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Zionism is a Jewish nationalist movement, which developed during the second half of the 19th century among Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Zionism sees itself as the the modern form of a millennia-old dream of Jewish people to rebuild a Jewish state in the land of Israel (one of the proposed names for this state was Zion). Many different Zionist groups exist, each expressing a unique political, social and religious position. Almost all of these groups have and continue to co-operate through the World Zionist Organization[?] (WZO). Some anti-Zionists, such as Noam Chomsky, argue that they are the "true" Zionists.

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Historical origins of Zionism

The desire of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland was first expressed during the Babylonian exile and became a universal Jewish theme after the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea by the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. and the dispersal that followed.

Until the rise of political Zionism in the early 1800s, most religious Jews believed that the Jewish people would only return to Israel with the coming of the messiah, i.e., only after divine intervention. Indeed, many even believed that Jews were divinely forbidden to attempt to establish a state prior to the coming of the Messiah (see Neturei Karta). Many people proposed that Jews attempt to return earlier, by their own devices, but until the rise of Zionism in the 19th century they were a minority.

Zionism in the modern era

One of the key moments of the modern Zionist movement was the publishing of Theodor Herzl's pamphlet Der Judenstaat in 1896. In 1897, Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. At this Congress, the WZO was established, and Herzl named its President. The Congress gave this definition of the aims and means of Zionism:

The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law.
The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end:
1. The promotion, on suitable lines, of the colonization of Palestine by Jewish agricultural and industrial workers.
2. The organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, local and international, in accordance with the laws of each country.
3. The strengthening and fostering of Jewish national sentiment and national consciousnesss.
4. Preparatory steps toward obtaining government consent, where necessary, to the attainment of the aim of Zionism.

Over the coming years, successive aliyahs[?] (literally: ascent, in this sense, immigration to Palestine) brought thousands of Jews from Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and many other countries to Palestine, where they formed new communities and new institutions. The dominant trends in Zionist thought were Political Zionism[?], which emphasized gaining a charter for a Jewish homeland through international politics, along with Labor Zionism[?], Revisionist Zionism[?], and Religious Zionism[?].

Labor Zionism dominated most of the institutions of Zionism, including the World Zionist Organization and the Knesset, from early in the history of Zionism until 1977, when Likud, a political party descended from the merger of Revisionist parties, won the elections to the Knesset. Famour Labor Zionists included David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson[?], and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi[?] (among countless others).

Most of the Revisionist movement was founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky[?].

Zionism during the rise of Nazi Germany

During the 1930s, German Zionists believed that it was still possible to obtain rapprochment with the growingly anti-Semitic German government and society. Zionists in all nations, including Germany, petitioned their government to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in the British mandate of Palestine. Lenni Brenner's controversial Zionism in the Age of Dictators discusses this issue. Critics of Brenner regard his views as anti-Semitic. Zionism in the age of dictators (http://www.counterpunch.org/brenner1223)

Establishment of the state of Israel

On May 14, 1948, the day before the British Mandate of Palestine expired, Zionists within Palestine made a declaration of Independence, and the state of Israel was established. This marked a major turning point in the Zionist movement, as one of its major goals had been accomplished. Many Zionist institutions were reshaped: the three military movements, the Labor-dominated Haganah and the Revisionist Irgun and Lehi, combined to form the Israel Defence Forces.

Then on July 5, 1950 the Knesset passed the Law of Return[?] which granted all Jews the right to immigrate to Israel.

Diversity of views

Some Zionist groups promote particular denominations of Judaism (e.g. the Masorti Zionist movement (Mercaz) promotes Conservative Judaism); many other groups do not have a formal connection with any particular denomination at all.

All groups accept the the Jerusalem Program. This program started as a set of principles on which all Zionists could agree. It was first adopted in 1951 at the 23rd World Zionist Congress and later revised by the 27th Zionist Congress in 1968.

The Jerusalem Program of 1951

The task of Zionism is the consolidation of the State of Israel, the ingathering of exiles in Eretz Israel, and the fostering of the unity of the Jewish people. The program of work of the Zionist Organization is:

  • Encouragement of immigration, absorption and integration of immigrants; support of Youth Aliyah; stimulation of agricultural settlement and economic development; acquisition of land as the property of the people.
  • Intensive work for halutziut (pioneering) and hachsharah (training for halutziut).
  • Concerted effort to harness funds in order to carry out the tasks of Zionism.
  • Encouragement of private capital investment.
  • Fostering of Jewish consciousness by propagating the Zionist idea and strengthening the Zionist Movement; imparting the values of Judaism; Hebrew education and spreading the Hebrew language.
  • Mobilization of world public opinion for Israel and Zionism.
  • Participation in efforts to organize and intensify Jewish life on democratic foundations, maintenance and defense of Jewish rights .

The Revised Jerusalem Program of 1968

The aims of Zionism are:

  • The Unity of the Jewish people and the centrality of Israel in Jewish life;
  • The ingathering of the Jewish people in the historic homeland, Eretz Israel, through aliyah from all countries;
  • The strengthening of the State of Israel which is based on the prophetic vision of justice and peace;
  • The preservation of the identity of the Jewish people through the fostering of Jewish, Hebrew and Zionist education and of Jewish spiritual and cultural values;
  • The protection of Jewish rights everywhere.

Zionism and relations with Arabs

Starting in the 1920s, Zionists and Arabs increasingly came into conflict within Palestine. This conflict, the forerunner of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was approached by different Zionist groups and individuals in different ways. Long after the founding of the state of Israel, it remains one of the most important political questions within the state. A minority of Israelis support the idea of expelling the Palestinian population (for instance, see the Kach movement).

Other prospective homelands for the Jews

Although prevailing Zionist opinion has always favored a Jewish state in Palestine, other proposals have been floated at various times. Herzl's Der Judenstaat argued for a Jewish state in either Argentina or Palestine, both being equally acceptable. In 1903, Herzl introduced a controversial proposal to the 6th Zionist Congress to investigate an offer brought to him for Jewish settlement in British East Africa. Although the proposal proved very divisive, a majority voted to establish a committe efor the investagation of the possibility. The possiblity was dismissed at the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905. In response to this, the Jewish Territorialist Organization led by Israel Zangwill split off from the main Zionist movement. The territoralists attempted to establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible, but went into decline after the Balfour declaration 1917[?] and was dissolved in 1925 (see [1] (http://www.wzo.org.il/home/movement/uganda.htm)).

There have been other, non-Zionist proposals for Jewish homelands: the Soviet government tried to convince Soviet Jews to move to the Jewish Autonomous Republic (with capital in Birobidzhan) in the Russian Far East. Yiddish was a co-official language. Also, the Japanese Empire planned to ask Nazi Germany to transfer European Jews as colonists in Manchukuo (occupied Manchuria).


The majority of Jews today are Zionists. However, at its inception, Zionism was opposed by the majority of religious Jewish organizations including the leaders of Reform Judaism, Lithuanian Jews[?] and Hasidic Jews. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and subsequent success, much of the opposition faded away. Haredi Jews still have strong resistance to some aspects of Zionism, including the idea that it is a symbol of Redemption[?]. Major Jewish anti-Zionist movements include Satmar and Neturei Karta. The Neturei Karta and Satmar set themselves apart from the rest of the world's Jewish community; some Jews view them as virtually anti-Semitic.

The religious Anti-Zionist movement is conservative; there is however also politically motivated anti-Zionism, that for the most part is liberal or socialist. These people motivate their stance by supporting the Arab claim to Palestine, through general opposition to nationalism or for other reasons. Albert Einstein said in 1950 about the then newly founded state of Israel that "I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain -- especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks". A range of well-known Jewish scholars and statesmean, often politically radical or secularized, have opposed Zionism. This inludes Bruno Kreisky, Hans Fromm, Michael Selzer and several others. It is represented in contemporary America among others by controversial academic scholars such as Noam Chomsky, Peter Novick and Norman Finkelstein.

Religious views of Zionism from the 1900s to today

When Zionism was first proposed it was highly controversial; a great many Jews opposed it. Many Jews would rather try to integrate into the society they lived than try to return to Israel. This was the position taken by Reform Judaism at the time. Reform Judaism changed its opinion after the Holocaust, and the Reform movement became a strong supporter of the State of Israel. In practice, most American Jews (of all religious denominations) did not want to emigrate to Israel; there, support for Zionism came through political, financial, and other means short of actually moving.

Many Hasidic Jews and other Orthodox Jews believed that any attempt to return to Israel, as a nation, before the coming of the messiah was sacrilegious. At one time the Lubavitcher Rebbes[?] were anti-Zionist, though the most recent Rebbe changed his position from one of anti-Zionism (i.e., active opposition to Zionism) to one of mere non-Zionism (i.e., neutrality towards it) after 1948.

Today, the overwhelming majority of Jewish organizations and denominations are strongly pro-Zionist.


Recently, many native Israelis has started to take a position of Post-Zionism[?]. Post-Zionists believe that while the original ideals of a Jewish homeland may not have been desirable, Israelis now constitute a new nationality. Post-Zionists tend to be secular, and believe that Israel as a nation should be separated from Judaism.

Disambiguation: Other uses of the term

Sometimes the term "Zionism" is colloquially used in a looser sense; as Jews have a strong affinity to their ancestral homeland (Zionism) others have come to use the terms "Zion" and/or "Zionism" to refer to a location that matters much to them. In these cases the words were originally used as poetic descriptions of their affinity.

"Zion" has also been used metaphorically by non-Jews in a way that has only a metaphorical connection to Judaism or the land of Israel, and does not not necessarily involve relocation of a community (although they could), and does not necessarily involve support for a geographical location by individuals who don't necessarily live there

"Zion," in this sense, are frequently used in fiction. In The Matrix movies, written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, Zion is the last hope of mankind, an undergound city where the last free humans live, in a world otherwise ruled by machine artificial intelligences.

See also

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