation was impossible and that the conflict might well be a fight to the death, one that the Jews must at all costs win. Meanwhile the most popular variant of Zionism as a popular movement was Socialist Zionism, itself subject to bitter contention, though all of its adherents believed both that the way to revive the Jewish people was through the renewal of Jewish labor in the Jewish land and that the Zionist effort was consistent with the worldwide movement of the working class. Zionist ideology emphasized the close attachment between the people and the land in modern practice, not only in historical memory; and Zionist strategy prior to World War II involved substantial efforts to purchase land in Palestine.
WORLD WAR II AND POSTCOLONIALISM
World War II affected the Zionist movement in profound ways: It seemed to offer convincing proof that there was no safe future for Jews in diaspora, and it led to mass immigration by refugees and survivors to what was, until the late 1940s, still commonly called Palestine even by Jews. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the ensuing war marked a new phase in the history of the movement and the controversies surrounding it. Many Zionists understood themselves as anticolonialists, both because the Jews worldwide whom they sought to redeem could plausibly be understood as being “internally colonized” by various powerful nations and empires, and because the Zionist pragmatic and military effort involved resistance as well as collusion with the British protectorate. Palestinians displaced during the 1948 war known in Israel as the War of Independence were neither allowed by Israel to return to their homes, nor absorbed into surrounding Arab countries, thus exacerbating and perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Soviet Union, after initially voting in the United Nations for recognition of Israel, came to be aligned with the Arab States and with the Palestinian movement, while much of the world came to see Israel and Zionism as opposed to postcolonial liberation struggles.
Consistent both with the Zionist ideal of worldwide Jewish peoplehood and with the reality of vastly different Jewish communities in various parts of the world, the mass absorption of a large percentage of the world’s Jews has been problematic and controversial. In the decades following World War II, the majority of the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East emigrated to Israel, as did a large percentage of the Jews of Eastern Europe and, somewhat later, the Soviet Union. Tensions arose and persist among these major immigrant groups. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, the secular Zionist goal of shaping the “new Jew,” free of supposed religious obscurantism and the supposed neuroses of diaspora, was challenged both by movements to retain rather than jettison traditional Jewish cultures and by an increasingly popular and militant combination of Zionist-exclusive territorialism and fervent religious orthodoxy. Moreover, a number of scholars and commentators have argued that by the end of the twentieth century, the era of “postZionism” had come, meaning that the fundamental goal of establishing and securing a Jewish state had been achieved, but that it was no longer feasible or necessarily desirable to persist in the attempt to gather in all of the world’s Jews.
Ben-Ari, Eyal, and Yoram Bilu, eds. 1997. Grasping Land: Space and Place in Contemporary Israeli Discourse and Experience. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Benvenisti, Meron. 1986. Conflicts and Contradictions. New York: Villard.
Herzl, Theodor.  1997. The Jews’ State. Trans. Henk Overberg. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Vital, David. 1975. The Origins of Zionism. Oxford: Clarendon.
Zerubavel, Yael. 1995. Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
"Zionism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/zionism
"Zionism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/zionism
ZIONISM. The emergence of modern political Zionism in the late nineteenth century did not inspire great enthusiasm on American shores. German American Jews, who numbered about 200,000 at the time Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress in 1897, rejected calls for creation of a Jewish state. Reared in the classical Reform movement, they considered the United States
their "New Zion" and feared that Jewish nationalism might compromise their standing as loyal American citizens. At its 1885 Pittsburgh meeting, the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis declared, "We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine … nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state."
The arrival of over 2 million eastern European Jews between 1880 and 1920 altered the demographic profile of American Jewry and opened new doors for the Zionist movement. Reared in traditional Judaism or in the socialist movements of the Old World, the new arrivals proved more sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland. In 1884a small group of Jews in New York City formed the nation's first Zionist organization, Hoveve Zion (literally the lovers of Zion). By 1898 a number of American Zionist groups merged into the Federation of American Zionists, counting some ten thousand members across the country.
The American Zionist movement enjoyed its most rapid growth under the leadership of the famed attorney and eventual Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis. According to Brandeis, American Jews could support the Zionist cause without sacrificing their status as loyal American citizens. His "Brandeisian synthesis" described the United States in pluralist terms, encouraging ethnic difference and drawing strong parallels between the aspirations of Americans and Zionists. With Brandeis's support, President Woodrow Wilson backed Great Britain's November 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
For the next twenty-five years the Zionist movement suffered from political infighting, financial difficulties, and an American political culture unsympathetic to its long-term goal. During the 1920s conflicting leadership styles ruined any hope of consensus, while the Great Depression diverted needed dollars from organizational coffers. American isolationism and the rise of domestic anti-Semitism in the 1930s discouraged Jewish leaders from adopting an aggressive Zionist stance.
U.S. entry into World War II and word of Adolf Hitler's "final solution" mobilized American Jews behind the Zionist cause. By 1948 membership in Zionist organizations swelled to 1 million as American Jews from across the denominational spectrum rallied for Jewish statehood. Even the once anti-Zionist Reform movement abandoned its opposition to Zionism during its 1937 rabbinic convention in Columbus, Ohio. A small group of Reform rabbis formed the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, but it faded quickly with news of Nazi atrocities.
President Harry S. Truman recognized the state of Israel a mere eleven minutes after the new Jewish state declared its independence in May 1948. While a few American Jews immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and early 1960s, most advanced the Zionist cause with financial contributions to Israel and resisted the call for a physical return to Zion. Philanthropic Zionism dominated the movement for the first twenty years of the postwar period.
At the time of the 1967 Six Day War, American Zionism underwent a fundamental transformation, as many young Jews rejected the humanitarian-based Zionist views of their parents and embraced a form of Jewish nationalism that encouraged aliyah (immigration, literally to rise up). Jewish high school students looked forward to spending a summer in Israel, while undergraduates took advantage of overseas study programs to matriculate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the 1990s several Jewish philanthropists endowed the birthright program, promising every North American Jew a free trip to Israel.
In the late twentieth century American Jews took a more active role in domestic Israeli politics, especially around issues of religious pluralism. Both the Conservative and Reform movements established Jerusalem campuses for their respective seminaries and lobbied Israeli government officials for greater recognition of nontraditional forms of Jewish expression. They demanded recognition of their clergy's right to perform weddings and conversions, staged protests at Jerusalem's Western Wall, and sought inclusion on local religious councils.
American immigration to Israel also reflected a fundamental political shift. Between 1967 and 1973 almost sixty thousand American Jews packed their belongings and moved to the Jewish state. Most hailed from nontraditional religious backgrounds and viewed their aliyah as an opportunity to help create an idealistic Jewish homeland. By the 1990s though the number of American immigrants plummeted to fewer than three thousand a year.
Despite their strong support for the state of Israel, American Jews have never considered mass immigration to the Jewish state a viable option. Zionism has remained a minority movement in the United States.
Cohen, Naomi W. American Jews and the Zionist Idea. New York: Ktav, 1975.
Halperin, Samuel. The Political World of American Zionism. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1961.
Urofsky, Melvin I. American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975.
"Zionism." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism
"Zionism." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism
Zionism, modern political movement for reconstituting a Jewish national state in Palestine.
The rise of the Zionist movement in the late 19th cent. was influenced by nationalist currents in Europe, as well as by the secularization of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, which led many assimilated Jewish intellectuals to seek a new basis for a Jewish national life. One such individual was Theodor Herzl, a Viennese journalist who wrote The Jewish State (1896), calling for the formation of a Jewish nation state as a solution to the Diaspora and to anti-Semitism. In 1897 Herzl called the first World Zionist Congress at Basel, which brought together diverse proto-Zionist groups into one movement. The meeting helped found Zionist organizations in most countries with large Jewish populations.
The first issue to split the Zionist movement was whether Palestine was essential to a Jewish state. A majority of the delegates to the 1903 congress felt that it was essential and rejected the British offer of a homeland in Uganda. The opposition, the Territorialists led by Israel Zangwill, withdrew on the grounds that an immediate refuge for persecuted Jews was needed. Within the Zionist movement a broad range of perspectives developed, ranging from a synthesis of nationalism with traditional Jewish Orthodoxy (in the Mizrahi movement, founded 1902) to various combinations of Zionism with utopian and Marxist socialism.
The Balfour Declaration and Settlement in Palestine
After Herzl's death, the Zionist movement came under the leadership of Chaim Weizmann, who sought to reconcile the "practical" wing of the movement, which sought to further Jewish settlement in Palestine, and its "political" wing, which stressed the establishment of a Jewish state. Weizmann obtained few concessions from the Turkish sultan, who ruled Palestine; however, in 1917, Great Britain, then at war with Turkey, issued the Balfour Declaration (see Balfour, Arthur James), which promised to help establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Great Britain was given a mandate of Palestine in 1920 by the League of Nations, in part to implement the Balfour Declaration.
Jewish colonization vastly increased in the early years of the mandate (see Palestine for the period up to 1948), but soon the British limited their interpretation of the declaration in the face of Arab pressure. There were disputes in the Zionist movement on how to counter the British position. The right-wing Revisionists, led by Vladimir Jabotinsky, favored large-scale immigration to Palestine to force the creation of a Jewish state. The most conciliatory faction was the General Zionists (representing the original national organizations), who generally remained friendly to Great Britain.
Since the Holocaust and Founding of Israel
After World War II the Zionist movement intensified its activities. The sufferings of the European Jews at the hands of the Germans demanded the opening of a refuge; the stiffening opposition of the Arabs increased the urgency. At this time the World Zionist Congress was divided, the Revisionists demanding all Palestine and the General Zionists reluctantly accepting the United Nations plan to partition Palestine (see Israel). After the Jewish state was proclaimed (May 14, 1948), the Zionist movement was forced to reevaluate its goals.
Against those who argued that the simple expression of support for Israel was sufficient for affiliation, the movement's 1968 Jerusalem Program defined the goal of personal migration to Israel as a requirement for membership. However, most Jews in the United States and other Western democracies seemed content to support the Zionist movement as a means of supporting Israel, without any personal commitment to living there. The Zionist movement today facilitates migration to Israel and supports Jewish cultural and educational activities in the diaspora.
See C. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949, repr. 1972); I. Cohen, A Short History of Zionism (1951); B. Halpern, The Idea of the Jewish State (2d ed. 1969); W. Laqueur, A History of Zionism (1972); S. Avineri, The Making of Modern Zionism (1984); D. Vital, The Origins of Zionism (1980), Zionism: The Formative Years (1982), and Zionism: The Crucial Phase (1987); B. Morris, Righteous Victims (rev. ed. 2001); J. Schneer, The Balfour Declaration (2010).
"Zionism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism
"Zionism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism
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"Zionism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism
"Zionism." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism-0
"Zionism." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zionism-0
Zi·on·ism / ˈzīəˌnizəm/ • n. a movement for (originally) the reestablishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. DERIVATIVES: Zi·on·ist n. & adj.
"Zionism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism-0
"Zionism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism-0
"Zionism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 30, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism
"Zionism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved April 30, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/zionism