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Zionism is an international political movement that originally supported the reestablishment of a homeland for the Jewish People in Palestine (Hebrew: Eretz Yisra'el, “the Land of Israel”), and continues primarily as support for the modern state of Israel.

Although its origins are earlier, the movement was formally established by the Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl in the late 19th century. The movement was eventually successful in establishing Israel in 1948, as the world's first and only modern Jewish State. Described as a " diaspora nationalism," its proponents regard it as a national liberation movement whose aim is the self-determination of the Jewish people.

While Zionism is based in part upon religious tradition linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, where the concept of Jewish nationhood first evolved somewhere between 1200 BCE and the late Second Temple era (i.e. up to 70 CE), the modern movement was mainly secular, beginning largely as a response by European Jewry to antisemitism across Europe. It constituted a branch of the broader phenomenon of modern nationalism. At first one of several Jewish political movements offering alternative responses to the position of Jews in Europe, Zionism gradually gained more support, and after the Holocaust became the dominant Jewish political movement.


The word "Zionism" itself is derived from the word Zion (Hebrew: ציון, Tzi-yon). This name originally referred to Mount Zion, a mountain near Jerusalem, and to the Fortress of Zion on it. Later, under King David, the term "Zion" became a synecdoche referring to the entire city of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. In many Biblical verses, the Israelites were called the people, sons or daughters of Zion.

"Zionism" was coined as a term for Jewish nationalism by Austrian Jewish publisher Nathan Birnbaum, founder of the first nationalist Jewish students' movement Kadimah, in his journal Selbstemanzipation (Self Emancipation) in 1890. (Birnbaum eventually turned against political Zionism and became the first secretary-general of the anti-Zionist Haredi movement Agudat Israel.)

Certain individuals and groups have used the term "Zionism" as a pejorative to justify attacks on Jews. According to historians Walter Laqueur, Howard Sachar and Jack Fischel among others, the label "Zionist" is in some cases also used as a euphemism for Jews in general by apologists for antisemitism.

Zionism can be distinguished from Territorialism, a Jewish nationalist movement calling for a Jewish homeland not necessarily in Palestine. During the early history of Zionism, a number of proposals were made for settling Jews outside of Europe, but ultimately all of these were rejected or failed. The debate over these proposals helped to define the nature and focus of the Zionist movement.


Since the first century CE most Jews have lived in exile, although there has been a constant presence of Jews in the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel). According to Judaism, Eretz Israel, or Zion, is a land promised to the Jews by God according to the Bible. Following the 2nd century Bar Kokhba revolt, Jews were expelled from Palestine to form the Jewish diaspora. In the nineteenth century a current in Judaism supporting a return grew in popularity. Even before 1897, which is generally seen as the year in which practical Zionism started, Jews immigrated to Palestine, the pre-Zionist Aliyah.

Demographics in Palestine
year Jews Non-Jews
1800 6,700 268,000
1880 24,000 525,000
1915 87,500 590,000
1931 174,000 837,000
1947 630,000 1,310,000
Population of Palestine by religions
year Muslims Jews Christians Others
1922 486,177 83,790 71,464 7,617
1931 493,147 174,606 88,907 10,101
1941 906,551 474,102 125,413 12,881
1946 1,076,783 608,225 145,063 15,488

Jewish immigration to Palestine started in earnest in 1882. The so-called First Aliyah saw the arrival of about 30,000 Jews over twenty years. Most immigrants came from Russia, where anti-semitism was rampant. They founded a number of agricultural settlements with financial support from Jewish philanthropists in Western Europe. The Second Aliyah started in 1904. Further Aliyahs followed between the two World Wars, fueled in the 1930s by Nazi persecution.

In the 1890s Theodor Herzl infused Zionism with a new and practical urgency. He brought the World Zionist Organization into being and, together with Nathan Birnbaum, planned its First Congress at Basel in 1897. This current in Zionism is known as political Zionism because it aimed at reaching a political agreement with the Power ruling Palestine. Up to 1917 this was the Ottoman Empire, and then until 1948 it was Britain on behalf of the League of Nations. The WZO also supported small scale settlement in Palestine.

Lobbying by Chaim Weizmann (cultural Zionists) and others culminated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 by the British government. This declaration endorsed the creation of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. In 1922, the League of nations endorsed the declaration in the Mandate it gave to Britain:

The Mandatory (…) will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.

Palestinian Arabs resisted Zionist migration. There were riots in 1920, 1921 and 1929, sometimes accompanied by massacres of Jews. Britain supported Jewish immigration in principle, but in reaction to Arab violence imposed restrictions on Jewish immigration.

In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany and, in 1935, the Nuremberg Laws, made German Jews (and later Austrian and Czech Jews) stateless refugees. Similar rules were subsequently applied by Nazi allies in Europe. The subsequent growth in Jewish migration led to the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine which in turn led the British to establish the Peel Commission to investigate the situation. The commission (which did not examine the situation of Jews in Europe) called for a two-state solution and compulsory transfer of populations. This solution was rejected by the British and instead the White Paper of 1939 proposed an end to Jewish immigration by 1944, with a further 75,000 to be admitted by then. In principle, the British stuck to this policy until the end of the Mandate.

After WWII and the Holocaust, support for Zionism increased, especially among Jewish Holocaust survivors. The British were attacked in Palestine by Zionist groups because of their restrictions on Jewish immigration, the best known attack being the 1946 King David Hotel bombing. Unable to resolve the conflict, the British referred the issue to the newly created United Nations.

In 1947, the UNSCOP recommended the partition of western Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state and a UN-controlled territory ( Corpus separatum) around Jerusalem. This partition plan was adopted on November 29th, 1947 with UN GA Resolution 181, 33 votes in favour, 13 against, and 10 abstentions. The vote itself, which required a two-third majority, was a very dramatic affair and led to celebrations in the streets of Jewish cities.

The Arab states rejected the UN decision, demanding a single state with an Arab majority. violence immediately exploded in Palestine between Jews and Arabs. On 14 May 1948, at the end of the British mandate, the Jewish Agency, led by Ben-Gurion declared the creation of the State of Israel and the same day, the armies of four Arab countries invaded Israel.

During the following eight months, Israel forces defended the Jewish partition and conquered portions of the Arab partition, enlarging its portion to 78 percent of mandatory Palestine. The conflict led to an exodus of about 711,000 Arab Palestinians , of whom about 46.000 were internally displaced persons in Israel. The war ended with the 1949 Armistice Agreements, which included new cease-fire lines, the so-called Green line.

After the war the Arabs continued to reject Israel's right to exist and demanded that it retreat to the 1947 partition lines. They sustained this demand until 1967 when the rest of western Palestine was conquered by Israel during the Six-Day War, after which Arab states demanded that Israel retreat to the 1949 cease fire line, the only "borders" currently recognized by the international community. These borders are commonly referred as the "pre-1967 borders" or the "green line". The border with Egypt was legalized in the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, and the border with Jordan in the 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.

After the creation of the State of Israel the WZO continued to exist as an organisation dedicated to assisting and encouraging Jews to migrate to Israel, as well as providing political support for Israel.

Types of Zionism

Over the years a variety of schools of thought have evolved with different schools dominating at different times. In addition Zionists come from a wide variety of backgrounds and at times different national groups, such as Russian Jews, German, Polish, British or American Jews have exercised strong influence.

Labor Zionism

Around 1900 the chief rival to Zionism among young Jews in Eastern Europe was the socialist movement. Many Jews were abandoning Judaism in favour of Communism or supported the Bund, a Jewish socialist movement which called for Jewish autonomy in Eastern Europe and promoted Yiddish as the Jewish language.

Many socialist Zionists originated in Russia. They believed that centuries of being oppressed in anti-Semitic societies had reduced Jews to a meek, vulnerable, despairing existence which invited further anti-Semitism. They argued that Jews could escape their situation by becoming farmers, workers, and soldiers in a country of their own. Most socialist Zionists rejected religion as perpetuating a " Diaspora mentality" among the Jewish people and established rural communes in Israel called " Kibbutzim". Major theoreticians of Socialist Zionism included Moses Hess, Nahum Syrkin, Ber Borochov and Aaron David Gordon, and leading figures in the movement included David Ben-Gurion and Berl Katznelson. Most Socialist Zionists rejected Yiddish as a language of exile, embracing Hebrew as the common Jewish tongue. Socialist and Labor Zionism was ardently secularist with many Labor Zionists being committed atheists or opposed to religion. Consequently, the movement often had an antagonistic relationship with Orthodox Judaism.

Labor Zionism became the dominant force in the political and economic life of the Yishuv during the British Mandate of Palestine - partly as a consequence of its role in organizing Jewish economic life through the Histadrut - and was the dominant ideology of the political establishment in Israel until the 1977 election when the Labor Party was defeated.

Liberal Zionism

General Zionism (or Liberal Zionism) was initially the dominant trend within the Zionist movement from the First Zionist Congress in 1897 until after the First World War. Many of the General Zionists were German or Russian Liberals but following the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions, Labour Zionists came to dominate the movement. General Zionists identified with the liberal European Jewish middle class (or bourgeois) from which many Zionist leaders such as Herzl and Chaim Weizmann came and believed that a Jewish state could be accomplished through lobbying the Great Powers of Europe and influential circles in European society. General Zionism declined in the face of growing extremism and antisemitism in Central Europe, and because of the superiour ability of Labour Zionism to generate migration to Palestine.

Revisionist Zionism

The Revisionist Zionists were a group led by Jabotinsky who advocated pressing Britain to allow mass Jewish emigration and the formation of a Jewish Army in Palestine. The army would force the Arab population to accept mass Jewish migration and promote British interests in the region.

Revisionist Zionism was detested by the Socialist Zionist movement which saw them as being influenced by Fascism and the movement caused a great deal of concern among Arab Palestinians. After the 1929 Arab riots, the British banned Jabotinsky from entering Palestine.

Revisionism was popular in Poland but lacked large support in Palestine. In 1935 the Revisionists left the Zionist Organization and formed an alternative, the New Zionist Organization. They rejoined the ZO in 1946.

Religious Zionism

In the 1920s and 1930s, a small but vocal group of religious Jews began to develop the concept of Religious Zionism under such leaders as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (the first Chief Rabbi of Palestine) and his son Rabbi Zevi Judah Kook. They saw great religious and traditional value in many of Zionism's ideals, while rejecting its anti-religious undertones. They were also motivated by a concern that growing secularization of Zionism and antagonism towards it from Orthodox Jews would lead to a schism in the Jewish people. As such, they sought to forge a branch of Orthodox Judaism which would properly embrace Zionism's positive ideals while also serving as a bridge between Orthodox and secular Jews. After the Six Day War the movement came to play a significant role in Israeli Political life.

Particularities of Zionism

The negation of the Diaspora

According to Eliezer Schweid the rejection of life in the Diaspora is a central assumption in all currents of Zionism. Underlying this attitude was the feeling that the Diaspora restricted the full growth of Jewish national life.

Adoption of Hebrew

Zionists preferred to speak Hebrew, a semitic language that developed under conditions of freedom in ancient Judah, modernizing and adapting it for everyday use. Zionists sometimes refused to speak Yiddish, a language they considered affected by Christian persecution. Once they moved to Israel, many Zionists refused to speak their (diasporic) mother tongues and gave themselves new, Hebrew names.

Reaction to antisemitism

In this matter Sternhell distinguishes two schools of thought in Zionism. One was the liberal or utilitarian school of Herzl and Nordau. Especially after the Dreyfus Affair they held that antisemitism would never disappear, and saw Zionism as a rational solution for Jewish individuals. The other was the organic nationalist school. It was prevalent among the Zionists in Palestine, and saw Zionism as a project to rescue the Jewish nation and not as a project to rescue Jewish individuals. Zionism was a matter of the "Rebirth of the Nation".

Opposition, critics and evolution of Zionism

There have been a number of critics of Zionism, including Jewish anti-Zionists, pro-Palestinian activists, academics, and politicians. The Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) approving the creation of a Jewish and Arab state in Palestine, and some of the most vocal critics of Zionism have been Arabs, many of whom view Israel as occupying Arab land. Such critics generally opposed Israel's creation in 1948, and continue to criticize the Zionist movement which underlies it. These critics view the changes in demographic balance which accompanied the creation of Israel, including the displacement of some 700,000 Arab refugees, and the accompanying violence, as negative but inevitable consequences of Zionism and the concept of a Jewish State.

While most Jewish groups are pro-Zionist, some haredi Jewish communities (most vocally the Satmar Hasidim and the small Neturei Karta group), oppose Zionism on religious grounds. The primary haredi anti-Zionist work is Vayoel Moshe by Satmar Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum. This lengthy dissertation asserts that Zionism is forbidden in Judaism, based on an aggadic passage in the Talmud, tractate Ketubot 111a. There are also individuals of Jewish origin, such as Noam Chomsky, who have taken strong public stands criticizing various aspects of Israeli policy, but who resist the claim that they oppose Zionism itself.

Other non-Zionist Israeli movements, such as the Canaanite movement led by poet Yonatan Ratosh in the 1930s and 1940s, have argued that "Israeli" should be a new pan-ethnic nationality. A related modern movement is known as post-Zionism, which asserts that Israel should abandon the concept of a "state of the Jewish people" and instead strive to be a state of all its citizens. Another opinion favors a binational state in which Arabs and Jews live together while enjoying some type of autonomy.

Some critics of Zionism have accused it of racism, an accusation endorsed by the 1975 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, which was revoked in 1991. Zionists reject the charges that Zionism is racist, insisting it is no different than any other national liberation movement of oppressed peoples, and argue that since criticism of both the state of Israel and Zionism is often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, much of it can be attributed to antisemitism.

During the last quarter of 20th century, the decline of classic nationalism in Israel lead to the rise of two antagonistic movement : neo-Zionism and post-Zionism. Both mark the Israeli version of a worldwide phenomenon: the ascendancy of globalization and with it the emergence of a market society and liberal culture, on one hand, and a local backlash on the other. The traits of both neo-Zionism and post-Zionism are not entirely foreign to "classical" Zionism but they differ by accentuing antagonist and diametrally opposed poles already present in Zionism. "Neo Zionism accentuates the messianic and particularistic dimensions of Zionist nationalism, while post-Zionism accentuates its normalising and universalistic dimensions".

Non-Jewish Zionism

Marcus Garvey and Black Zionism

Zionist success in winning British support for formation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine helped inspire the African-American Nationalist Marcus Garvey to form a movement dedicated to returning Americans of African origin to Africa. During a speech in Harlem in 1920 Garvey stated that

other races were engaged in seeing their cause through—the Jews through their Zionist movement and the Irish through their Irish movement—and I decided that, cost what it might, I would make this a favorable time to see the Negro's interest through.

Garvey established a shipping company, the Black Star Line, to ship Black Americans to Africa, but for various reasons failed in his endeavour. His ideas helped inspire the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica, the Black Jews and The African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem who initially moved to Liberia before settling in Israel.

W. E. B. Du Bois was an ardent supporter of Zionism, and the NAACP endorsed the creation of Israel in 1948. Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, and Martin Luther King, Jr. also supported zionism.

Christian Zionism

In addition to Jewish Zionism, there was always a small number of Christian Zionists that existed from the early days of the Zionist movement.

Throughout the entire 19th century and early 20th century, the return of the Jews to the Holy Land was widely supported by such eminent figures as Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, John Adams, the second President of the United States, General Smuts of South Africa, President Masaryk of Czechoslovakia, Benedetto Croce, Italian philosopher and historian, Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross and author of the Geneva Conventions, Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian scientist and humanitarian.

The French government through Minister M. Cambon formally committed itself to “the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago".

In China, Wang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that "the Nationalist government is in full sympathy with the Jewish people in their desire to establish a country for themselves."

Evangelical Christians have a long history of supporting Zionism. Famous evangelical supporters of Israel include British Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour, President Woodrow Wilson and Orde Wingate whose activities in support of Zionism, led the British Army to ban him from ever serving in Palestine. According to Charles Merkley of Carleton University, Christian Zionism strengthened significantly after the 1967 Six-Day War, and many dispensationalist Christians, especially in the United States, now strongly support Zionism.

Muslims & Christian Arabs supporting Zionism

During the negotiations for Syria at the 1919 Paris Conference , King Faisal endorsed the Balfour declaration.

Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, the leader of Italian Muslim Assembly and a co-founder of the Islam-Israel Fellowship and Canadian Imam Khaleel Mohammed, find support for Zionism in the Qur'an. Other Muslims who have supported Zionism include Bengali journalist Salah Choudhury and Pakistani journalist Tashbih Sayyed.

Christian Arabs publicly supporting Israel include US author Nonie Darwish, creator of the Arabs for Israel web site, and former Muslim Magdi Allam, author of Viva Israele, both born in Egypt. Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese-born Christian US journalist and founder of the American Congress For Truth, urges Americans to "fearlessly speak out in defense of America, Israel and Western civilization".

On occasion, predominantly Muslim yet non-Arab groups such as the Kurds and the Berbers have also voiced support for Zionism.

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